•Security men watched as ‘area boys’ looted our goods
•No, we were there to forestall crisis – Police
By Lawrence Enyoghasu
Traders at No 6, Okulaja Street, Ajegunle, Lagos State, were recently dealt a deadly blow. Daily Sun learnt that a man identified as Mr. Nnamdi Okorie unleashed mayhem on them, using policemen and hoodlums to evict them from their shops. They had been there for years.
Okorie is believed to have recently bought over the building, housing the shops in which the distraught tenants were trading.
Before the incident happened, the new landlord was said to have handed the occupants an 11-day notice to quit the building. He allegedly followed up his threat with some degree of harassment and intimidation. Then, at the expiration of the short notice, he made good his threat by bringing in some policemen and hoodlums to evict his tenants. In the process, the occupants, who were taken unawares, couldn’t retrieve their goods, most of which were allegedly looted and destroyed. Cash kept in the shops was also looted. The traders said they lost several millions of Naira.
Some of the victims were Mrs. Ngozi Godwin, Mrs. Nwanneka Uzomba and Mrs. Susan Amadi.
It was gathered that the hoodlums, who participated in the exercise feasted on the food prepared by one of the vendors and drank her wine and beer to their hearts’ content. They even gave passers-by the opportunity to wine and dine at the trader’s expense, it was learnt. The reporter also learnt that even people who had interest in raw foodstuffs went away with as much as they could.
And while the hoodlums were busying with their act, some policemen allegedly gave them cover. Some carpenters, it was learnt, busied themselves, erecting a barricade with roofing sheets around the three shops in front of the house to further prevent the occupants from having access to what remained of their shops.
When the reporter visited the house, it was not only fenced off with roofing sheets, it was also blocked with various debris.
One of the tenants, Ngozi, who owned a shop in the building, said their sad journey to misery started on Tuesday, April 19. That, she recalled, was the day she was verbally informed that the house had been sold a week before. She said on that same day, the caretaker of the shops had visited them to collect rent.
“When he came, we confronted him with the rumour but he said he was not aware of the sale. Then we demanded that he call the landlady, one Mrs. Adelusi, but he refused.
“Two days after the caretaker’s visit, a group of people came to us and said they were the ones, who bought the house. We told them that none of us, not even the caretaker, was aware of such transaction. They replied that the caretaker would not know because the landlady didn’t want him to know.”
According to Ngozi, that was the last time the caretaker visited and the first time they met the new landlord of the house, Mr. Okorie.
She recalled that the next time Okorie visited, which was on April 28, it was to serve the tenants a quit notice, which was meant to expire after 11 days.
“We told them that it would be impossible for anyone to quit the shop within that short period. Even the lawyer that came to serve us the paper said we should plead with Okorie to see if he could help us. But I told him that we were not beggars since we paid our rent and were not in any way in rent arrears. We explained to him that the old landlady was supposed to make the introduction.
“Later, we replied the quit notice through our lawyer. We were still waiting for the reply when we saw Okorie, a very young man, coming to threaten us, saying that if we failed to adhere to his arrangement, he would evict us by force.
“On the first day, he came with some policemen and a handful of area boys. After he had left, people advised us to comply, that the man was known for his unruly approach to issues and that he had a lot of wealth to back up his action.
“The second time he came, he said he wanted to have a meeting with us; we declined, insisting that our lawyer must be involved. At that point, he began threatening me. That was the last time we had any encounter with him,” Ngozi stated.
She said the third time Okorie visited, he was again accompanied by some policemen and area boys.
“This time, he carried out his threat. I was not in the shop when it all started. I had earlier sent one of my sons to go to my shop and open it for business. Then after a while, I left home to join him. While approaching my shop, I saw that people had gathered around the entire area.
“When I drew closer, all I saw was confusion. My shop had already been looted. I rushed to stop some of the hoodlums from breaking the walls of my shop but the policemen began to restrain me. Then I told them that I owned the shop whose walls were being broken. It was then that one of them allowed me to go in. Then I saw my child; he was sorely afraid. Then I saw some carpenters trying to build a barricade in front of my shop. They had already scattered what was left of my goods.
“Almost immediately, the hoodlums again stormed my shop and started carting away my goods. I was helpless because they numbered more than 20. They were all reeking of alcohol and kept smoking all the time.
“At that point, I could no longer restrain anybody. I recalled I had some cash which I kept away somewhere in a safe. It was in a paint bucket. When I rushed to retrieve it, I did not see it again. I had a lot of money inside it, but everything was gone. Apart from cash, I lost goods worth N700,000. They included several gallons of paints and oil,” she narrated.
Susan Amadi, who was also an occupant of one of the shops, said she was not served a quit notice. The woman, who suffers from high blood pressure, said she could not withstand the crowd and subsequently began gasping for air during the fracas. She said the air was polluted with smoke and excessive carbon dioxide that made breathing difficult for her. She said she passed out. By the time she was revived, her shop had been vandalised and looted,” she said.
“When I was revived, the money I planned to restock my shop with was gone. I had N250, 000 right inside my shop. Not only that, most of my goods were also thrown away. And they ate as much as they could eat. I was never served a quit notice but my neighbours were served,” she narrated.
Another woman, who lost her wares during the forceful eviction was Nwanneka Uzomba. She owned a mini bar. Unlike Ngozi, Nwanneka said she kept begging Okorie to give them some time so that they could secure shops in the area so as not to lose their customers.
“On that day, I went out to buy goods. When I arrived, I saw a crowd in front of my shop. Some were right inside, scattering everywhere. I could not say anything because there were two policemen stationed right in front of my shop. When they got to my drinks, they drank virtually everything and consumed all the fish I prepared.
“I had earlier called the lawyer to reconsider their plan. That was the last thing I discussed with him before the hoodlums came to evict us,” she said.
Mr. Nwaneme Joel, a former ambassador, who witnessed the plight of the traders, recalled how the three women’s goods were mindlessly looted and shared by the hoodlums while the policemen stood watching. He said it was his effort that saved the situation when he quickly called the Area B Commander, Julius Okoro, after his interaction with one of the policemen at the scene. He alleged that the policeman told him that he was working on the orders of the Area Commander.
“I was in my office when Mrs. Ngozi called me, crying that a group of persons suspected to be area boys, smoking weed invaded her shop with no fewer than 10 armed policemen, trying to evict her from her shop.
“I took time to call the DPO, Ajeromi Police Station, but his cell phone number was not going through. So, I decided to reach the Area B Commander in charge of the area. When I complained to Commander Okoro, he described the action as barbaric, saying that he could not believe me. I told him that I was telling him the truth. Then he advised that somebody should rush down to the police station nearby and meet the DPO and lodge a complaint.
“At that point, I called the woman and told her that somebody should go down to the DPO, Ajeromi Police Station, and make a complaint and she complied immediately.
“Then I said I was going to see things for myself. When I arrived at the scene, I saw a crowd, numbering well over 500 spectators, watching as the said illegal and illicit eviction of these tenants was being carried out. Then I saw some policemen there fully armed, confirming the allegations the woman earlier made. I also saw some area boys there, smoking, threatening to deal with anybody, who dared to disturb them.
“Then I called one of the policemen and asked him what was happening. And he said that the Area Commander ordered them to supervise the eviction. Again, I asked him if he was sure and he repeated his response three times. I then called the Area Commander. After speaking with him, he said I should pass the phone to the policeman. It was at that point that he started pleading with me not to take the matter seriously. It was then that they stopped the eviction. Then we went to the Area Commander to thank him for his swift response.”
When Daily Sun called the Area Commander to confirm the ambassador’s narrative, he said the policemen at the scene of the eviction were those who restored calm at the scene, noting that the suspected hoodlums were workers of the new landlord.
“The police did not accompany any hoodlum to destroy or take over any property. They went there to forestall potential crisis. Those people were not hoodlums; they were Mr. Okorie’s workers,” the Area Commander stated.
When Daily Sun contacted Mr. Okorie’s lawyer, Mr. Uche Nwaka, on his cell phone, asking to speak with his client, he promised to relay the reporter’s request. When he was contacted again, he maintained that he had earlier delivered the message to his client, noting that he could not compel Okorie to speak.