Residents of Lagos estate in tears, as govt demolishes containers, shops
By Job Osazuwa
When the news first filtered in, many people had thought it was an empty threat.
Last October, the Lagos State government had announced that it would bring down all containers that served as shops, offices and other business locations in all the 14 low cost housing estates in the state. But at the time, most of the owners felt that nothing would come out of the announcement.
Many of such owners continued running the businesses in the containers, just as they had done in the past 30 years without any form of interruption. But in order not to be caught unprepared, residents from some estates later met with the government representatives to inquire how soon the demolition would kick off, and if there was anything both parties could do to avert it. But the messages from such meetings were the same – government was not going back on its decision to remove all structures built or mounted on any space other than the buildings.
At the Amuwo Odofin Low Cost Housing Estate, Mile 2, Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, about 3,000 containers and shops were affected by the government decision. Expectedly, many of the residents are lamenting their sad fate.
Few weeks ago, the reporter learnt, the Lagos State Development and Investment Corporation (LDIC) stormed Amuwo Odofin Housing Estate to mark all the containers and other structures, warning the owners to evacuate them on or before Thursday, February 2, 2017, warning that such structures would be demolished thereafter.
When the reporter visited the estate the day the government’s warning elapsed, there was quite an appreciable level of cooperation, but not without loads of lamentations by the owners of the containers. They were seen hurriedly dismantling their shops and auctioning items that could be sold to the waiting buyers, who happily bought them at ridiculously low prices. The owners sold iron rods, zinc, furniture and other items, even as they counted their losses.
It was gathered that the state government took the action with the aim of returning the estates to the allure and serenity they were originally known for. But some residents of Amuwo Odofin are alleging that the government has a hidden agenda: To build gigantic structures on the targeted spaces.
The former Chairman of Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, Prince Rasheed Otolorin, blasted the state government. He said it was barbaric and cruel to treat residents of the estate in such a manner. He said the order was directed at the common man desperately struggling to get his daily bread.
According to him, all efforts to appeal to the Managing Director of LDIC fell on deaf ears. He showed the reporter a text message he sent to the former governor of the state, Bola Tinubu, to intervene in the matter but lamented that there was no response from the All progressives Congress (APC) national party leader.
He said the people were helpless but believed in God to fight their battle in due course. Otolorin said the reason government gave that it wanted to plant flowers on the spaces was not concrete enough to send hunger after the people, who voted the government into power.
“The deed is done, the milk is spilled and the egg is broken. People are already selling their property at giveaway prices. What is our offence? If we know it, we will prostrate and beg this woman, who is implementing this rude policy. I am not crying but I weep for this country. The APC has never lost any election in Amuwo Odofin; the same people made it possible. “Governance is all about putting smiles on the faces of the people, but the opposite is what we got. We are law-abiding citizens, and that is why you see us removing the containers by ourselves,” the ex-council boss said.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) Ward A2 Chairman in the community, Mr. Akinyele Oluwadare, said the Association of Containers Owners was recognised by the LDIC under the state government right from time immemorial. He said he had lived in the estate since 1982 and remembered how the state government had collected levies on the said containers.
He complained that his studio, which he was using to feed his family, had become an empty space, no thanks to the demolition. According to him, his four children, who are graduates but jobless also depended on the shop for survival. He expressed the fear that by the reason of the demolition, the estate was now exposed to hooligans, who could now access the area at will.
“One of my children has to learn photography after many years of fruitlessly searching for a job. But the government has rudely thrown us out without thinking of the negative effect it was going to have on us as a family.
“l personally campaigned for APC in the last general elections and the party won massively, but l never knew this was the kind of change the party was talking about. The people are unhappy because the decision came at a very wrong time and it will affect the ruling party politically by 2019,” Oluwadare said.
On the part of Oni Kayode, who is also a strong member of APC and the Secretary of Association of Containers Owners in Amuwo Estate, the decision was to further impoverish the poor people, eking out a living from different legitimate trades. He said the shop owners were ordered to leave the premises within a very short period.
However, he admitted that the temporary right given to the residents to own containers in the estate was later abused by some persons, whom he accused of mounting containers indiscriminately. But he also blamed the government for its failure to supervise and approve where containers were placed, as it had hitherto done from the beginning.
A container owner on Durbar Road, Mrs. Ada Chukwu, said the state government had inflicted an unbearable pain on her and her family members. She said she had for the past nine years paid tax on her space.
“It is very unfair because there is no shop or central market in Amuwo where we can relocate to. I paid N2, 600 every year to the state and N5, 500 trade permit to the local government. But what we got at the end was to block our means of livelihood. They asked us to go without providing any alternative. It is very sad. If government had provided a place for us to rent, whoever is capable of paying will do so,” she said.
Another container owner, Michael Omolade, who is a retiree, told the reporter that he built the container and selling petty things there to support his two children, who couldn’t secure a job after graduating from the university. He said government had plunged him and his household into further hardship, and disclosed that he couldn’t tell how they would survive without his job.
“This is the greatest shock I have received in recent times. The government cannot tell us that it has not been collecting rates from these containers. Then, when it was time for it to get rid of them, they ought to have given us a longer period for us to relocate and plan properly,” he said.
In the same manner, a stakeholder in the estate, Mr. Bala Ali, said the government acted as if it was in the military era. He said it took the residents’ personal efforts of more than two decades to fix the estate to its current level. According to him, most of the containers served as protective barricades which prevented hoodlums from gaining access to the community to cause havoc.
He added: “When l first heard of it, l thought it was a rumour and because l didn’t believe in rumours, l felt unconcerned. I expected the state to have opened negotiations with us on the possible ways out. Any sensible government should be able to feel the pain of the people, especially when it has to do with shutting down the people’s means of livelihood. There was a woman who fainted upon hearing the news. Her shop was the only source her entire family depended on for survival. There are many retirees who use these containers to feed their families, because many of them are owed their pensions.”