If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. — Charles Darwin
Almost two years after, there is no respite in sight for former residents of Otodo Gbame, a coastal community in Lekki Phase 1, Lagos, whom the state government forced out of the settlement.
The state had insisted that the land on which the community stood was actually known as Ilado, a private family land owned by the Elegushi Royal House of Lagos.
Members of the community had alleged that their persecution was spearheaded by Prince Wasiu Elegushi, younger brother to Oba Elegushi, in conjunction with the Nigeria Police and the Lagos State government.
The twist in the case now is the prosecution of the secretary-general,Centre for the Defence of Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CDHRDA),Prof. Maurice Fangnon.
Fangnon and his lawyers claim that he is being persecuted for his perseverance in demanding justicefor residents that died during their forceful eviction from Otodo Gbame.
Fangnon and Bamidele Friday are being prosecuted by the police for allegedly giving false statement and threats to eliminate three members of the Elegushi royal family.
Fangnon said: “It started in September 2014, when Wasiu Elegushi attacked the community. Two persons died in the attack; we have the records.“We petitioned the police.
They went into investigation. Wasiu was arrested, and investigation was carried out. The outcome was that Wasiu should not be prosecuted.
The Elegushi royal family came to meet the deputy commissioner,Panti, Yaba, who was then Gbenga Adeyanju, to negotiate with us. But the DC said we should talk outside his office.
The two gentlemen they sent started pleading with us, but I refused. They committed murder, and we want the law to take its cause.
”The activist said, eventually, Wasiu Elegushi was released by the police.He also accused Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of supporting the Elegushi family.
He said even before the people were evicted from Otodo Gbame, they had suffered several attacks.“Thugs were continuously attacking the community with guns, cutlasses, cudgels,broken bottles, and other weapons,burning and looting property.
“I was always in touch with the Commissioner of Police, Lagos, Assistant Inspector-General, Zone 2, Inspector-General of Police and the Deputy Inspector-General, sending text messages alerting them. Yet, the people of the community were under siege till the havocs were committed.
”Fangnon alleged that more than 20 people died in the demolition, even as dead bodies were recovered from thewater. He said the Elegushi family used thepolice against the community.
According to Fangnon, CDHRDA took up the case to the police to investigate and prosecute those behind the massacre,regretting that he and others were now being persecuted.
Quoting the community’s lead counsel, Prof.Akin Ibidapo Obe, Fangnon said: “The police cannot be the accuser and the prosecutor in the case of false information against the rights activist.
We are going into the dark days of the judiciary in this nation. All we want is justice.We have people who were killed and displaced.They don’t have shelter up to date.”He also explained why he was being prosecuted.
“They said we gave false information to the police because they successfully removed Wasiu Elegushi from police custody without prosecution. We suspect the police were working with the Elegushis to cover up the truth. They we named in the killing because they fired gunshots during the killing.
“The frivolous charges of false information should be struck out. Justice should be done to the community by compensating and rehabilitating them so that they can live again.They are indigenes of Lagos State. They are Egun from Badagry.”One of the evictees and a youth leader in Otodo Gbame, Ahisu Clement, recalled that:
“We were forcefully evicted by the Lagos State Government on April 9, 2017, despite the fact that the High Court of Lagos State gave a judgement in our favour.
A non-governmental organisation took the state government to court under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules, 2009, and the court ruled that we should be resettled in our land with compensation, and that the state government should not evict people from the waterfront communities.“It is almost two years, and the judgement has not been enforced.
I wouldn’t pray for my enemies to go through this kind of experience. I’m a self-employed graduate of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Lagos State University. During the eviction, they burnt all my equipment. It was the first time I saw the Nigeria Police with kegs of petrol burning down houses.
“The Elegushi royal family wants to dispossess us of our land without any dispossession notice, neither was there any form of negotiation for our resettlement. We petitioned the Lagos State Government when the crisis was looming.
They denied having any hand in it. We are now taking refuge in Makoko, Ajah, Oreta and other places. The Marine Police ambushed us through the land and water.
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It was a state government-sponsored eviction under the allegation that people wrote to them that there were kidnappers and armed robbers living in the community, which is not true.
We are citizens of Nigeria, and indigenes of Lagos State. We have our voters’ cards.”In a chat with the reporter, the head, Police Homicide Investigation and Crime Scene Management, Lagos State, Panti, Yaba, DSP Olusola Agoyi, who reportedly arrested Wasiu Elegushi, said he couldn’t recall such an incident.
He claimed that he was no longer in the homicide department of the State Criminal Investigation Department.
Ibidapo Obe told the reporter the police prosecuting Fangnon were part of the problem, accusing them of being co-conspirators with those who allegedly destroyed Otodo Gbame community.
He said: “They are alleged to have joined hands with the land owners, and now they turn around prosecuting the case. That ground in itself is objectionable.“The police are an interested party, so they would end up persecuting Professor Fangnon rather than prosecuting him.
They are part of those alleged to have invaded Otodo Gbame community of 50,000 people and burnt homes, leaving scores dead.“We agree that the police are an interested party but they cannot prosecute their own case. The world is focusing on this idea that some so-called land owners, using the police,can descend on any community in Nigeria,burn their houses, destroy villages and kill people, and nothing would happen, even ifthey are squatters. People of Otodo Gbame
community are not squatters. They are the original landowners. Even if governmentwants to use the land, it should compensate
them, or find them an alternative, which is what the international law says.“This matter is easy to settle: with draw the case that has gone to court, call representatives of the community and give them some little recompense to go and find an alternative means of livelihood.“And we are not saying Fangnon should not be prosecuted, even though it is a trumped-up charge.
But it should not be the police that should prosecute, rather an impartial body.”In its reaction, the Lagos State government said Ilado, which is being described as Otodo Gbame by visitors, has always been a private land and the subject of a lawsuit, which has been decided in favour of the family owners.
The state government said it was in November 2016 that inter-ethnic clashes led to the fire incident that consumed the settlement, and not as a result of any so-called government-sponsored demolition.
While clarifying the allegation against the Elegushi family, the secretary, Chief Muritala Elegushi, was reported to have said that the family had documented evidence to prove that it was the rightful and legal owner of the land. The secretary explained that the family had nothing to do with the violence that broke out in Otodo Gbame.