Almost seven years after many buildings in three communities in Badagry, Lagos State, were demolished in a land ownership tussle, the victims are still nursing their pain.
Seeking justice, they have once again appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari and the governor of the state, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to come to their aid.
Men of the Nigeria Police, supported by the Lagos State government, under then Governor Babatunde Fashola, stormed the area with bulldozers in December 2013. By the time they were done, every building in the three communities had been brought down. Residential houses, schools, churches, hotels, markets, stores and other buildings were reduced to rubble.
It was gathered that many of the victims have died owing to the psychological trauma and suffering that the demolition brought upon them. Those who alive claimed that the dead were somehow better of, having escaped continuous physical and emotion torment.
The affected communities are Atiporome, Araromi Ale, and Muwo phase 2 – all neighbouring communities in Badagry. The incident remains fresh with the residents, who said they would never forget how the Nigeria Police Force, in connivance with the Lagos State government, on December 16, 2013, demolished their communities.
The owners of the destroyed buildings have lamented that their lives have been turned upside down as a result of the demolition.
The victims were said to have built their houses and were living there peacefully with their families before they were forcefully displaced. Watching their years of labour becoming rubble under the bulldozer’s blade and tracks made them cringe. They claimed that the communities were demolished while the matter was still a subject of litigation at the Badagry High Court. According to the aggrieved victims, the impunity has remained a rude shock to them.
They told Daily Sun that they purchased their land from the original landowners, otherwise known as ‘Omo-oniles,’ and payments were made after thorough findings on the genuineness or otherwise of land ownership.
On the other hand, the police have also claimed that they acquired the land from the Lagos State government for the Police Cooperative Housing Scheme. But the residents faulted this claim, saying the land allotted to the police was at Agemowo and Agelado, far from where the police came to lay claim.
The community members said that the police came for the raid with officers of the Lagos State Task Force on Environment and Special Offences. The victims further alleged that, after the demolition, the police sold the rubble from the demolished houses, while the residents watched helplessly.
Revealing this recently, counsel to the victims, Kemdirim Declan, posited that he was still in shock over the way the matter was being handled, particularly how his clients were being intimidated by some powerful forces.
He said that he still found it difficult to believe that Lagos government would partake in the demolition of over 1,000 houses built by Lagos residents: “It is unimaginable that, overnight, over 1,000 houses built by Lagos residents were pulled down just like that and over 2,500 people rendered homeless by a government that was supposed to be providing housing for its masses.
“As a result of this demolition and the attendant shock, some of these citizens died. The ones who managed to survive went to the High Court sitting in Badagry to enforce their fundamental human rights. One of such people who died as a result of the shock was Chief Mayegun, whose hotel was billed to open officially on December 15, 2013, before it was demolished on December 16, 2013.”
Declan maintained that the police demolished the communities in error because all the documents provided by the police to prove that they acquired the land from Lagos State government bore Agemowo and Agelado.
He stressed that, when the notice of eviction was served on his clients, they tried to let the police know that they were in a wrong community, but they never listened to them.
He said: “The issue of acquisition or no acquisition was already a pending matter at Badagry court. Then, on December 14, 2013, the then Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Police Command, wrote a letter to Ageledo/Agemowo communities, which is another community in Badagry, to vacate their land. The police claimed that the land had been allotted to them by the Lagos State government.”
However, the lawyer claimed that the letter was erroneously served on residents of Atiporome and Araromi Ale communities. He stressed that Agemowo/Agelado communities were far apart and have no communal relationship with residents of Atiporome and Araromi Ale.
“Hence upon receipt of the letter from the police, we opened a channel of communication with the Commissioner of Police. We informed the police that their letter was erroneously delivered to the wrong community. Surprisingly, the Commissioner of Police refused to accept the letter and refused to pick his calls. Then two days after this letter was served, the police came and demolished the communities,” he said.
Following a series of protests by the victims, the Lagos State government set up a committee to probe the matter. The committee was led to the site on August 5, 2015, by the Chief Whip of Lagos State House of Assembly, Honourable Rotimi Abiru, and Honourable Sekonji David, representing Badagry Local Government Area, with other members of the panel and a team from Amnesty International.
The legislators promised to ensure that justice was delivered on the matter but, till date, the residents still lament that justice has remained a puzzle waiting to be solved.
One of the traditional rulers in Badagry, Chief Peter Idowu Ajayi, narrated to the lawmakers during the visit how he was arrested alongside his kinsmen on trumped-up charges. He said that he was accused of bringing thugs to beat up those sent to survey the land. He said that he was also accused of depositing charms on the land.
He said the allegations were concocted after the community’s leaders refused different attempts by the woman building the Police Cooperative quarters, who tried to induce them with money so that they would keep quiet and allow the police build on the controversial land.
He claimed that the woman also invited them to a meeting at Omole Phase 2 in Lagos and offered them money, houses, and promised to give their children scholarship. But he said the community leaders rejected the offer.
Speaking further, Declan condemned on what he called delay tactics to sweep the matter under the carpet. He stated that justice delayed was justice denied: “It will be apparent to note that the victims embraced two cases in the court. One is on the abuse of their fundamental human rights, and also trespass on their land. On the fundamental human rights, the police claimed that there is an allocation letter from Lagos State Government, which gave them the land. The allocation letter clearly stated Agemowo/Agelado, and not Atiporome or Araromi Ale. The Lagos State government also confirmed the allocation letter. In other words, the area where police went to demolish peoples’ houses was not the area allotted to them.
“But in a shocking decision, the Badagry High Court dismissed the suit filed by these hapless and homeless citizens on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction. The victims went on appeal and the Appeal Court in Lagos State reversed the decision and asked the Badagry High Court to assume jurisdiction and hear the case, that the case has merit. Another surprise is that the Lagos State Government appealed to the Supreme Court this fundamental human right case since 2016, and the suit has remained there, while the citizens have been homeless since 2013, when their homes were erroneously demolished.
“On the case of trespass on the land, Hon. Justice S.I. Sonaike, of the High Court sitting in Badagry, delivered judgment on the case on April 30, 2019. The judgment was that the purported acquisition of Atiporome and Areromi Ale community land by Lagos State Government was illegal. Again, the Lagos State government appealed the judgment.
“While conceding that a party to a suit has a constitutional right of appeal, the question is, what is the reason for this appeal when the facts are very clear. The Lagos State government gave land to the police at Agemowo/Agelado, and the police went to Atiporome and Areromi Ale communities to demolish their houses. The Lagos State government witness even admitted this error during trial. So, why the appeal? Unfortunately, the police have backed off the case but the Lagos State Government who ought to be on the side of her citizens is the one appealing and wasting time and resources in litigating. Although the suit is defended and appealed from the office of the Attorney-General of Lagos State, how are we sure that the Attorney-General himself is aware of the facts of this matter?”
Also, the chairman of the demolished communities, Chief Charles Adu, said the victims had been suffering untold hardship. He said his people were still refugees in their own country.
Adu appealed to President Buhari and Governor Sanwo-Olu to come to their rescue. He said those executing the building project have changed its name four different times. According to him, the latest name change has the housing scheme named after President Buhari, whom he believes has no hand in the project.