Gloom, despair, and misery filled the air as Lagos agencies demolished Monkey Village, an informal settlement at Opebi area of the state on December 31, 2020.
The bulldozer assigned for the task kept working, as government officials, mixed with touts and security agents stood to forestall attempts by dwellers to stop the demolition.
While dwellers tried to salvage their properties amidst hopelessness, auto mechanics occupying a mechanic yard adjacent the settlement watched with despondency as government officials towed away vehicles in the yard and demolished their workplace.
What could have led to an unjust demolition of Monkey Village, the takeover of the mechanic village – a registered business association upright with payment of levies and dues to the government – and the displacement of hundreds of residents on New Year’s Eve?
What more, the demolition was done without prior notice or regard for the law of the land. While the exercise had the handwriting of the state government, there was more to it – land grabbing.
Residents of Monkey Village – just like other Lagosians- anticipated the new year and made plans for it in their own way, with some pimping their ‘abode’ in expectation of the new year.
Many of the residents had travelled home for the yuletide. Those that decided to stay back were out working, shopping or engaged in other end of the year activities.
The mechanics were working at their yard adjacent the informal settlement, all hands were on deck to see to the delivery of many vehicles before the new year holidays. They had received a ‘kangaroo’ notice from the Ministry of Transport and Environment two days earlier telling them to vacate the premises within 48 hours.
Upon receipt of the notice, the lawyer to the owner of the land being used as a mechanic workshop, Monday Ubani, contacted the Ministry of Transport where he was told that the ministry had no knowledge of it.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES about the matter, Mr Ubani said he later found out that one Hon Fayinka, a consultant with the Ministry of Transportation, issued the notice, and boasted that they would take over the land soon.
Mr Ubani told PREMIUM TIMES that there had been a tussle on the land and several attempts by land grabbers to invade the land had been rebuffed through court processes.
On December 31, however, the land grabbers had their way by using government agencies and officials to demolish the mechanic workshop, and by extension, an informal settlement behind the workshop where hundreds of families lived with an agreement with the owners of the land.
The sudden demolition, which was without any notice, led to the destruction of many properties, including an ICT centre established by the Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE) to help children and youth acquire technological skills.
How Lagos agencies became tools in the hands of land grabbers
In the morning of December 31, 2020, truckloads of police officers, officials from the Lagos task force, Lagos State Environmental and Sanitation Corps (LAGESC), and thugs descended on the mechanic village to carry out the demolition, allegedly acting on a ‘judgment.’
To make the demolition ‘legitimate’, the officials extended the act to Monkey Village, an informal settlement behind.
As graders and bulldozers kept on pulling down structures, thugs and police officers stood by to prevent the residents from stopping the process. Over 400 persons, including children and youth, were displaced in the process.
“We were not given any notice, they came suddenly. Where is this done? Even if the government will demolish this place, are they not meant to inform us so that we can pack our things?” These and many other words filled the mouths of the residents as the demolition went on.
By the time PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter arrived the scene on December 31, Monkey Village had been demolished to ground zero. Several vehicles in the mechanic compound had also been towed to the Ministry of Transportation, Alausa.
PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter saw four fully-loaded vehicles belonging to the Lagos State Environmental and Sanitation Corps (LAGESC), and police officers leaving the site.
While residents of Monkey Village tried to salvage the remnants of their properties, mechanics occupying the mechanic village stood helplessly, confused about the situation. Residents lamented the demolition of their abode without prior notice by the state government.
Kayode Jolaosho, the chairperson of the mechanic association, told PREMIUM TIMES that about 38 vehicles were towed from the yard.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the spokesperson of LAGESC and Lagos Taskforce who were at the scene of the demolition, both agencies denied carrying out the demolition.
“It is not our own task force, I don’t know, it is not our own task force. I have spoken with our operation officer, he said he is not aware of any operation,” Adebayo Taofeek, the spokesperson of Lagos State Task Force told PREMIUM TIMES.
In a separate press release, Mr Taofeek said “it is imperative to state categorically that the operatives of the agency was (were) not in any way involved in the said demolition,” as they were enforcing traffic laws to ensure the free flow of traffic during the yuletide.
Kehinde Adebayo, the spokesperson of LAGESC, also said the agency did not carry out the operation, despite the involvement of officials of the agency.
The denial of the agencies further suggests how influential persons in Lagos can use government apparatus unchecked.
While land grabbing is a common practice by ‘omo-onile’ in many parts of the state, how influential land-grabbers turn to state agencies to perpetrate the act is worrisome.
Lagos – A state that flouts its own laws
On January 3, Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development disclosed that it carried out the demolition of the neighbourhood where it removed over 200 shanties “to protect the master plan of the State and restore orderliness to the axis.”
Referencing the area where the said demolition took place, the ministry said the property was located at 1, Kuku Street, Opebi, Ikeja. This is the land where the mechanic village is located, which does not extend to the Monkey Village behind the land.
In the statement, Idris Salako, the commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, said the allegations by Mr Ubani, the lawyer for the landowner, that the exercise was done with the intent to grab the land was untrue.
Mr Salako said the property, rather than being developed in line with the Operative Development Plans of the state and the subsisting Approval Order of the area, had defaced the otherwise serene and organised neighbourhood with illegal mechanic workshops and over 200 shanties that were abodes to criminal elements terrorising the area.
Mr Salako said the demolition exercise was the “aftermath of a petition to the Lagos State Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers and the approval of the Ministry of Justice.”
He added that the exercise was done within “the ambit of the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law 2019.”
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mukaila Sanusi, the spokesperson for the ministry, on why the demolition took place without prior notice, he said it was in line with the regulation of the land.
“If we are saying in line with the law, it means that we have followed the law,” Mr Sanusi said.
Section 34 (2) & (3) of the Physical Planning and Urban Development Law of Lagos state however provides that:
(2) The Agency shall have power to serve the developer and occupier a Demolition Notice if a structure erected is found to be illegal, defective, distressed or constitutes a nuisance to the occupier and/or the public.
(3) Notices served in accordance with the provisions of sub-regulation (2) of this Regulation shall contain a date within which the addressee shall comply and after which the Agency shall take steps to commence removal action on the affected structure.
Section 41 of the law, which contains the power of the ministry to demolish buildings, provides that adequate notices are served and demolition be carried out after the expiration of the time served.
Despite the clear provisions of the law which the ministry said it “followed”, no notice was served, neither were other adequate steps taken as provided by the law.
It is, however, unclear whether the Ministry of Physical and Urban Planning acted based on the “petition to the Lagos State Special Taskforce on Land Grabbers and the approval of the Ministry of Justice” or whether the exercise was done within “the ambit of the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law 2019.”
Given that the provisions of the Urban and Regional Planning law were not followed, it then begs the question whether the exercise was motivated by a land grabbing attempt.
When PREMIUM TIMES revisited the scene of demolition in January, three touts (alleged security personnel) were seen securing the land at 1 Kuku Street, Opebi.
The touts told PREMIUM TIMES in no uncertain tone that they work with the ‘state government.’ It is unclear however whether the state government puts touts on an expanse of land after demolition or the touts hold brief for the alleged land grabber.
Mr Ubani, the lawyer to the owner of the land, said six months ago, land grabbers invaded the six plots of land they had been occupying for over 31 years, saying they had a Supreme Court judgment to take over the land.
He said the judgment tendered read a location different from 1, Kuku Street Opebi and he removed the invaders and land grabbers through court actions and the police.
“When they invaded the land, they brought in some government officials who I suspect to be surveyors to be surveying the land. In other words, they want to comprise the survey, so that they can make the judgment gotten on a different place read as if it covers the land.
“When I sued them, I got an injunction, they didn’t file anything up till now. What they did now is to wait until the 31st day of December when they know that courts are not in session and my office would have closed. They now went and use all government agencies, even though all of them have denied now.”
Mr Ubani said the Ministry of Physical Planning complicated the matter more because of its position. He said whether they acted on the physical planning law or in accordance with approval of the court on land grabbing was unclear.
“If there is any breach of planning law, are we not supposed to be given notice?” he said.
Mr Ubani, who described the act as land grabbing, alleged one Ariori Akeem of being the land grabber. He added that Mr Ariori had attempted to grab other land within the estate, one of which he was involved in and won the case in court.
It was a land grabbing issue – Estate Chairperson
Steve Omamole, the chairperson, landlord association of the estate, regarded the situation as a “quagmire”, while stating the position of the estate.
“There was a pending land grabbing issue between the owner of the land where the mechanic workshop is and the land grabbers.
“When the land grabber discovered that there was a pending issue on Monkey Village coming in and out of the mechanic village, they took advantage of that to come in through the mechanic workshop and used Monkey Village as an opportunity to grab the land,” Mr Omamole told PREMIUM TIMES.
The estate chairperson said although the estate, in February 2020, wrote a series of letters to the Lagos State taskforce and the state government concerning the ingress and egress from Monkey Village into the estate, the authorities took no action.
“When we wrote the petitions, we got visits from the Lagos State task force and the ministries and they did nothing. The estate took it upon itself to create a wall, a boundary to lock Monkey Village completely away from the estate. And they access to the village only from the Opebi bridge,” he said.
Mr Omamole said the recent demolition of the village and the mechanic workshop had nothing to do with the petitions written by the estate association.
“If you go there now, what you will see is they are claiming that they had a court order on the land. But if it is the petition we wrote, we didn’t go to court, so, where did the court order come from?
“Where did that order come from when the courts are on holiday? They are only trying to rope the estate executives into the matter between the land grabbers and the owners of the land. We absolutely have no petition against a legal land that is in the estate. If we have any issue with any property in the estate, we deal with the owners directly.”
The chairperson further said the land grabbers, who had made attempts in grabbing two other lands in the estate and succeeded in grabbing one, only used Monkey Village as a cover to grab a land that the mechanics were legitimately occupying.
“When they came, they could not gain access to Monkey Village without going through the workshop, so they created the impression that their mission was Monkey Village and unknown to them (the mechanics), they came with towing vehicles and emptied the mechanic workshop, locked it and put a court order on the wall.
Mr Omamole said the same alleged land grabber, Mr Ariori, attempted to grab a land in Anuopluwapo, and Mr Ubani, who was the lawyer to the owners, took the case to court and won. He, however, succeeded in grabbing another land on Alhaji Afolabi Awosanya Street within the estate.
Alleged land grabber’s response
After several attempts by PREMIUM TIMES to get Mr Ariori, the alleged land grabber to speak on the matter, he said he had given a press release on his position.
Mr Ariori, who sent links to his published press release, said the allegations were untrue.
“We have been in possession of the said land (Opebi) for more than 20 years. About six months ago, while trying to erect some structures on the land, we found out that some mechanics have taken over the place and we reported them to Zone II for which they were all arrested.
“That was when we met the lawyer, who came to facilitate their bail and ordered them back to the land that has the Supreme Court’s verdict backing us. Since we have been trying to work on that land and he (lawyer) has been using police to frustrate our efforts.”
When PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter asked for a copy of the Supreme Court judgment and other necessary documents to back up his claim, Mr Ariori did not respond to calls or messages.
Mr Ariori said they wrote a petition to the Attorney-General of the State to assist on the issue which led to a further investigation on the matter.
“Meanwhile, before then, the people of the community had written the state government to eject the miscreants from the land as a result of their criminal activities, leading to the state government action of December 31 last year
“I was surprised then, when the lawyer started attacking me, calling me several names on social media. Even if I acted illegally as he has been saying, is he saying that the government also did not do the right thing? Does this action mean that we are not the true owners of the land?” the press statement further read.
Demolition without prior notice is gross violation of human dignity – CEEHOPE
Betty Abah, executive director of CEE-HOPE, a non-governmental organisation which set up an ICT centre in Monkey Village for children and youth, regarded the demolition as an attack on the poor and violation of human dignity.
CEE-HOPE’s ICT Centre and youth hub was also demolished with several computers, library and other gadgets intact in the building. A water project done in the community by the organisation was also destroyed.
Mrs Abah, faulting the action of the state government, described as “crude, autocratic and a gross violation of all known laws and guidelines guiding the handling of such matters world over.”
The organisation said the action had not only displaced 400 persons but also endangered the educational dream of more than 200 of the community’s children.
“It is indeed a crying shame that the biggest news out of Lagos every single year would revolve around the savage treatment of the urban poor.
“From Maroko, Makoko, Badia East, Iluibirin to Otodo-Gbame, and now Monkey Village, it is the same pattern of the gross abuse of the human and shelter rights of the urban poor, when Lagos is not the only state in Nigeria and when Nigeria is not the only place where we have slum settlement or indeed where the urban poor exists.
“The most painful for us was the destruction of educational facilities funded by private individuals and for the most vulnerable of children, and in a country with the highest number of out-of-school children, at a time of a global pandemic and during a national recession,’ Mrs Abah said.
She said the statement from the government was part of the “layers of lies bandied by the Lagos State Government in the last few days to cover up the atrocity committed against the poor residents of Monkey Village.”
Stating their demands, CEE-HOPE said an apology be issued to the community members for the gross violation of their rights, including the failure to follow due process by duly serving them formal notice.
It also demanded the compensation of CEE-HOPE for the complete destruction of its multi-million naira ICT Centre/Youth Hub in the community and water project, adding that every member of the community be compensated for the loss of personal and household belongings.
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