No fewer than 600 residents of Otodo Gbame, a predominantly Egun waterfront community in Lekki, on Tuesday protested the destruction of their homes by hoodlums, and policemen, alleged to be working with the state government.
The protesters, who marched from the Toll Gate area of Ketu to the Lagos State governor’s office in Alausa, were asking Akinwunmi Ambode, the state governor, to stop the relentless intimidation by the police and hoodlums they said were hired by Elegushi family, a Yoruba Chieftaincy family.
The residents, who claimed to have lost all their possessions, said they want justice for their destroyed home. They also demand that they be allowed back to homes, which they have since been evicted from, to commence the rebuilding of their lives.
In the wee hours of November 9, gang of boys linked to the Elegushi family, attacked residents of Otodo Gbame, a small fishing settlement of mainly bamboo and houses on stilt along the Lagos lagoon, just outside highbrow Lekki Phase 1.
Residents said they invited policemen from nearby Ilasan police station to intervene in the fracas but they were shocked that when the policem arrived they soon joined the hoodlums and started pulling down and setting fire to their homes.
Interestingly, the incident occurred a day after the ruling of a Lagos State High Court stopping Mr Ambode, who had vowed to demolish all waterfront communities in the state, from going ahead with his threat.
The protesters, including the physical challenged and children, said they wanted Mr Ambode to intervene, stop the alleged unrelenting police intimidation, and return them to their charred home, which have been razed to the ground.
Protesters started arriving Toll Gate about a few minutes to 9 a.m. The first group to arrive were a delegation from the waterfront communities in Port Harcourt, River State. They said they had travelled all night to join the protest in solidarity with the residents of Otodo Gbame.
“The reason we feel it is important for us to join this Lagos slum-dwellers in this peaceful protest today is because on July 19, we had the same eviction threat where the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, posed a threat of demolishing our homes, it was a very big challenge to us at the time, Lagos people came to Port Harcourt and joined us in the peaceful demonstration and by the special grace of God we were listened to and our homes still remain till now and we think it is very important for us to join them to show solidarity,” said Barika Nwideezua, one of the 14-person delegation from Port Harcourt.
Another group of protesters from Oke Iranla, an Egun waterfront community in Ajah, arrived in three 22-setter commercial buses, popularly called Faka. The group comprising mostly women and their children, wore crowns made with grasses and painted their faces in traditional dye and charcoal.
Armed with sticks, old rubber kegs and aluminium trays, they immediately broke into protest songs and chants.
After about 30 minutes of dancing and at the Toll Gate bus stop, they were joined by resident of Otodo Gbame, who arrived late. They claimed as they were about leaving for the protest, police officers arrived, chasing and harassing people who had nowhere to go and were still staying back among the ash and charred corrugated iron sheet that used to be their homes.
Whistles blaring, protest songs on their lips, the protesters trooped along the Mobolaji Johnson Avenue towards Alausa, causing serious traffic gridlock along the road.
They gathered outside the governor’s office, singing and chanting and asking the governor to save their families, businesses and homes. Police officers stationed at the governor’s office stopped them from entering the premises but did not interrupt the protesters.
Tales of woes
A middle-aged woman who gave her name simply as Talabi, with the three figurines held around her waist by a lappa, said she lost her property in the morning of November 9 as police and hoodlums attacked the community.
“The cloth I have on is now my only possession,” she said. “The governor should look upon us with pity. Our lives have been shattered,” she cried.
The resident said they had never seen where the police behaved so irresponsibly.
They said the police did not only take sides, but were setting fire to their houses under the supervision of the state commissioner of police, Fatai Owoseni.
“The police were the ones burning the houses. If you want to settle dispute between two people you shouldn’t add more to the problem. The policemen are from the state government. Fatai Owoseni, the commissioner of police was on ground,” said Areomi Oladipupo.
“We had normal disagreement in the society, The Elegushi boys and the Egun boys were fighting. Anybody can fight anytime. But the police should settle the dispute not to burn the houses themselves. We have evidence. The police commissioner was on ground when his boys, the policemen, were burning the houses.
“Is that the way to settle dispute? Is that the way to solve our problems? After burning our houses, where were we suppose to stay with our kids and wives?” he asked.
“The schools, the churches and mosques have been burned down. People are dying. Is demolition the solution? What we want is for government to sit down with us and upgrade our slums. They know how to come to the slum to get votes. We also pay land use charges to the government,” he added.
Abdulraman Sani, another resident, said he lost everything he owned in the incident. He said several children drowned in the confusion that occurred on the night of the demolition
“The police gave them (hoodlums) torchlight, they broke into our homes and stole all our possessions. We lost laptops, flat screen televisions, money, and foodstuff. Our children were terrified. About ten of them drowned in the water that night. Many of them are still missing.
Christianah Sotun, a fishmonger, similarly said she and many residents having nowhere to go now sleep in their fishing canoes in open water.
“They came to demolish our homes. People died, including children and women. I lost my house, all my cloths and everything I own. We have nowhere to sleep. At night, we sleep in our canoes floating in the Lagoon,” she said.”
Joseph Donald, 22, a third-generation resident of the community, said the Elegushi family cannot claim ownership of the land where Otodo Gbame was located.
“We have been staying the community for over 70 years. I was born in the community. My father told me he was also born in the community. We have a right to the land because we have stayed there for more than 20 years. In fact, even the Oba Elegushi is not the owner of the land.,” he said.