The Lagos State government coverts the land for the Lekki Free trade zone.
Ten communities in Lagos State have accused the state government of forcefully acquiring their lands for the Lekki Free Trade Zone project.
The communities said the government used armed police officers as well as threatened dissenters in the community with jail terms in order to arm-twist them into giving up their lands.
A joint statement signed by the ten villages – Idasho, Loore, Pankere, Ajegunle, Agbon, Fowosoje, Lajala, Araromi, Kajola, and Omisande – accused the state government of “unjust” harassment, illegal arrests and “malicious” damage of their property.
“We the people of Idasho community in Lagos State are the original owner of Idasho community and its (surrounding) landed property which in accordance with the native law has allowed our forefathers to exercise their right of ownership without any encumbrances. We have been in existence since the 16th century in Lekki area of Lagos State,” said the statement, read by Stephen Ogunsanya, secretary of the communities, on behalf of the 10 villages.
The statement further accused the police of allowing themselves to be used as “agents of oppression” by the government.
“We note with sadden hearts and disappointment that the Nigerian Police Force, who are saddled with the power to protect the lives and property of Nigerians, have now derailed and turned into the agents of oppression and destruction of the Lagos State government who intend to forcefully eject us from our 10 communities (sic).”
“I wonder why, if you want to take anything from somebody, you punish the person. The next thing they are planning is to use hired assassins,” said Mutiu Apena, 80, Baale of Idasho.
A free trade zone
The Lekki Free Trade Zone, an ambitious project launched by the Lagos State government in 2004, covers about 17,000 hectares and is expected to accommodate over 100,000 resident population.
Bounded by the Lekki lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean, it is aimed at developing the area into a modern city that would house a multi-use facility with zones for oil and gas, industries, commerce, real estates, warehousing, entertainment and tourism.
When the free trade zone was introduced by the administration of the former governor, Bola Tinubu, the communities kicked against it. The predominantly farming communities said the State Government encroached on their farmlands without due consultation.
“We did not agree or consent with any memo of understanding purportedly being acted upon. This has made us insist that our land are the only source of living and taking it away from us will amount to enslaving us in our own land which can result to premature death of our people,” said the statement read by Mr. Ogunsanya.
Nevertheless, against the communities’ protests, the Lagos State government in partnership with some Chinese firms, has gone ahead to expend $20 million (over N3billion) on the project.
Efforts to see Tajudeen Disu, the Managing Director of the project, were not successful. At the ultra modern office near the project at Idasho village, a staff said that all the management staff, led by Mr. Disu, went out for lunch.
“It is only the management staff that can talk to journalists,” the staff added.
Communities against the state
On Wednesday, members of the communities, bearing cardboard signs begging for assistance from the Federal Government and rights groups, held a peaceful protest in Idasho. At the sight of the video cameras of journalists, the women among the protesters, joined by their half-naked children, erupted in loud cries and rolled around in the sand.
Mr. Ogunsanya said that they had been “sold out” by their traditional rulers.
“They want to use all the local chiefs. The local chiefs have surrendered the land but we the indigenes say ‘no'”.
On April 11, surveyors and a handful of police officers who visited a site in the village were chased away by the youth. The next day, the surveyors returned with dozens of armed officers from the mobile police and the Rapid Response Squad, RRS, and two Armoured Personnel Carriers.
As the villagers moved once again to stop the surveyors, the police officers sprung out from the bush and gave chase, shooting over a dozen tear gas canisters into the air.
“They pursued us enter our village and scattered our shops. Our wives and children ran into the bush. We didn’t see them for almost five days,” said Oluwatoyin Giwa, a youth leader in the community.
Mr. Giwa, who spoke through an interpreter, said that they (the youth) have continually driven away “people who have come to survey their farm lands.”
“The first time they came in 2006, we saw them with machines and bulldozers, they started to scatter the ground- we went there and stopped them, told them not do anything there.”
In 2007, Mr. Giwa and four others were apprehended, charged with armed robbery and kidnapping and then spent three months at the Ikoyi Prison.
“I didn’t kidnap anybody,” Mr. Giwa insisted. “It is because we chased them out of our land that’s why they are lying on our heads.”
Last week, seven members of the community were charged to court for conspiracy to commit felony, assaulting surveyors on site, and stealing equipment valued at N235,000. The defendants pleaded not guilty.
Mr. Ogunsanya said that they would no longer negotiate with the government since they are trying to “forcefully take our lands and share among themselves.”
“We don’t want any compensation at all. We just want them to leave our land for us,” he stated.
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