The recent demolition of Monkey village, an informal settlement in Opebi area of Lagos, has further underscored the burdens of the urban poor in the action-packed city. Coming on the last day of year 2020, the demolition has compounded the pains of the urban slum dwellers in a year that was characterised by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are homeless, jobless and have nowhere to go as they sleep in the open with no protection from the weather, reptiles and street urchins.
Weeks after Lagos State Government’s bulldozers made their way to Monkey Village, an informal settlement in Opebi area of Lagos, the displaced residents are still counting their losses. They are not only displaced; their properties have also been destroyed.
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Coming on the eve of the New Year when merrymaking was still in the air, the displacement shattered the celebration mode for the hundreds who were rendered homeless.
At the time of filing this report, they have barely salvaged their properties from the rubbles. They are now concerned with picking the pieces of what is left of their properties after the demolition which they said was without prior notice.
When Daily Trust Saturday visited the village, residents could be seen with their personal effects littered all around, looking gloomy and weary.
The environment was filled with stench and debris from the demolition of the village. Approaching an open space in the centre of the village, a middle-aged man identified as Caretaker, who took us around, said the demolition started on December 24 and continued on the last day of the year without any notification.
“With this, residents were forced to celebrate Christmas and New Year in confusion and sorrow,” he said.
The caretaker, who refused to give his real name, said there was a man he suspected to be a land grabber that came to the village last year with mobile policemen in an attempt “to forcefully take over the popular mechanic village within the settlement.”
He added that all the landlords and landladies that own properties in the village have gone to Alausa with their papers to complain and to be sure that the state government was not behind the demolition.
‘We are dying’
One of the affected residents, Mrs. Cecilia Okeke, recalling the incidents, said “As early as 6am, we saw a bulldozer at the mechanic land. It was my son that ran into the room to tell me that they were demolishing Monkey Village; I was yet to say my morning prayers so I quickly jumped up and rushed out on my wrapper.
“I don’t know who is responsible for the demolition but we have been trying to rent an apartment but the money is too expensive. That same day, my husband bled from his nose and mouth, even the little goods are all gone. I also lost my money. We are lying down helplessly with no food, no water and no drugs, mosquitoes have feasted on us. Please, we need drugs and food; we don’t want to die,” she said as tears rush down her cheeks.
Another physically distraught woman identified as Anita said there was nowhere to sleep with her family.
She said, “We don’t have any source of water and hardly anything to eat. Since the demolition up till now, nobody has come to our rescue. We are all homeless with no food and water. Our children are suffering, we do not deserve any of these. We couldn’t attend cross over night due to the demolition. A woman that was suffering from high blood pressure fainted that day out of shock.
“Many media houses have come to capture the scene here but up till now, nobody has come to our rescue. We are all homeless and in need of help.”
Another displaced resident who did not want his name in print said, “This land was temporarily given to us by the owners who bought the lands for their grandchildren to stay pending when they will be ready to start construction on it. We had houses here, a storey building, computer school, churches, mosques, bore hole water, generator, and a refrigerator.
“We just saw bulldozer that morning bringing down our houses, we were not given any time to pack our properties. We were left with nothing. We called the owners of the lands while the demolition was ongoing and they all said they weren’t aware of the demolition. They told us they have Certificate of Occupancy and were not owing Land Use Charge.”
Daily Trust Saturday reports that the land in question has been a subject of controversy over the rightful owners.
A former Vice-President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Sunday Ubani was the first to cry out over the demolition exercise, saying land grabbers invaded a piece of land situated and lying at No 1 Folurunsho Kuku Street, Off Agbaoku, Opebi, covered with a certificate of occupancy obtained since 1989 belonging to his client.
He said since 1989 when the state government issued the certificate of occupancy, “the owner has been in effective and unhindered possession until 31st of December when Lagos State Government came with some land grabbers in order to remove the owner from the possession and now put the land grabbers in possession.”
According to him, after a meeting with some officials of the state government, it was discovered that “the survey they are using to say that the man is the owner of the property was never part of the proceedings in the court.”
“We have evidence of what surveys were tendered and how they bought the property. I am making my investigation in order to get more facts about what is going on because I see government agencies being asked to play a role they shouldn’t have played. We were being regarded now as land grabbers but who are the land grabbers? They said they are enforcing a Supreme Court judgement and I said that Supreme Court judgement cannot be enforced by land grabbers. It can only be enforced by the court officials, bailiff or Sheriff, not Lagos State Government,” he said.
But the G.W.O Meadows Family which took full possession of the property on Monday faulted the claim of Ubani even as it demanded apology from him.
Mr. Francis Monye, the Solicitor to Prosperous Ariyori Golden Ventures, the land developer that was given the concession by G.W.O Meadows Family to develop and manage the land, said they were acting based on several rulings of the courts which declared Meadows Family as the rightful owner of the property.
The legal practitioner said the possession of the land was based on the ruling of the Lagos High Court in Suit No: LD/513/80 and Court of Appeal in Suit No: CA/1/16A/92, as well as the ruling of the apex court, the Supreme Court in SC146/1995, which were all in the favour of the G.W.O Meadows family.
“It is not good to have illegal shanties within a city like Lagos. The place has become a haven for all sorts of crimes; people who are illegal immigrants living there. It is more like a training front for robbers; a place where they stash proceeds of crimes. They come here to keep either stolen vehicles or stolen materials and this place also became a kind of terror to the environment. Most of the people in the shanties are people without any reasonable means of livelihood,” he said.
Also speaking, the solicitor to G.W.O. Meadows family, Mr. Yakubu Arowosola Eleto, warned land grabbers and illegal occupants to vacate the property and also called on Mr. Ubani, to desist from laying claims to the property.
Burdens of the urban poor
But amidst the claim and counter-claim, the demolition of the shanties has become another phase in the series of the displacement of the urban poor and shanty residents. From Maroko, Makoko, Badia, Ilubinrin, Otodo-Gbame among other land reclamation exercises carried out by the state government officials, the urban poor have had to live with the trauma of hustling in a city without cognizance for the plight of the people in the lowest rung of the ladder who cannot afford the exorbitant house rent in Africa’s seventh-largest economy if it were a country.
A Non-Governmental Organisation, the Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE), which condemned the demolition without notice, said an ICT Centre and youth hub it built in the community was also pulled down with several computers, library and other gadgets intact in the building. Pleas by community members who had the key of the centre to retrieve the materials were ignored. CEE-HOPE’s water project in the community was also totally destroyed. Several members of the community were also brutalised, according to community sources.
“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,” said CEE-HOPE’s founder/Executive Director, Betty Abah.
She added, “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. Yet, 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.”
The Lagos State Government however insists it is not behind the demolition, explaining the demolition exercise was carried out by the owner of the land who was enforcing court judgements on the property.