Residents of Iganmu Alawo Community in Apapa Iganmu Local Council Development Area, LCDA, obviously did not see it coming. So it came as a rude shock to them when they woke up last weekend to be confronted by bulldozers of the Lagos State Taskforce on Environmental and Special Offences Enforcement Unit. And by the time the operation, which was reminiscent of the Oshodi demolition exercise, was over, the slum settlement which had been home for the residents for years had been reduced to rubbles and they found themselves homeless.
The demolition is said to have been carried out to pave way for the actualisation of the Ijora housing scheme estimated to have about 10008 housing units. Governor Babatunde Fashola had in his budget presentation for the year 2013, informed of ongoing construction of houses of 1, 2, and 3 bedroom flats in at least 15 locations such as Ilupeju, Mushin, Alimosho, Sangotedo, Agbowa, Ogba, Igando, Magodo, Omole, Surulere, Lekki, Abijo, among others, adding that plans were on for more in Ikorodu, Badagry, Ijanikin, Ketu, Ijora Badia and Bariga.
Since the demolition, thousands of displaced residents have taken refuge under the Orile Bridge, while others presently sleep beside their belongings at every available open space.
Evictees recount experiences Mr. Ifianyi Oyema, a resident of the community, said: "I slept under the bridge. But while we slept, some of our possessions were carted away during the night. All I could do was to salvage what was left of my belongings."
Oyema, a former commercial motorcycle operator popularly called Okada lamented that he relocated to the community two months ago due to the new road traffic law which banned Okada operation from major roads in the state. He pleaded: "I want the state government to assist me with N4, 000 to transport myself back to the village. I am tired of living in Lagos."
Another resident, Mrs. Olayinka Ogunyemi, who also passed the night outside, at the mercy of the elements, urged the state government to relocate the residents to another place.
"All we need from the state government is for it to relocate us to a better place since the Federal Government has taken over our land and have used it for the construction. So we will want the state government relocate us immediately. We are dying," Ogunyemi said.
Ganiyu Rufai, also a resident, who hitherto lived in a church located within the community narrated thus: "My family and my church members have been rendered homeless by the eviction. Prior to the demolition, we appealed to them to give us some consideration but they refused. We are very useful to the government. I can say that is why we had been spared over the years, despite all the rumourss of the likely demolition of this place. We are very surprised that government demolished our houses. We have no power but we are appealing to them to considerate by providing us shelter".
Assault on community leaders
However, during the demolition exercise, irate residents went after their community leader, Baale, Owosheni Medunoye, alleging that "he sabotaged our effort to continuously occupy the community".
Angered by the development, the residents attacked the Baale at about 9:00 am, demanding that he should explain why he signed the eviction letter from the government without informing residents of the state government's intention.
One of the residents who identified himself as Oladeinde said: "We don't know why he signed the letter without informing the residents of the development. It shows that the state government has offered him substantial amount of money before embarking on the demolition exercise", adding that "since his installation two months ago by Chief Ojora, he has done the community no good."
We are shocked, says Baale
Speaking with newsmen, the Baale of Iganmu Alawo Community, Chief Lucas Owosheni Medunoye, expressed shock, saying: "We were formerly living in Ilaje_Iganmu where the National Art Theatre is presently located. But the Federal Government moved us to this place to enable them build the National Art Theatre in 1973. I cannot say specifically the number of people still alive; we are more than 10,000.The state government gave us the quit notice on February 20".
Medunoye, however, denied sabotaging the effort of the community, saying that the letter of eviction was handed over to him by officials of the state government who demanded that he should hand over the letter to Chief Ojora, his superior, for proper action. After few minutes of heated argument, the protesters trooped to the office of the Chief for confirmation.
We are builders and not demolishers
Recently, Governor Fashola undertook an extensive tour of projects across the state and disclosed that his administration was to launch a capital intensive housing estate of about 1008 flats at Ijora for the teeming populace, adding that the first phase of the state's light rail project, from Iganmu to Marina in Central Lagos, would be completed in June this year.
"People should be able to live close to the train station and walk about a kilometre to their homes. So it is a dream, it is beginning to come together. This is what we saw and we will deliver it. What we are going to do in Ijora from this year with about 1008 housing units is not consistent with a government that is demolishing. We are builders and not demolishers. We are focused; we know where the target is. We are locked on target and that is why we are all out here as a team from our local governments to House of Assembly, members of the House of Representatives. This government is tight, it knows where its goal is and it knows what its people expect of it and would deliver it," Fashola stated.
The newly promoted Chief Superintendent of Police and Chairman of the Taskforce, Bayo Sulaimon, who led the operation, said the state government could no longer allow continuous existence of slum in the area, saying there was no way government can allow slum in the heart of the state, considering its megacity aspiration.
According to him: "There is no way we can achieve the mega city status with this kind slum in this area. You can see it is a swampy area. The Nigerian Breweries is very close and there are some other industries around here and to allow a slum to remain here is not acceptable.