A protracted land tussle has resulted in the demolition of many houses and displacement of hundreds of residents of Ilaje, Badagry LGA in Lagos.
The residents of Ilaje community in the Ojo area of Lagos will not forget the events of December 31, 2012 in a hurry.
On that day, the relative peace and calm of the community was suddenly punctured by the rumble of a bulldozer and the presence of armed policemen assigned with the unpleasant task of rewriting the destinies of the residents.
The bulldozer proceeded to pull down about 30 residential houses and other structures on Okeola Street, Church Street and Okeola Close.
The demolition squad was allegedly instructed to enforce a court judgment obtained by one of the land owners in the area, following unresolved issues surrounding lease agreements and payment of entitlements to families, who allegedly own land in the area.
Although many of the tenants claimed they were left in the dark, some of them recalled that the affected houses had been marked for demolition in July 2012.
The rest is now history. Many of the displaced families, who were tenants, are now left to mourn their dead, bear their losses and pains.
The Orogbemi Family, whose residence was on Church Street may never recover from the incident and the shocking loss of their 10-year old daughter, Ireti.
Little Ireti Orogbemi, who was an only daughter, died a few days after she suffered shock as a result of the action of the policemen.
The parents of the deceased said that although she had taken ill before the demolition squad swooped on the community, her condition worsened when the law enforcement agents suddenly invaded their home and threw the family out before destroying their house.
A dismal atmosphere prevailed in the community when our correspondent visited last week. The main access road was blocked by rubble from the demolished houses and virtually rendered impassable.
Some residents were seen rummaging the debris left behind by the demolition squad in search of valuable items.
Household items, such as settees, tables, wrappers from broken wardrobes, shoes and stoves, among other things, littered the area.
Eyewitnesses said the policemen frustrated attempts by some residents to recover some of the properties before their houses came crashing down.
Another tenant, Odey Abua, almost tearfully narrated his ordeal in the hands of the policemen. Still in shock, he gazed endlessly at the spot where his residence used to be and said, “My plan on the eve of the New Year was to attend the crossover service in my church in the evening. My first child had gone to spend the holidays with my relatives. I was at home with my second child and my wife.
“It was not yet noon when we heard that a demolition squad had arrived in the community with a bulldozer. Now I sleep in the open to make sure that my belongings are not stolen by thieves. I have not been able to resume work because I am completely shattered and demoralised. When I left my twin sister in Ajegunle to settle here in 2003, I never imagined this would happen to me. Whatever the differences between the land owners, it should not have come to this.”
Abua said six months earlier, when the tenants of the affected houses observed that the buildings had been marked for demolition, they sought an explanation from the landlords, most of whom live far away from the community, but they were given the assurance that everything was under control. But the moment the bulldozer pulled down the big house at the beginning of the street, they knew that they we were already in trouble.
Sixty-five year-old Edward Ikechukwu, who works with the Alaba International Market branch of a bank, sat by the rubble of his erstwhile rented apartment. He told our correspondent that he was confused about the whole matter.
He said, “I believe that my God will make a way. I don’t know what to say.”
Another victim, Anjorin Bamidele, a PHCN employee in the Ojo Business District, had inherited one of the demolished houses from his mother. The house was built about 52 years ago on a plot of land leased to his parents by some families from Awori.
“It is unfortunate that such a thing can still happen in a well-integrated community like this. Whatever the issue, it should have been resolved amicably. We can only cry out to the government to help us.
“The entire residents in this environment have been rendered homeless. We suddenly saw that our houses were marked sometime in July and some of the residents including my elder brother tried to discuss the demands of the land owners.
“I learnt they asked each house to pay N150,000 and we were hoping to do that early this year, but this is a surprise,” he said.
Bamidele alleged that the woes of the residents of the community began from the day they unwittingly hired a lawyer – one Akinbobola, to hold brief for them. He believed this is because the community later discovered that he also held brief for the land owners.
He said that the matter had lingered for a long time before it snowballed into demolition and homelessness of hundreds of residents.
Bamidele noted that the lease on the land on which the house was built, was obtained by his parents and it was expected to last 60 years. However, he feigned ignorance of the fact that the Aworis had plans to carry out the act.
He alleged that the most disturbing aspect of the issue was that Pa Agoro, who descendants allegedly fuelled the problem, only stood as witnesses to the lease agreement.
He said the original owners of the land, as specified in the document handed down by his parents, were the Balogun and Folami families.
He said that he could not claim not to have heard that some descendants of Pa Agoro; who now prefer to be called Ogunsakin, had asked them to pay some money, but there was the need for them to clarify certain points to be sure that they were not being cheated.
“We got our lease allocation on Church Street, we had no disagreements with the land owners, we only needed to get the issues clear. When we got in touch with the original land owners they dissociated from the move by the Ogunsakins. The people causing this trouble, just like us, were young when these agreements were reached many decades ago,” he said.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, a descendant of the Balogun family, Mr. Sani Balogun, who purportedly originally owned the land, said his people did not support what the descendants of Agoro (Ogunsakins) did.
“We are not in support of the demolition of houses, though the people to whom our fathers leased the land had not remitted any money to us in the past 12 years. But we were on the verge of making them more responsible to us when this trouble started.
“The Balogun and Folami fathers from Awori are the original owners of the land where the Ilaje have lived since 1971. The Agoros were initially not close to us. But we have been together for long to deny them, but they did not carry us along in this act,” he said.
Sani said that when the houses were marked, following a judgment purportedly delivered in 1990, the Olojo of Ojo heard of the matter and invited all the parties involved to broker peace. And all the representatives were asked to produce documents showing who actually owned the land.
He said the Agoro (Ogunsakin) descendants decided that they would go to court.
He said, “When we reported to the Divisional Police Officer in Ojo that the houses were marked for demolition, he said that he could not stop them since they had a court judgment. When we tried to explain to him that they were going to use a false court verdict to demolish the place, he asked us to keep our cool, saying that they should be ready to face the consequences of their action if our claims were true.
“All of a sudden, on the eve of this New Year, I got a phone call telling me that a bulldozer had started pulling down the houses in that community. They had asked the members of the community to pay N150,000 per house. Some of them paid, while others refused and argued that they would rather pay to us, especially when we said they didn’t have our backing and that were not interested in selling the land bequeathed to us by our fathers.
“I also heard them calling the name Ogunsakin. To my knowledge, nobody bears that name here. They may have been dealing with some people who bear that name. Their father’s name is Agoro and that is what you will find on the lease agreement. We were told that their father introduced the Ilaje people to our forefathers, which was the reason why they accepted them for the lease agreement. We have employed the services of our lawyer to take them up on this case. We are not happy about what has happened,” he said.
Meanwhile, when our correspondent contacted a descendant of the Agoro (Ogunsakin) family, simply identified as Mr. Wasiu to get his side of the story, he said he would not speak on the telephone and refued to fix a meeting.
He said, “As an ex-police officer, he know what is right and I will not speak on telephone. Who sent you to me.” He refused to speak with our correspondent, even though she told him that she had been trying to get in touch with any member of his family for two weeks.
A copy of the judgment delivered by Justice I. A. Sotuminu, dated May 18, 1990, and obtained by Saturday PUNCH stated that the case between the plantiffs, Alhaja Taibat Ogunsakin and Alhaja Falilat Ogunsakin and one Mr. Sunmonu Adewale involved some parcels of land that originally belonged to one Pa Ogunsakin in an area known as Ogunsakin in Ojo, the Badagry Local Government Area of Lagos State.
When our correspondent eventually got in touch with Akinbobola, a lawyer and resident of that community alleged to hold brief for the Ogunsakins, he said they were not his clients.
But Akinbobola said he had a good relationship with all the Omo oniles (land seculators) in the area.
He said that if it was not for his intervention, the demolition could have taken place earlier in 2003. He said the court had asked the community and the land owners to go and settle amicably at the time.
He said, “It will be wrong to call them my clients. That was when it was agreed that the land borrowers should pay N75,000 to regularise their position and prevent them from leveling execution of the 1990 judgment. Going by the leasehold that I see them holding, the land borrowers are supposed to pay yearly for the land or forfeit it. But they have not been paying.
“So they should have paid the said amount and avoided this development. They, however, did not pay; but because I live there, I am very close to all the Omo oniles, they rarely took a step without informing me.
“I was not in Nigeria when the decision to come and demolish the houses on December 31 was reached. I think whether the judgment on Ogunsakin village referred to Ilaje, were the houses were demolished or not is just a case of semantics. It is the same place.”
When asked if the manner in which the demolition was carried out was proper, he said, “That is assuming that all things were equal and they had filled the Form ‘O’ and so on. But if they did not, the court is there.”
Akinbobola said that if the Balogun and Folami families had a genuine claim to the land, as some people said, they should have asserted their own titles and spoken up for their tenants.
“I don’t know anything about the Balogun and Folami families. They were aware of an existing court judgment but failed to file an appeal for stay of execution; they should have spoken up,” he added.
Akinbobola, however, promised to speak with Wasiu on the importance of granting audience to our correspondent. But that was not done before the time of filing this report.