Sunday Magazine

FESTAC: Tears, controversy over demolition of market, churches, workshops

•FHA demolishes churches, market, car marts, others to resell land

•We’re taken unawares, say poultry seller, others

•‘We pay rent of N10, 000 each of 5, 000 artisans’

•‘FHA’s quit notice short, doesn’t contain alternative site’

 

FESTAC Town residents, artisans, clerics and traders among others are wondering why the left wing and Second Avenue, home to mechanic workshops, churches, makeshift car marts and popular Opeoluwa Market, Agboju, were hurriedly demolished by the government, after the expiration of a-seven-day quit notice. The residents and victims are still in dark on the reasons for this exercise amid tears, blood and anger. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports

 

A cloud of confusion has befallen residents of Festac, traders, artisans, mechanics, panel beaters, painters, battery chargers, clerics and food vendors among others. They want to know which government or its agency ordered and carried out the demolition of their homes, churches and business premises at the Second Avenue of the housing estate built when Nigeria hosted the second edition of the Black Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977.

 

Located along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway in Lagos, the residential estate under the control and management of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), last Sunday hosted bull dozers which pulled down houses, workshops , worship centres, car marts.

 

The property were said to run into hundreds of millions of Naira. Many people, especially the victims of the demolition, were yet to decipher the reason(s) Agboju Market, entire churches and workshops among other business premises on that left wing of the 2nd Avenue were flattened, leaving the whole wing desolate as the occupants scampered to safety as heavily armed men of the Lagos Task Force on Environment in a joint operation with the FHA accompanied the bulldozers.

 

By the time the dust settled, a wide expanse of land had been reduced to mere plains in such a manner that one could see through Orile-Badagry Expressway from Festac Second Avenue.

 

This left the residents and victims confused as they had no place to go to. What was shocking to most of them was that they were told not to worry as they were assured each time they paid their rents with the hope that the lands were correctly and properly acquired.

 

The effect would linger on as some may slide into depression or one form of mental health disorder or the other. And of course, shock and High Blood Pressure related deaths may be in offing as an effect of the demolition going by what some victims narrated.

 

The worries didn’t just stop at who carried out the operation but also heightened as many traders and occupants of the parcel of land were asked not to panic as their locations will not be affected, while collecting rent from them, believing that their landlords procured their land legally.

 

But while they were worshipping their Maker in their respective churches that fateful Sunday morning, their houses and stalls were torn down. They felt that they were deceived and ripped off by the government revenue collectors, who talked them into renewing their rents and sundry payments, when they knew the site would be demolished.

 

“It’s wickedness of the highest order. How will these people know that the workshops will be demolished and still came and collected money from us? If I had the money I paid, I would use it to look for another place. I paid N50, 000 to operate here and other people paid different amounts of money,” said a panel beater in pain, Jehu Chukwujekwu.

 

With what happened on that Sunday morning, anyone with N17, 000 cash would have gone home with a bag of parboiled rice as traders were in confusion over what should be done in order not to lose their wares. It was a critical situation for them, especially those traders and artisans, who live far away from Festac.

 

Many of them disposed off their wares at giveaway prices in order to mitigate the loses. Indeed, it was like a war situation where uncertainty threw the victims into desperation, solutions where none was available, especially the elderly women, whose stalls suffered fire outbreak few weeks ago before last Sunday’s total leveling of the site, a rude shock to those, whose stalls and wares were engulfed by fire.

 

It would be recalled that the Lagos State Government two year ago, demolished the Agboju Market, up to the Orile-Badagry Expressway. The reason given then was that the government doesn’t want to see any structure on the Expressway or in the market. Instead, only umbrellas would be tolerated. Unconfirmed report had it that a popular transport company and an official of the market had bought the parcel of land.

 

The alleged transfer of ownership led to clandestine demolition of the market in the latter part of May, 2019, even as people sensed some foul play in what transpired. It was also learnt that few weeks ago, some parts of the same Agboju Market were ‘set’ ablaze overnight and no single pin was recovered from the inferno as the fire was ‘kindled’ at night under the watch of the market security operatives, who made no effort to extinguish the fire. “We really don’t know what is happening here. As it stands now, there is no market in Festac today.

 

The two markets in the estate have been demolished. After Agboju was demolished two years ago, the 23 Road Market was demolished last year in December, and with six months down the line, we are facing this demolition again. At this time, it’s a total clearing as you can see,” said John Ekpunobi, a major electronics dealer on the Avenue.

 

Sunday Telegraph learnt that some of the affected traders were those from the popular 23 Road Market, which was also demolished precisely on December 12, 2020 in spite Covid-19 lockdown and EndSARS crisis in the country.

 

They felt raped, abandoned and thus, vented their frustrations. “I’m tired of this wickedness. I am tired of this life. What a life of punishment is this?

 

Why is Lagos State Government bent on maiming innocent citizens, who legally do their business and pay taxes to the government?,” Mrs. Bisola Ogunbiyi, who deals in food and beverages, lamented.

 

“We were sent away from 23 Road Market without any reason and I moved down to  this place to find rest. Now, here is the worst. How do we survive in this country where the poor masses are so hated and treated with scorn? I’m tired. I’m a graduate and have children to take care of.

 

These people will never go unpunished for the pain they inflicted on us. God will give them the ultimate punishment,” she cried heavily, lamenting her ordeals. “Tell me, where do I run to now? Where will I take my market to? This is too much. When will these end?

 

When will we find peace again in this country? Our goods are being destroyed on the roads, yet, we can’t find peace at home…” the mother four lamented as tears flowed freely from her eyes.

 

More so, during Sunday Telegraph’s visit, a number of traders and artisans whose workshops suffered great destruction as well as worshippers were seen voluntarily removing the roofing of their buildings, block walls, windows, iron protectors and doors to prevent being destroyed by the demolishing squad.

 

But those who weren’t fast enough or around to remove theirs were unfortunate when the bulldozers arrived.

 

They tore down the structures from the roof to the foundation. By the time the exercise ended, only about four structures were standing. This raised a number of questions. Mechanics and panel beaters were seen hurriedly towing their vehicles away from the scene of demolition.

The leader of the Gate of Righteousness Evangelical International Church, Pastor Joshua Obong, whose Church has been there for the past 18 years, felt his church was targeted for demolition, wondering why the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Communion Chapel and CPM on the same land were spared.

 

“The officials first came last week and marked our buildings. They left and returned two days later and gave us a sevenday notice, which expired last Wednesday. They got to my church at exactly 11am and they demolished all the churches along the road, except for those three. We wrote, seeking extension of time, but the letter was not even acknowledged,” he lamented.

He said that the government took advantage of the strike action by judicial workers, as nobody could approach the court for injunctions to stop the demolition.

 

It was also alleged that the government demolished the structures to allow full possession of the land by those buyers, who allegedly bought the land from FHA in Abuja and also pave way for them to sell more.

 

The Overseer of Christ Gospel Church International, Pastor William Ehiorenren, said: “We heard that they want to re-allocate the land and sell to moneybags and make millions. I have not seen where seven days would be given for people to vacate their property.

 

“We have been in that area for years and we spent millions of naira in building our churches. They could not even give us time to move because they had mapped out their evil plan to sell the land to people. We usually paid tenancy rates to landlords.”

 

He accused the government of playing a double standard game by leaving certain churches because their leaders had political connections and demolishing others that do not have, adding that his church was not served any notice of demolition.

 

In a bid to determine why some structures were spared, some people said those occupants bought their land from the right source with Certificate of Occupancy in place while others were accused of illegal buying, saying that FHA is the only legal owner of the land in Festac. They also added that any other person or government or its agents, is illegal.

 

“In fact, there are too many confusing reports on the reason touted for the demolition of the area. We learnt that the land has been fully sold off, plotted and allotted to owners, who do not even know where their portion of lands are because they bought the land on papers in Abuja,” said Mr. Benjamin Erukere, a major dealer of electronics.

 

He continued: “So, when some of them came in search of their lands, they were driven away by some artisans, mechanics, panel beaters, and painters, among others, sitting on the land. We learnt that they used juju and even physical aggression. This continued until the landlords regrouped themselves.

 

“I don’t know how it happened but they discussed with FHA to clear their land for them to take possession of their property. They settled with FHA and paid them to assign the task to an agency that would help them achieve this goal and they settled for Lagos State Taskforce.

“As if that was not good enough, while the mechanics, who didn’t pay money to the owners of the land to stay there, apart from the payment they make to the local government on yearly basis, they collect money from people coming into the site to place their container house for businesses. “It wasn’t small money that they collected; they worked hand in hand with the local government in this escapade.

 

These are some of the things that I heard that angered the property owners because they were scared of losing their landed property. When Sunday Telegraph met a member of the Task Force who led the team he declined to comment. He said he was not permitted to talk.

 

His counterpart from the FHA said he had no power to speak on behalf of government either. However, another FHA source with privy information said FHA contracted Lagos State which in turn gave FHA Taskforce and The Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) to carry out the operation.

 

Also, a source close to FHA said, though the area is adjudged Buffer Zone, few radius away from 2nd Avenue main dual carriage road had been allotted in Abuja according to survey marking and plotting with survey numbers. LASEMA’s Head of Public Affairs, Nosa Okunbor, said the operation was carried out as a joint venture between FHA and Lagos State Government.

 

 

He said: “So, the LASEMA equipment you saw was deployed by the Lagos State government. It does not mean that FHA contracted LASEMA to do the demolition.” A fowl seller, Miss Ngozi Chiebonam, lost some of her birds while hurriedly moving them away from the site marked for demolition, saying they were taken unawares because they were told that their part is safe.

 

“We were taken unawares. I wasn’t planning to do anything or remove anything today because we were told that our own location has the right papers. I came to observe what was happening but didn’t know it was going to be like this. I have lost some of my birds which mixed up with my neighbour’s,” said Mrs. Chidimma Maduagwuna, who sells live birds. Also, Mrs. Onome Ajiri, an egg seller, said she had lost some eggs while trying to escape the terror from the site.

 

According to her, she was in the church at Ojo when her neighbour informed her of what was happening. “When I came to the market, they had gotten close to my shop and so, I quickly carried some eggs which I could carry at once under that tension.

 

“Some of them fell down and broke but I was able to go with a reasonable number of eggs. I watched the kiosk I spent money to build destroyed by the Taskforce.

 

It’s painful and I don’t know where to go or where to start. I am confused. Egg is not something you can keep anyhow, else, you will lose all of them.” In another development, a painter at the Mechanic workshop, opposite 5th Avenue Junction, Muyiwa Adekanbi, said since Thursday when the Taskforce brought the notice through the Lagos State Taskforce, he has not slept as he kept vigil not to be taken unawares.

 

“See me! I don’t have my own motor and have not started paying for customers’ vehicles. Since then, I stopped sleeping to watch over those vehicles, so that they will not come in the middle of the midnight to scatter everywhere. I thank God that I came out on time to tow all of them out of 2nd Avenue,” he said.

 

Speaking on behalf of the victims, the Vice President, Nigerian Automobile Technicians Association (NATA), Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, Mr. Isaac Kadiri, said the demolition was a huge economic loss and a disaster.

 

The Vice President, who called on the government to provide an alternative place for them and other people affected by the demolition, said the government should have given them an alternative place instead of giving them seven days’ notice to vacate the site.

 

He said: “We want the government to give us a place where we can earn our living. We were paying rent to Amuwo Odofin Local Government. We are paying tax to Lagos State Government.

 

We pay rent of N10, 000 each, per annum. We are more than 5,000 artisans.

 

“We had an alternative place at 6th Avenue. It was given to us by Festac Town Residents Association (FTRA) and FHA but the place is not ready yet. What we have lost here, we can’t gain back. We have mechanics, battery chargers, vulcanisers, panel beaters and painters as our members.”

 

Asked whether there was notice to that effect, he said: “We were served the seven days’ ultimatum through Lagos State Task Force, which claimed FHA invited it to carry out the demolition. But the notice didn’t contain where to relocate us to just within these seven days. It’s horrible my brother.”

 

Meanwhile, while some people were wailing and yelling for the misfortune that has befallen them, the cart-pushers, carpenters, transporters and load carriers were making money for themselves carrying peoples’ loads out of the risk area to safe places on the right wing of the Avenue and beyond.

 

Musa Ibrahim, a cart-pusher, was asked how much he had made and how many tons of load he had carried and he said in his disjointed Pidgin English but translated to mean: “Plenty. I have been carrying plenty of goods.

 

They never pay me but I will be paid plenty of money. A carpenter was also there, helping the traders, church and business owners to dismantle their buildings and shops on their own before the demolition squad got to their site and reduced everything to rubble.

 

“My work here is to help people remove their roofing sheets, kiosks and other things and get paid. If you don’t remove it, when their machine comes, it will damage the roofing sheets, woods and even the blocks and you won’t be able to use them again,” a carpenter, Mr. Balogun Oduse, said.

 

Also, one of them that offered to carry loads at the market, Segun Akintola, said: “My own is to help them carry things out of the site to where they want me to keep them.

 

They will pay after the work because we didn’t bargain because it was an emergency situation.” However, all effort to get to either FHA or the Taskforce did not yield the desired result as they refused to talk.

 

 

 

 

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