At 65, Mr. Oludare Owolabi is at an age when he should sit and enjoy the fruits of his years of labour. Having worked in different firms during his active years, giving his all in the process, he deserves nothing better than a ‘sweet’ retirement. But sadly, rather than ‘eat’ from a garden splattered with nature’s ‘goodies’, Owolabi battles to save the most significant legacy of his entire working life. His three-bedroomed flat at Lagos State.
Development and Property Corporation Low Income Estate on Oba Ogunji Road, Agege, is among 18 flats to be pulled down to make way for road expansion and a new flyover along the axis embarked upon by the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos. At least, 30 shops and offices have already been pulled down in the area.
Owolabi moved to the area in 2009 after selling his three-bedroomed bungalow in the Isheri-Magodo area of Lagos as a result of the constant crisis between different factions of land grabbers popularly called ‘Omo onile ’ in the community. The move also followed a new condition by the government for every homeowner to buy back their plots of land for around N5m – more than 20 times the original amount he bought his in the 1980s. Therefore, Owolabi sold the property to purchase the three-bedroomed flat in Agege, hoping to finally find peace. But on December 4, 2017, a little over eight years after he arrived at the estate, everything changed. There is no sign that things will get better anytime soon.
“After buying the three-bedroomed flat at the estate directly from the allottee for the sum of N6m, I went ahead to spend additional N1.2m to renovate it to put it in good shape for my family and me.
“Thereafter, I proceeded to the LSDPC, where I was directed to LDIC to formalise my documents. I paid all the necessary fees and I have been living in the house since 2009.
“But all of a sudden, some government officials came recently to say some of the buildings in the estate were constructed on the right of way. Honestly, many of us thought it was a joke but three weeks ago, bulldozers were sent in to demolish some of the structures, including shops. Though the building where I live has yet to be pulled down, it has already been marked for demolition and it is only a matter of days before that is done.
“I am 65 years old and have children and grandchildren living with me; I don’t know where to move them to once the building is demolished.
“As a matter of fact, I have been having high blood pressure and sleepless nights since the demolition exercise started here. My family and I live in fear every day,” he said, his emotions almost betraying him.
Pathetic as Owolabi’s ordeal sounds, he is not the only one counting loses as bulldozers continue to tear down buildings in the ongoing road construction and expansion exercise being done by the Lagos State Government around Agege bus-stop. He is among dozens whose lips have been filled with songs of lamentations since December 11, 2017, when heavy-duty equipment invaded the community. While many in this category have been left with no roof over their heads, others have lost their sources of livelihood as a result of the development.
A bakery operator and homeowner in the estate, Mr. Adedamola Adekoya, said, “Though we are aware that a bridge is to be constructed in this axis, our grievance is that the government of Ambode did not carry us along in its operations.
“We were only told that some officials were coming to mark affected structures and that the measurement from the road would only be seven metres. We were surprised later when they measured up to 12 metres from the road and pulled down over 30 shops, including mine, in the process.
“We are not against the government expanding the road and also constructing a flyover here, we are asking them to do the needful, which is to compensate us properly and relocate us from the area. The bakery is my only source of livelihood; my family has been in distress since the place was demolished. I have about 12 workers; now, they are all out of jobs.
“My equipment has been scattered all over the place, we don’t know what to do at this point because nobody is saying anything to us.”
Like Adekoya, Mrs. Adewale Funsho, a salon operator, could do nothing as she watched bulldozers tear down her shop of over 20 years. Managing to support her family with the meagre income she pulls together from the business, she told Saturday PUNCH that life is going to be tougher for her family, including her husband, a retiree, and all those, who depend on them for care.
“It is indeed heartbreaking to watch your source of livelihood come under the wrath of bulldozers without being able to do anything about it,” she said, as the early afternoon sun battered her oily face.
She continued, “I have been here for over 20 years, operating my salon and supporting the family with the little I am able to come up with. My husband is a retiree; there isn’t much he can do. But now, Ambode has also sent me into early retirement too by destroying my shop. It will be difficult to survive as a family without a source of income. He should please have mercy on us.”
For Mr. Biodun Olaore, another shop owner in the area, the latest development has not only destroyed his source of livelihood but also threatened the survival of his immediate family, including all those who depend on him for sustenance. Olaore, who is the owner of a thriving manufacturing outfit that specialises in the production of cooking stoves, told Saturday PUNCH that sleep had suddenly disappeared from his eyes since December 11 when the demolition exercise began in the area.
“What I have lost since my shop was demolished is too huge for me to even mention,” he began.
“I have been operating here for close to 20 years, building and expanding my business from here. Many of us bought these shops and have documents to prove that, so it’s not just fair for the government to do this without saying anything to us. I have just been hanging around because there isn’t much to do. It’s really disturbing,” he added.
Ibrahim Moshood, a returnee from South Korea, is among dozens of residents now dwelling in constant apprehension following markings on the buildings they occupy. Like Owolabi, Moshood, who is a tenant in one of the flats dotting the LSDPC Low Income Estate on Oba Ogunji Road, is worried for himself, his wife and a newborn child. He told Saturday PUNCH that there would be nowhere else to put his family if the government finally pulled down the building.
“I have lived in the estate since 2014. Even though I am based in South Korea; my wife has always been here. I returned to Nigeria because my wife recently gave birth to a baby.
“However, we have been very worried about what is going on around us, especially with the building we live in, which is due for demolition in a matter of days. I am a tenant in one of the flats, my rent is due to expire later in the year, but if the building is demolished, I don’t know how we are going to survive. The situation is giving me serious concern,” he said.
Even though the bulldozers working in the area destroyed much of his property around the Pen Cinema section of Agege, Alhaji Hussein is happy that at least there is a small portion of the structure still left standing. Sitting inside the dingy room, which he has since converted to a shop; when our correspondent came across him earlier in the week, he pleaded with Governor Ambode to adequately compensate people for their losses saying that would help heal the wound inflicted upon them faster.
“Nobody told us that our houses were going to be demolished,” he said, stretching out his hand to show our correspondent the space where his building once stood. “But when we started hearing rumours of what was to happen, we had to move some of our belongings gradually.”
“About four rooms and two shops were demolished from my building. We were lucky for the measurement to have left out this small place we only have, otherwise everything would have been gone.
“We know that the government wants the best for the city in terms of development; all we are saying is for them to compensate us adequately for our losses,” he added.
Apart from those who lost their houses, shops and sources of livelihood, the ongoing road construction and expansion has equally left others in the area with tales of woe.
While it has meant vehicle owners have to spend longer periods getting to their destinations following the closure of the major road on Thursday, January 4 for a period of six months, the consequences have been unquantifiable for others.
A resident in the area, Musa Abdullahi, told Saturday PUNCH, “I lost a brother on the day the demolition began here. He was trying to salvage some of our belongings when a naked wire from the rubble electrocuted him.
“His name is Kabiru and we have since buried him according to Islamic rites. Maybe if we were given proper and enough notice, he would still have been alive today. It’s a big tragedy for us because we lost a soul and our belongings as well.”
A handful of vehicle owners and even pedestrians, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, called on the administration of Governor Ambode to hasten the construction work so as to reduce the stress they are currently passing through. For them, while the initiative will make life better for residents of Agege and its environs eventually, the suffering encountered at the moment would have been reduced significantly if alternative routes created were in good shape.
Assuring commuters and residents that indeed the ongoing road construction would reduce congestion and traffic along the axis when completed, Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, said that the state government would compensate all those affected by the demolition exercise.
“Every resident was duly engaged and offered compensation. The flyover is in the overall interest of residents and anyone that is affected will be compensated. Enumeration has been done. They will be taken care of,” he said.
But despite those assurances, fears and tension continue to mount in most parts of Agege, especially in areas where losses have been recorded or about to be witnessed. For many in the community, the next few months will present plenty of difficult situations – a fate they have little control over.