While Nigerians prepared to usher in the New Year, residents of Monkey Village, a slum settlement in the Opebi area of Lagos State, were optimistic that the incoming year would better their lot in life, but the unexpected happened!
At about 9am on December 31, 2020, earth moving equipment rolled into the community without prior notice, according to residents and mauled down just everything in sight.
Agnes Peter is a single parent who stood confused on the rubbles of what used to be her house in the slum community. She told National Wire the community had no prior notice before the demolition.
“We were taken unawares. Nobody told us to move and when we saw the caterpillar, we called our landlord who was also shocked,” she said.
When asked where she plans to relocate to, the lady from Akwa Ibom state, popularly known in the community as Iya Indomie said, “I have no place to go. I am still trying to see what I can pick from the rubbles. If there is anything I can sell to at least buy some essential things, I would thank God.”
In July 2020, a nongovernmental organisation working in Monkey Village, Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE) had facilitated the establishment of an ICT centre and a bore hole for the community.
Executive Director of the organisation, Betty Abah is passionate about introducing children of the community to computer education. The ICT centre provided opportunity for the children to be computer literate to which parents are grateful.
Meanwhile, members of the community had always walked long distances uphill to fetch potable water, or otherwise resort to the stream from the swamp in the neighbourhood that lifestock also drink from.
Courtesy of CEE-HOPE,however, some good Samaritans provided the ICT centre and a water borehole for the community which was commissioned in July.
Abah confirmed to National Wire that Monkey Village Community was her organisation’s most successful story in terms of intervention and service to the poor of the poor.
“Monkey village community was so very close to my heart, our biggest success story in seven years of CEE-HOPE; five exciting years so far here in this wonderland. These are brilliant kids, nearly 200 of them among them Aisha, the genius girl. These are lovely, kind, caring and appreciative people. These children never fail to leap excitingly at me at each visit,” she said.
Lamenting the loss of the ICT Centre, Abah said, “Today’s visit was understandably sober, the entire community is in ruins, they live in disarray, dreams up in flames. Our pride, the ICT Centre/Youth Hub in total ruins, computers, library and all reduced to rubble as the demolition squad, armed to the teeth, wouldn’t allow anyone retrieve anything, and no one received a single notice.
“Now the various agencies of Lagos State Government are denying involvement, now we are hearing it is fake court order that was flaunted as legal ground to enforce demolition. Now we are hearing the contested property has nothing to do with the Monkey Village parcel of land,” she narrated.
Happiness Israel is one of the school pupils who used the ICT centre. Sobbing, the 15-year-old said, “Our ICT centre has been demolished and we won’t be able to learn how to use the computer again.”
The Junior Secondary 2 student of the nearby Opebi Junior Grammar School wants the government to come to the aid of the community. “I want the government to come and help us. Some of us may drop out of school because of this demolition. We have to search for the computers and cables from the rubbish so that CEE-HOPE who provided them for us can take them somewhere,” she said.
Aisha Saleh, 16 is a student of Opebi Senior Grammar School who has been displaced along with her family members.
Saleh, a Shuwa Arab from Borno State is a member of the Girls’ Club coordinated by CEE-HOPE. According to her, she has been a beneficiary of CEE-HOPE’s mentoring activities and has learnt a lot at the ICT centre.
“CEE-HOPE has taught us a lot of things and we have learnt a lot at the ICT Centre. Today, a taskforce came and demolished everything. We are appealing to the Lagos State government to please come to our rescue because we don’t know where to go,” she said.
Aisha has lost his mother, her father is a tricycle operator. She is currently living with her grandmother who caters to her and her younger brother. They are now homeless going into the new year.
Over 400 persons, including vulnerable women and children, lived in Monkey Village now demolished by who they referred to as ‘the powerful rich people in Lagos State’.
Life may not remain the same for the population who had lived below poverty line for many years in the slum.
Mama Katunma is another Shuwa Arab who fled Borno State because of the over 10 years of a crisis orchestrated by the Boko Haram terrorists.
This group from the north east seemed to have found refuge in Monkey Village slum but today have had to start searching for another home.
A mother of three girls, Mama Katunma looks like one between her late 50s and early 60s by appearance but poverty may have contributed to her ageing.
“We have no place to go now, my daughters are here with me, our Baba has gone to work where he serves as a night guard at Ogba area. We are waiting for him to come because we don’t even know where to start from. He is even not feeling well but must go out to fend for the family,” she said.
Another residence of the slum who simply introduced himself as Jerome is from Akoko Edo Local Government Area of Edo State. According to Jerome, he was yet to have a bath as at 7pm when he talked with National Wire.
“I am presently confused. I don’t know where to start or what to do,” he said with a tone of despondence. “As you can see I have not had a shower since morning because there is nowhere to do that after the whole community has been demolished.”
He added that, “We had no prior notice that the government wanted to use the place or whatever they called the reason for displacing us. If they had informed us, we would have at least moved our things but a lot of our things, even money are buried in the rubble.”
Adesewa Owolade, 41, a mother of four also known as Iya Okiki, a residence of the village sat helpless on the rubble of her former home gazing into the sky. She lived in the community with her family.
Obviously she was lost in thoughts, thinking about how to restart her life after everything she had laboured for had fizzled away like smoke.
“The government ought to have cared about the helpless people before carrying out this activity. You can see how the whole place has been turned upside down. We have aged people, we have little children whose school books are already buried in the sand.
“Where do they want us to begin? Some of us even have money in the rubble and we cannot locate a lot of our things again. We now have to sell what we can retrieve at giveaway prices to scavengers, that is what has happened to us on new year eve,” she lamented.
An old woman who did not mention her name told National Wire she was holidaying at Ilaro, Ogun State when she received a phone call to come back immediately upon the arrival of the Task Force to the slum.
Ilaro is about three hours drive to Lagos and the old woman arrived at about 4pm, truncating her holiday. “I was called this morning that the government was demolishing our homes. Before I arrived the deed had been done,” she said, adding that, “I have lost everything and the dress on me is the only dress I have here, others are underground. That is the new year gift we have received from the government.”
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Public Affairs Unit has reacted to a story making the rounds about the demolition.
In a statement, the Head, Public Affairs Unit of the Lagos State Task Force, Adebayo Taofiq, said the unit was not responsible for the demolition exercise.
The statement read in parts, “The attention of the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) Unit (Taskforce) has been drawn to the above captioned story alleging that the demolition exercise was carried out by the Agency.”
Reading further, it said, “It is imperative to state categorically that the Operatives of the Agency was not in any way involved in the said demolition exercise as being circulated.
“The Agency wish to make it clear that the operatives is presently enforcing the Lagos State Transport Sector Reformed Law of 2018 to enable free flow of traffic during this festive season across the State.”
However, the displaced slum dwellers are asking questions about the destruction of their properties by individuals fully guarded by dozens of heavily armed police and other security agencies.
Forced demolitions by the Lagos State Government sometime rendering as much as hundreds of the urban poor homeless are common occurrences in Africa’s largest city.
Statistics put the housing deficit at more than three million but there are no concrete plans or activities by authorities towards addressing the housing crises among the poor other than the routine demolitions in informal communities for a country already smarting from the heavy toll of COVID-19 lock-down and acute economic recession.