A few weeks ago, Iya Tato lived peacefully in Iganmu-Alawo, a shanty community in Apapa-Iganmu Local Government Area of Lagos. She earned a living by selling cooked rice and stew. By all means, business was good and she was happy.
But, on Saturday, February 23, 2013, her happiness was rudely cut short when some bulldozers belonging to the Lagos State Taskforce on Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) Unit arrived.
The bulldozers, which were accompanied by a demolition squad, comprising officials of the Taskforce, had descended on the homes and shops of the residents and destroyed their houses. Iya Tato said the hurricane came without warning.
She and thousands of others have not only lost their homes and belongings to the ‘invasion’; they have also lost everything they had struggled to acquire.
On Monday, barely shielded from the scorching sunlight in a wooden shack, which she now shares with two other neighbours, Iya Tato recounted the events in a tearful voice.
“I was in Mowe, far away from this place, when I received a phone call from a friend of mine informing me that some government officials had brought in bulldozers to demolish our homes. At first, I thought it was a joke. But, on a second thought, I decided to hurry down here.
“By the time I reached here, it was already too late. The worst had happened. This is where I lived and earned my living. The government and its bulldozers have destroyed everything I owned,” she said.
Twelve days after their homes and shops were pulled down, Iya Tato and her friend, a widow named Mrs. Bola Yomi, have not recovered from the shock.
“The most painful part of it is that we have nowhere to go. I am a mother of four children. My husband is dead. After they chased us away and pulled down our home, my children and I had nowhere else to go. We slept right here in the open for four days before I decided to take them to my mother’s place in another part of Lagos,” Yomi told our correspondent.
Waving at some dirty clothes and a worn piece of rug carpet lying in a bundle on the ground, she continued, “Look at what is left of my belongings. When this place was demolished, some area boys came and stole my mattresses and other things.”
Life for both women had suddenly assumed a frightening dimension. Lamenting that they were stuck in the spot where our correspondent found them, without shelter, toilet and bathrooms, Iya Tato said, “Three days ago, it rained heavily. We were drenched in the rain because there was nowhere to go. When it is dark and time to go to bed, we simply spread that rug you’re seeing on the floor and sleep. We wake up very early in the morning to have our bathe. This is how we have been spending each day since we lost our homes.”
At night, the site of the demolished shanty town is guarded by a team of policemen. But this is only to ensure that none of the evicted residents returned and not to protect it from marauding criminals.
Another resident, Margaret Mesekaye, who, like Yomi and Iya Tato, is a native of Ondo State, had sustained bruises on her body in a rush to salvage her belongings during the demolition exercise.
Slightly limping on one leg, Mesekaye also claimed to be away when she was informed about the bulldozers. “I ran all the way from Costain and found the government officials pulling down my home. They did not allow me to enter my home. I tried to force my way in and in the process, I got injured,” she said.
Mesekaye said she lost an unspecified sum of money in foreign currency due to the demolition. The money was given to her by a relative for safekeeping.
“When the people left, I started searching for the iron box where I kept the money. I can’t even remember how much it was. How am I supposed to get that money now?” she lamented.
Peter Atiti, a furniture maker from Obiatuku in Delta State, whose home once stood close to the railway line, claimed that he lost his electric generator, clothes and other belongings to the bulldozers. “Even my son was missing for a few days. I am happy that he was able to find his way back.”
But Atiti’s companion and business partner, a driver named Sunday Bulus, is still very bitter about the demolition. “I was in Abuja when it happened. My brother, I lost everything I had, except this shirt and trousers that I am wearing. I don’t even have extra clothes to wear. Why is the government so uncaring in this country?” he said.
The shantytown was demolished as part of the government’s efforts toward realising its mega city plan for Lagos. The leader of the state Taskforce, Chief Superintendent of Police Bayo Sulaiman, was quoted in a story published in the PUNCH on Monday as saying that the government would no longer tolerate the existence of slums like Iganmu-Alawo in the Lagos metropolis.
But contrary to Sulaiman’s statement that the residents were duly informed about the demolition before it was carried out, they claimed that they did not receive any notice. Speaking on behalf of other residents, the Iyalode of Iganmu-Alawo, Mrs. Abiye Oshindele, denied that they were given notice before the demolition exercise commenced.