This week’s subject of Navigating Nigeria is Pelumi who’s struggling to understand why land grabbers, in collusion with the police, demolished and took her community hostage. She told Citizen the injustice her community has suffered and how the Lagos State government and the Nigerian Police have turned a blind eye to their cry for help.
Walk us through your experience
I live with my parents in Age Mowo, Badagry. They acquired two properties in two different parts of the community when they first moved in. Where we live now is about a 20-minute walking distance to the other property which my dad uses for farming and storage. What’s left of the remaining is what he rents out.
The property we live in is currently not affected by any issues, although there was a time the federal government was expanding the road and marked it for demolition. Luckily, the road was fixed and our house wasn’t demolished. Our other piece of land isn’t owned by the government or under any acquisition. My father got it like several others from omo oniles around 2009.
I was in school about four weeks ago when my dad called. He said some thugs came into town and announced they’d acquired a portion of the community where my dad’s second property was located. They said everyone should vacate it and that the order was from above.
Obviously, we were perplexed. Who issued this order? Initially, those affected had a meeting and went to talk with the omo oniles. Did you people resell our lands to these new guys? They said they didn’t. Some weren’t even aware of what was going on.
Apparently, the land grabbers, who came with policemen to pursue us from our lands, had gone to file a case in court without even informing us. This meant at first that we were a no-show in court. But when we found out, we started attending court proceedings after which the land grabbers dropped the suit. They just said they were no longer interested in a court case, that they’d acquired our lands and there was nothing we could do.
While that was happening, my dad and the others reported the matter to Area K Police Command that oversees Badagry and its environs. The police officers said they were aware land grabbers were on our property, but the matter was out of their hands. They said the police officers on our lands were from the Zone 2 Police Command. The officers advised us not to cause trouble.
It’s not like we had a choice anyway. These people brought guns into our community. We made attempts to reach the Zone 2 Command and get in touch with the officers in charge but they weren’t responsive. There were more meetings in the community on plans to take things up in court. But the community is populated by indigenes who aren’t wealthy — just average Nigerians that work menial jobs or sell things. Hiring a lawyer who’s asking for ₦3 million or more is a lot for most of them. Spending that kind of money is a huge expense for many of these people who are also looking for alternative places to live now.
In fact, the first time the community’s lawyer appeared in court, my dad contributed the most that was paid as fees. The issue is also nuanced in that my dad’s residential property isn’t the one affected, just the one that contains his farmland. My dad didn’t want to be at the forefront of the issue because he doesn’t want to be targeted by the land grabbers and be kidnapped. They’ve done that in the past so he had to play it cool to be safe.
Wow. What other steps did you take?
The chairman of our Local Council Development Area (LCDA) who was assisting the people affected wrote a petition to the Lagos State government concerning the land grabbers. It wasn’t even up to 30 minutes after he submitted it that someone somewhere in the state government’s office alerted the land grabbers and told them of the petition.
Damn, that was fast
Next thing, the land grabbers came to the chairman’s house and demolished it. It was really shocking and scary because we sent a petition to the government and somehow the land grabbers knew about it and came to break down the petitioner’s home as a way to intimidate and threaten us.
We went to the police who told us they were aware but asked us to stand down. We went to the government who informed the land grabbers about our move. It’s like there’s an organised ring with some very strong backing. No one wants to come to our aid and there’s no one we can turn to.
The land grabbers even demolished my dad’s fence. He had to try and salvage some things he stored on his land. The funny thing is, if you want to salvage your property, the land grabbers and their louts will tell you to pay some money before you can pick up your things.
My community is a small town and almost everyone knows everyone. This is December. With these guys on ground they’ll probably settle down there and the crime rate will increase, or they’ll just keep coming back. The police don’t seem to care and it’s a scary situation right now.
I have cousins, friends and acquaintances who once lived around here and are now currently displaced. I grew up with these people and now they’re living on the streets because somebody somewhere decided one day to go about stealing people’s lands and the government is doing absolutely nothing about it.
At one point, my dad wanted to forfeit the property, but it didn’t sit well with me. It was an injustice, so I said, “Let me bring it to Twitter and see what can be done about it.” I didn’t even tell my dad about it. I also didn’t really think it would go viral but my friends helped with retweets. It was posted on my WhatsApp and sent as a broadcast message to my contacts. My aim was to get the police to comment on it and probably send people there to maintain the peace because the louts are still there, constituting a nuisance and beating people up.
How did the police respond?
Ben Hundeyin, the police spokesperson for Lagos, and Prince Olumuyiwa Adejobi, the head police spokesperson in Abuja, responded to the tweet. Adejobi said it was a civil matter and that the police can’t do anything about it. He asked me to take it to court.
This was surprising to me because I believe the duty of the police is to protect lives and property. I don’t think they need a court order to perform their duties. People are being threatened and beaten up. Even if it’s a civil case, at least the police should come there to restore the peace. Those demolishing property should at least present a warrant. If they don’t have it then they should be stopped until the court decides on the matter.
Why do you think this is happening?
Let me give you a back story. There’s a seaport that’s about to be opened in Badagry. From my house to the seaport is about ₦400, and that’s because of the fuel hike. It used to be around ₦150 to ₦200 before then. Because of the economic value the port will bring when it’s launched, people are trying to steal our lands there. They’ve already made promises on how much they’d share from the proceeds. An Anglican church that bought plots of land in the area is also affected and has taken the matter to court.
I think the excuse of the police is mental, but it’s Nigeria — everyone’s mental. Ben Hundeyin even said I was lying, that I knew that the land grabbing was a government activity.
How did that make you feel?
This is where I live, and the police spokesperson is trying to gaslight me that they aren’t louts. I’m not interested in arguing about semantics here. I asked him, if this is a government operation does the government now operate with louts? Does the government demolish houses without any prior warning or court order?
At least if this was the government’s doing, they’d have put up posters and government officials would have notified us. Nobody came, except for the land grabbers and the police officers that accompanied them. Is this how the government now operates?
When I tagged him to the tweet, he responded about 24 hours later. He perhaps already discussed it with the higher ups before dishing out that layman’s excuse to discredit me. His reasoning had many holes in them which I pointed out to him. Till today, he hasn’t replied.
How do you think this will end?
I had hopes that the police would intervene but seeing their responses offline and online, it’s clear they won’t do anything about it. An NGO reached out about helping but they’ve not said anything since, despite sending them a message. My dad is still hoping we can get justice, but our best hope now is through the media or the court.