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Brief history of Maroko

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Brief history of Maroko
The whole of Victoria Island was originally surrounded entirely by water. It was bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the south, the mouth of the Lagos Lagoon on the West, the Five Cowries Creek to the North and swamps on the East.
The colonial administration began the process of sand-filling the eastern swamps to reduce mosquito breeding areas. This according to findings, created a land bridge between Victoria Island and Lekki Peninsula ending its existence as a true Island.
After independence, successive Lagos state government expanded this development, culminating in the construction of a highway connecting Victoria Island to Epe. This activity, along with the rapid commercialisation of Victoria Island, served to stimulate residential development along the Lekki-Epe corridor, starting with Lekki Phase 1.
The area of the land bridge, composed of the former swampland, became a large slum called Maroko which housed many of the new migrants to Lagos State. Subsequent reclamation expanded the area to the extent that Victoria Island Annex is now connected to the Lekki Peninsula. This new, enlarged area is referred to as “Oniru Estate” named after the ruling family of Maroko.
But Maroko in the context of this investigation, referred to the whole district immediate east of Victoria Island and stretching from Km 8 to Km 13 along Lagos-Lekki-Epe Express on both sides of the road (from Cowry Lagoon to the Atlantic shores) an average of 4Kms; containing 30 distinct villages, more than 150 Streets, about 10, 000 houses and some 300,000 inhabitants as it were before its demolition in July, 1990.
The old villages that had grown and fused into one common Maroko Community before its demolition by the Military Administration of RajiRasaki were:  Maroko-Orile; Ilabare, Oroke; Apapa-Eleko; Iru; Igbosere; Apese; Olukokun; Araromi; Tukuru; Okokuku; Ipeun; Magbon; Igbo; Abule-Odo; Mepo; Itinrin; Inupa; Ilado; Agbadan; Ahoyaya; Famuyiwa; Aniyameta; Idiroko; Onireke; Morekete; Gedegede; Moba;  Obalensoro; Ogoyo; Alagutan and Ikoyitedo.
The larger open spaces in Maroko then were four major markets, two secondary schools (Maroko Government College and Ilado Community High School; 11 primary schools and one Health Centre.
Being an integral part of Lagos until its demolition in 1990, Moroko was a place where life was comparatively cheaper. Maroko therefore became service town to other neighbourhoods. The implication of this was that: Maroko grew faster than the other suburbs of Lagos. Consequently, between 1970 and 1980, the 30 villages had expanded and fused together as a single town and eventually assumed the general name Maroko.
 
History of Maroko shows a generation of constantly displaced people
 
Research shows that Maroko was not originally a single community. It had 30 constituent villages in three divisions. Some of the villages had the Oniru Chieftaincy Family as their head. Others had the Elegushi and Onikoyi Chieftaincy Families as their heads respectively.
All the first settlers (the indigenes of Maroko) in addition to their traditional overlords had their village heads known as Bales (Traditional Leaders). The indigenes and their village heads were seen traditionally as co-owners of the land and everything (path roads, forest, animals, etc) were commonly owned. No single individual had exclusive rights over communal property. According elderly testimonies, by privilege, someone is appointed the traditional head of the people and acts on their approval. Before Maroko’s unification, non-indigenes were reported to have obtained their land through the three Chieftaincy Families on a purchase basis.
The first matching order given to the people of Maroko was in 1958 and 1960 when the Colonial administration uprooted some of the villages from their original locations in the present-day Ikoyi in order to make way for the construction of residences for colonial masters and their Nigerian counterparts who held esteem positions at the time.
Some of the old villages that were affected then were: Oroke, Ilabare, Apese, Itinrin, Igbo and Magbon. The evidence of this can be seen in the names given to some of the streets in Ikoyi. The present-day Ikoyi have streets like: Apese Street, Oroke Street, Ilabare Street and Magbon Street as relic of former owners of the places.
Here are some of the former Maroko villages with their present occupiers:
Old                                                       NEW
Mekuwen                                        Bonny Camp
                                                       American Embassy
Iru Village                                       Federal Palace Hotel
Apese                                              Japanese Embassy
Samuel Adeniyi Aiyeyemi (late), leader, Maroko Evictees Committee, spoke to this reporter before his sudden demise. His death was in real sense not sudden. The 80-year old that granted this interview was a dying man. He was one of those whose legs were amputated as a result of damaging injuries picked while evacuating belongings during Maroko’s demolition in 1990. It took him over an hour to get ready for this interview. When he finally came out, his first sentence was “I hope you have been told the person you came to see is with disability?” He said he was particularly pained that for 23 years (at the time the interview was granted) and still counting, they have been going to court on the Maroko case without any sign that it will end soon.
“Ordinary people are looking for justice for 23 years (now 25 years). No justice for 23 years”, he lamented. “Many have died. In the first twelve years we were able to record over 100,000 Maroko evictees who died directly or indirectly through this eviction. By now I know it would have risen to more than 200,000 Maroko people who have directly or indirectly died through suffering or through all that is emanating from the brutal dislodgement,” he said.
The late Maroko leader narrates how one of his legs was amputated during the demolition to the author. “I was trying to locate my wife and children who were stampeded and got my right foot impaled by a six-inch nail jotting from a piece of wood attached to a broken roof. The nail pierced the foot and exited my instep and, for several minutes, I battled to free myself from the pain. At the heat of the demolition, which was like a war situation, the nail pierced through my foot and I got stuck. Is it the soldiers who were eager to kill that I will call upon to save me? It was a big battle and I was trying to save myself and others.
“I eventually re-united with my family and then saw my wound and the searing pain came and remained for years until Doctors at UITH Ibadan determined it was best that I let the leg go. Six years later, I was at the Teaching Hospital in Ibadan with this leg. The doctors said something had entered into my bone and that there was no alternative than to amputate the leg if I chose to survive. I ran from there because I couldn’t stand the thought of living without one of my legs.
“It was to kill me right off and I had to be moved to outside Lagos because I did not consider myself safe in Lagos State General Hospital. I had to go far away to the Federal Medical Centre in Owo where the doctors decided to amputate the leg immediately. I couldn’t participate in the decision making process because I was unconscious. I woke up to find that one of my legs was missing. That is the experience of a Maroko man and I survived; but what about those that could not survive?” he said with a lowly tone as his wife insists he was talking beyond his strength could carry.
Pa Aiyeyemi told the reporter that former governor of Lagos state, Lateef Kayode Jakande, tried to obey his mentor Obafemi Awolowo to dislodge Maroko people but failed to do so successfully until Oba Oniru and his allies got former military dictator Ibrahim Babanginda’s backing to take up the job of dislodging Maroko’s dwellers. “It was a personal job, but he used Nigerian Army to do the job”, he said.
He said but for lack of resources Maroko Evictees would have instituted a criminal case against the Federal Republic of Nigeria for waging war against innocent people of Maroko. “Till today, government could not give any offence that Maroko people committed. We had never disobeyed government. We never created any problem. Just because of Babangida’s personal interest. He used the Nigerian Army to wage war on us. They did it militarily and succeeded. After the military victory, they handed the land over to private citizens; the Oniru people,” he said.
According to the late Maroko evictees’ leader, the only victory they had from Lagos State High Court was that: the Court said it will comply or concur with the voices of both Oputa Panel and that of the Lagos House of Assembly that the evictees should continue enjoying whatever flats Lagos state government had given to Maroko people and that the state should also find accommodation for the remaining former house owners who were yet to received any flat from government. Unfortunately, successive government in Lagos had yet to obey the Court Order requesting it to provide accommodation for the remaining 8, 000 former house owners of Maroko.
Justice Chukwudife Oputa, (now late), had during the Oputa Commission set up by the Olusegun Obasanjo-led Federal Government to investigate past human rights abuses in 2000, asked the Lagos state government to resettle Maroko evictees fully in decent houses and that in addition, the government should make a public apology to Maroko evictees for being inhumanly evicted from their homes.
“So, that has given us confidence here. For instance, since this flat has been given to me by Lagos state government through allocation, now that the High Court has confirmed that they have given something to me, it was then in July 24,2012, we started having confidence that nobody can harass us again,” he said.
He said before that landmark judgment, it had been frequent harassment; shifting people from one place to the other. Since that judgment they now have the boldness that the flats given to few of the evictees belong to them, and have decided to resist any attempt to further harass them.
Pa Aiyeyemi narrates how he felt when a renowned lawyer he refused to mention his name because they had made a promise to him not to tell the press about his misconduct; who served as advocate for the evictees at the time, before he pulled out of the legal tussle, advised him to receive bribe from the Oniru Royal Family and compromise the Maroko case. “We nearly shed tears when he told me and other executive committee members of Maroko Evictees to accept the offer of ten flats in choice areas by Oba Oniru so that we can forget the Maroko case,” he said in a fainted voice. “He was asking us to compromise,” he added. He said though they appreciated the lawyer’s efforts in the Maroko’s legal tussle but asking them to compromise was dirt on his legal integrity.
Speaking on the leadership qualities of Pa Aiyeyemi, Stephen Aiyeyemi, the first son of late Pa Samuel Aiyeyemi, said his father was a straight forward fellow, a dogged fighter who was selfless and fearless; describing him as an incorruptible leader who could not be bribed with either money or women.
He said the struggle for the reversal of the injustice done to Maroko people that his father spearheaded under the umbrella of Maroko Evictees Committee, was never a means of personal aggrandisement and seen as family heritage by his late father. “He always preaches straightforwardness and the fear of God to those around him. They should not defraud the masses or use the masses to enrich themselves that the people must always come first. Many attempts were made at bribing him to forgo the struggle but he stood firm and refused to be compromised,” said Stephen Aiyeyemi, a Christian Cleric.
Speaking on the way and manner Maroko was demolished, Deputy Leader, Maroko Evictees Committee, Tajuteen Jegede, told our reporter that should one put all the things that happened in Maroko in mind, such a fellow would not last more than two years before he or she die of a heart attack.
According to him, there was a lot of maltreatment by the military because when they came with coffins, armored cars and Black Maria trucks. He said the battle could be liken to a situation where there was a very big war going on. “There were a lot of atrocities; raping housewives, raping young girls. Some of the demolition was carried out in the night”, he said.
 He said the Maroko experience was not what one could wish even for his or her worst enemy. “My dear brother,” he called three times and paused. “Maroko story is really too sad to talk about”, he continued. “I have lost a lot to the Maroko injustice. How many will I count? I lost three wives”, he said sorrowfully as the atmosphere went hushed.The ambiance suddenly changed to disconsolate and yet, with grief-stricken memories as Tajudeen Jegede narrates his experiences during and after the demolition of Maroko. The setting also became too intense. It was really becoming more than an interview between a curious journalist and his subject; especially as his grand children focused on their grandpa with inching ears to listen to one of the greatest injustices committed by Nigerian leaders and their friends.
“Some of my children died because business went bad. I lost two of my brothers not to talk of dear ones surrounding me. It is really a past experience I don’t want to revisit in my life. It’s only God who can put pieces of life together”, he said with a fainted voice. “If you look at the two photographs there, those were my two wives that passed on”, he said while pointing finger to indicate the children of each deceased wife who surrounds him during the interview. “In January 2007, I lost a son of 15 years of age. The losses are too many to be counted,” said Tajudeen, a printer by profession; adding that, financial difficulties were mainly responsible for the losses he suffered because there was no business any more.
Asked to speak on the early ownership of Maroko, he said it was difficult for one to exactly say who owned Marroko then. According to him, the Onirus were the major controller that the evictees bought lands from. “There were also the Elegushis who were in charge of the Ilado side of Maroko. In the whole world, nobody own land because we are all settlers. The land belongs to God! He is the creator who has created everything; both water and land. There was a time His Highness Oba Sikiru Adetana, (the Ogbagba of Ijebu land) came from Wadai in Saudi Arabia. When coming, he came with some people from Benin Republic. We hear that, the Oniru Chieftaincy Family ancestors are from Benin Republic, including the Elegushis family as well; the Ojomu, the Oba Ajiran also came from somewhere else” he said.
Tajudeen Jegede said that Maroko former dwellers, who were evicted out of the land, bought their lands mainly from the Oniru Chieftaincy Family as they were called then. “It was owned by Oniru Chieftaincy Family. Some of the lands were also owned by the Elegushis. Oniru took Elegushi to court over part of the land; that Elegushi was trespassing on their land and Oniru won the case because Obafemi Awolowo was supporting him”, he said.
He said Chief Awolowo was given a huge sum of land as payment for the services he rendered in court to the Oniru family. “When you are coming through the alternative route of Lekki Toll road, just before the market, there you will see the massive land given to Awolowo for aiding the Oniru to get the land back. They wanted to take the land back so they put their resources together to achieve it. There was also rumours that the people who part took in the Dimka’s coup with IBB ran to Maroko and that was why they took over the place. When they tried all their ways and it was not possible for them, they then resorted to using military might,” he said.
He said further that though, Oba Oniru was already rich, he however never owned a house in Maroko before it was demolished. “Oba Oniru did not have any other house in Maroko except his extended family. His Palace was situated at N0 1A, Ozumba Mbadiwe street. He was already a wealthy person at the time. Right from his school days his friends called him raw cash”, he said.
Jegede, who thanked the Almighty God for being able to buy land then in Maroko and built houses, said a bag of cement then was sold for 12 shelling when they built houses. “I was the chairman of Ilado Landlords Association before the demolition. I had four houses. They were in 75 and 77, Janet Benson street; 19, Aniyameta street; 13, Sunny street; 9, Igbo street. Out of those houses, only two flats were allocated to me”, he said.
Like his late leader, Pa Samuel Aiyeyemi, Tajudeen Jegede also lamented the N6.8 million as compensation allegedly paid to Oba Oniru by the Lagos state government. “It is very sad that tax payers’ money was not used judiciously in Lagos. The Lagos state government had paid the Onirus compensation of N6.8 million at the time for the land. It was a very big money then. The same land was given back to the Onirus. From Mobile, to after Lekki roundabout, then coming through the Oniru market, all those places now belong to one person”, he lamented.
“For the past 25 years, we have been struggling on this Maroko case. We went to Oputa Panel and Supreme Court in Lagos. We were also at the Abuja Supreme Court where OlisaAgbokoba, our lawyer then said he was tired because of how the case was dwindling” said Titilayo Anitini.
She said Olisa Agbaokba told the evictees that unless they settle with the land owner there may not be any sign of light at the end of the tunnel. But the land owner allegedly offered a flat each to 10 executive members of Maroko Evictees Committee and in return, the evictees should abandon the Maroko case. The Evictees’ Committee under the leadership of late Pa Samuel Ayeyemi refused the offer and chose rather to die fighting the injustice.
 According to Mrs. Anitini, after Olisa Agbakoba pulled out of the struggle to get justice for the Maroko evictees, Femi Falana then advised the evictees to transfer the case to Felix Morka, whom he (Falana) said was vast and more influential on both local and international legal scene.
“Since taking over, Felix Morka has really done extremely well for us. The mandate we have is that, nobody can remove us from here (Ilasan Housing Estate) and Ikota Housing Estate since there is a court judgment to that effect.  My husband owned 17 houses when Maroko was demolished. My parents owned 12 houses while I owned 2 houses before the demolition of Maroko. When the houses were demolished, my husband then say: oh! My name is ‘Adebowale’ because I am no more a landlord. He subsequently died as a result of the losses and beating he received when Maroko was demolished. It was really too much for him to bear”, she said as her eyes starts whaling tears.
She laments that no compensation has been given her for the two houses she owned nor had the beneficiaries of her late husband received any flat for 17 houses he owned before Maroko was demolished in 1990.
“My husband was a big man in Maroko. He had hotel and film house then. My husband was the owner of the popular California Hotel in Maroko and California Block Industry. The building used by Cooperative Bank at 32 Araromi Street in Maroko was my husband’s. Cooperative Bank can tell you more about my husband. All his buildings were made with blocks. The thinking of those losses actually facilitated the heart attack that eventually killed him. His death certificate is still with me till date. The thinking of a landlord of 17 houses to become a tenant again in such dehumanizing circumstance was responsible for his death”, she said.
She said after the demolition in 1990, herself and some friends slept in the open area of Maroko because there was no place for them to go to. “Even this place (Ilasan Housing Estate) that you are seeing now was very bushy when the evictees were asked to come here. There were different types of bush animal here when we moved in. The government actually wanted to throw us out of this place again three months after moving in. Femi Falana was the one who saved us by going to court to stop the Military government”, she said.
She paints a picture of some of the despicable things that happened while the demolition lasted: “Some ladies who were pregnant for 5, 6 or 7 months put to bed by force because of the duress. Some boys in the area saw young ladies and rapped them. The soldiers were among those rapping our young ones. Some of these things were published in TELL MAGAZINE because I gave them the images. If you should move to go and find something to eat, before you come back your properties would have been looted or stolen. That was why we lost many things. It is not really palatable talking about it”, she said.
When asked to explain the role of the traditional fathers back then in Maroko, Mrs. Anitini who turned 73 this year but looking a lady in her 50s, told our reporter that Oba Ajeran was the only King then in the whole of Eti-Osa. She said others were just chiefs and Bales.
“It was during the time of Abacha that the Onirus were crowned. That is why we call them Abacha’s kings. I and Oniru were close to some extent. It was when he saw my picture with Pa Aiyeyemi that he distanced himself and asked me to dissociate myself from the Maroko leader. I didn’t know it was because he was planning to take over Maroko by force with his allies. I told him that Pa Aiyeyemi was fighting for the poor and that I will rather pitch my tent with those who loved to do the right thing than to benefit wrongly”, she said.
She said further that this side of Ilasan Housing Estate by Lekki beach road, as seen in the picture above, was sand filled and sold by Oniru’s son called Segun. “Governor Fashola was the one that stopped him. He told him to return the money to whomever he sold the land to and that Lagos was not selling land any more. This is the place that they call our car pack. Now they have sand filled everywhere. When Fashola wrote them they were left with no other choice than to remove all the caterpillars that they had brought here”, she said.
All efforts to speak to the royal fathers involved either directly or indirectly in the demolition of Maroko did not yield any result as they appeared unwilling to speak on the matter. When our reporter visited the Palace of Oba Oniru to hear his side of the story, a tall man with strong physique and extremely fiercely looking, probably in his late 30s, came out angrily once he saw the name Maroko on the visitors’ form. “Are you the one asking about Maroko? Don’t come here again asking about Maroko”! He threatened! “Maroko is a dead case” he said angrily and turned his back; just as the fully armed three police officers who were earlier friendly, withdrew, apparently for fear of later victimization.
Visits to Oba Patrick Ibikunle Fafunwa, the Onikoyi of Ikoyi land and Oba Saheed Ademola Elegushi were also met with stiff resistance. The promises of the secretaries of both royal fathers who coincidentally have Bamidele as their first names to arrange meetings with their bosses was not fulfilled after countless numbers of calls to their cell phones reminding them of the proposed interview throughout the period the investigation lasted.
Bamidele Ijagbemi, the Personal Secretary to Oba Ademola Elegushi confirmed the email sent to him asking for answers concerning issues related to the demolition of Maroko. He said the questions were on the desk of the Kabiyesi (Yoruba word meaning Majesty) adding that he could not determine when the royal father would respond to the questions. As at the time of filling in this report, Oba Elegushi had yet to respond to the questions.
In the same vein, the Personal Secretary to Oba Patrick Ibikunle Fafunwa, Bamidele Adewale who had earlier promised to use his office to let the royal father see the importance of the issue, subsequently refused to take several calls to his cell phone. As at the time of filling in this report, he also had yet to return calls to his cell phone or reply text messages sent to him.
Speaking on the manner Maroko was demolished by the military government in 1990, the Army Spokesperson, Lagos Command, Colonel Kingsley Umoh, said the military leaders at the time should be held responsible not the soldiers who allegedly committed several atrocities while carrying out the demolition because the soldiers were carrying out order given by high ranking officials.
Colonel Omoh, who said his knowledge of the Maroko issue was limited because he probably was not in the military when the place was demolished, noted that current military administration in the country was working hard in distancing itself from all the human rights abuses associated with military regimes.
He said if Maroko evictees were yet to be resettled after 25 years, the Lagos state Ministry of Land and Housing, mandated to handle issue like that of Maroko, should be able to explain why Lagos state government was yet to fully resettle the evictees. “Government is a continuum; when you hand over government, you hand over everything (both the good and the bad). If the military government demolished Maroko 25 years ago, at least, this is a civilian government; they should be able to rectify the ills of the military”, Colonel Kingsley Umoh told our reporter in his office in Victoria Island.
NATHANIEL AKHIGBE