• Thursday, April 25, 2024
businessday logo


How Nigerian elites grabbed Maroko land 25 years ago (Part 1)


For some peculiar persons in our midst who are lucky enough to be alive, the month of July represents bad memory; memory of hate, rape, loots, cold, beaten to coma by both weather and man, losses of priceless valuables, bloodshed, and in extreme cases, death of loved ones. The month of July remains a constant ghost no ‘anointing’ has been able to cast out of Maroko evictees.

But in the beginning it was not so. At the beginning, Maroko was a sub-city within Lagos. It was peaceful and very popular. The places now called Oniru Royal Estate; some parts of Victoria Island and Lekki Phase 1, were formerly known as Maroko and it was inhabited by mainly low income earners.
Over 300,000 people inhabited Maroko then. Maroko prided itself with over 150 streets and houses owned by ten thousand landlords. Though, once in a while, its residents experienced ocean incursion, the surge never carried even the least domestic animal (fowl). The people were happy and contented.

 The plot to take Maroko
But research shows that Governor Raji Rasaki of Lagos State in 1990 saw that Maroko was good and liked it. He related it to Ibrahim Badamusi Babangida (IBB).
IBB, in company of Rasaki and the then newly created Eti-Osa Local Government boss Olatunde Beecroft, had visited Maroko on November 17, 1989 and saw that the land was “flowing with milk and honey”. IBB, who described Maroko then as ‘a mini Nigeria’ because all Nigerian languages were duly represented in the community, enjoined the residents to continue to embrace government programmes; promising that he would soon send Raji Rasaki to the residents in order to fast-track the development of the suburb. The promise was followed by ovations and dreams of a future uninterrupted and filled with promise.

Looking back to that day today, some Maroko residents still alive told BDSUNDAY they were innocent and naïve to have trusted the promise IBB made to them; the promise to make Maroko more human-friendly, livable community. They said they did not see clearly the obliteration of Marako from history.

IBB did send Raji Rasaki; but to the contrary. Rasaki was sent to demolish Maroko, arrest and detain, even kill anyone who dared the military might.
It was also discovered that Obafemi Awolowo, former premier, South West region was also involved in the demolition of Maroko in June 1990. At a presidential rally campaign in Maroko in December 1979, Awolowo had told Moroko’s former dwellers that even if Maroko was given to him Free of Charge (FOC), he would not have accepted it. But a15-year-old boy shouted “Na lie” from the background. The teenager reportedly told Obafemi Awolowo that he (Awolowo) was lying about not interested in taking Maroko. The irate supporters of Nigeria’s political gladiator at the time attempted to lynch the poor boy for daring the ‘almighty’.  But today, Dideolu Estate, near Oniru Royal Estate belongs to Obafemi Awolowo.
Surviving Maroko evictees said, earlier, Chief Obafemi Awolowo tried using Lateef Jakande, popularly known then as ‘Baba Kekere’ (Yoruba words meaning small papa) to forcefully grab the land but that Baba Kekere was however, too ‘kere’ (too small) and too attached to the people to be able to achieve the dislodgment of the residents until the Military coup that brought Raji Rasaki to power.

Findings revealed that Raji Rasaki was a key personality who played a strategic role in the successful demolition and grabbing of Maroko land. General Rasaki had told the nation that Maroko land would not be shared among the elites and thatformer dwellers would be brought back when government might have put the place in order. However, today, the evictees are still waiting to be brought back.

Available information also shows that Ligali Ayorinde, who was Chief Judge of Lagos State at the time, was strategically used to forcefully evict Maroko residents out of the land.  His seat was allegedly instrumental in achieving the brutal dislodgement. Justice Ayorinde reportedly refused the evictees’ plea to grant even a-one-day extension of the 7 days radio notice. Justice Ayorinde ruled that: the evictees could only come for a redress after government action. When the evictees eventually went back to the court after government action in early August of 1990, the same Justice Ayorinde again ruled that the subject matter had been destroyed and that the evictees no longer had any case. Ligali Ayorinde Street, a major street in Victoria Island named after the former CJ was part of Maroko. Government College and Ilado Community High Schools, with 3,000 students were former occupiers of the land given to the late CJ. The land and the naming of a Maroko street after Justice Ligali Ayorinde were few of his many benefits for allowing his seat to be used in achieving the brutal dislodgement of, says Maroko evictees.

Oba Oniru was the traditional leader of Maroko people before the mayhem. He too expressed satisfaction and pleasure when Maroko was demolished. In 1976, the Lagos state government allegedly paid the Oniru Chieftaincy Family N6.8 million as compensation because Lagos state had in 1972 acquired the land of Maroko.
Earlier, before he was ousted from office: following a coup led by IBB, General Mohammadu Buhari, who is now the President of Nigeria, had a very noble record in the history book of Maroko, according to the evictees.

His appointed governor Mike Akhigbe, who was a Navy Captain at the time, had brought Buhari to Maroko, according to the evictees, in an attempt to convince him on the proposal to demolish Maroko and make more lands available for the General and others.
President Buhari openly asked Akhigbe to show him the bank account where he had kept money which he (Akhigbe) intended to build another town for the people before embarking on the demolition of their houses.

But after the ouster of Buhari, all other powerful Nigerian elites at the time pulled their resources (soldiers, police, politicians, lawyers and judges) together and demolished Maroko. Seven days from the day it was announced on radio Maroko was brought down. There was popping of champagne in exuberance. It was dream come true; the dream to take over Maroko by whatever means, crook, trick or force. Enough money was available to be spread around. Oil exploration had just started booming in the country. Enough money to bring in the very powerful Nigerians who were also willing to join the flight- the flight to skyscraper.

The massacre in July 1999
Nevertheless, as the elites rejoice over the successful grabbing of Maroko land, in the camp of the puny masses there was pandemonium and bereavement. Maroko residents were in disarray. They tried fighting back tears to no avail. Children broke down in tears as they watched their parents howl and sulk. The legs of grand and great grandparents among the Maroko residents went limp and their knees buckled. They filled everywhere with sorrows and tears. Sorrow and tears were insufficient words to describe the inhuman treatments meted out on Maroko evictees as they faced the future with uncertainty.

A people regarded as ‘sub-humans’
The late Bola Ige, had said at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, in November 1994 where he was the chairperson during the launch of a book written by Professor Wale Omole on the late Nigeria’s foremost educationist and the chairman of the defunct People’s Bank of Nigeria, Tai Solarin, that he was made to believe the people living in Maroko were sub-human beings. Uncle Bola (as he was fondly called then by admirers and close associates), did not however, tell Maroko people, who made him, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), believe the people living in Maroko were sub-humans.

They were indeed treated like sub-humans; dishonoured and disgraced. Unfortunately, the evictees had no armor to shield them against the fierce rulers of the Dark Age Nigeria (DAN). The police were against them. The army was used against them. The royal fathers were against them. They had no defense whatsoever. Their wives and daughters were raped. Young girls were raped in the presence of their parents. The air was crammed with news of miscarriages of pregnancies. Their belongings were stolen and looted. The armed government men that demolished Maroko came with many caskets to bury dead or alive anyone who dares say a word. The heavy presence of men in uniform on that fateful day caused the hearts of Maroko residents to move as trees of the woods are moved with a torrential wind. Some died while carrying their belongings across the Lagoon River in wooden canoes. Others died in the rain and cold that they were thrown into. Maroko’s residents were heavily wet with showers of July and huddled around under the bridges, churches and mosques for want of shelter. Some died weeks, months and years after. No government official came to collect the corpses of those who died while they were still stranded in the open Maroko. The corpses were left to decompose on their own and not given proper burial.  Some are still dying silently. Some had their legs amputated as a direct consequence of brutal injuries sustained while trying to salvage their property from being looted by government agents and touts. They were arrested and detained for protesting the injustice.

Ten days after moving into the government abandoned Ilasan and Ikota housing estates provided for the evictees, the Military government again swung into action by throwing the evictees and their salvaged properties into pool of waters. The situation would have been worst but for Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who immediately dragged the Lagos state government to court. Within 4 days Mr. Falana secured a High Court order restraining Lagos state government from further harassment of the evictees. The injustice is seen by many as the worst in Nigeria’s recorded history from leaders to the led.

Demolition without pasted notices
Investigation also shows that demolition notices were not pasted on any building before the eventual demolition. Seven days from the day it was announced on radio was all it took the military government to pull down the whole of Maroko. By 8am on that fateful morning, the first set of 30 houses had been put down and their walls crushed to fine dust by the over 30 bulldozers brought for the task.

Surviving evictees told the author that many did not actually hear the announcement on radio. And for those who heard, they were too confused to know the belongings to start packing and where to pack them to. And yet, many were away from town. And worst still, there were residents who were too young, too old, too ill or too heavy with pregnancy to act swiftly in an emergency situation (especially the one they were confronted with).

Immediate effect of the forceful eviction
Eleven years old Bose Atie, a primary five student of Kuramo Primary School, Victoria Island, had walls fell on her at her father’s house located on 20, Seriki Street, Maroko, during the demolition and died instantly. The father J.O. Atie now lives sorrowfully in his block 347 flat 2, Ilasan Housing Estate.

Seventy years old Chief Anitini (aka California), the owner of the popular California Cinema, California Hotel and California Bakery, who also owned other 17 buildings including the building that housed the branch of Cooperative Bank, all in the then Maroko, having suffered physical beating with butts of guns by soldiers, died weeks later.
Tragically, Alhaji Akasholojuro of 14 Buraimoh Street, Maroko, had his wife Awawu, and the children drowned in the Five Cowries Lagoon while trying to ferry their salvaged properties across to Ikoyi waterside.

Folakemi Agogo, a widow, lost two of her sons, Olugbenga, 18 and David 8 during the struggle to get alternative accommodation.
Most of the displaced people of Maroko were stranded in open places after the forceful eviction in July 1990. More agonising for the Maroko people was that the time of the demolition was in mid July; which means there was heavy rain coupled with the coastal winds associated with such areas. Days after the demolition, the residents were spilled all over the villages in Lagos and in neighbouring Ogun state. Some moved to church yards and under the bridges. Treasured monuments such as: pictures at infancy, marriage albums, college certificates, pictures and similar records were lost as a result.

As RajiRasaki and his allies became overwhelmed by public outcry and condemnation, the government made announcement that the displaced Maroko people were to proceed to an alternative accommodation at the abandoned government estates at both Ilasan and Ikota villages, 6km and 10km respectively east of old Maroko.

These two estates were over grown with trees and elephant grasses and most of the housing blocks were without roofs, windows and doors. The ground also was filled with swampy waters and reptiles of all kinds; with mosquitoes breeding on the flood of waters. Some were bitten by reptiles in extreme cases.

The two major resettlements provided for the evictees had no electricity, no roads or drinkable water. There was also no health centre for the aging and sick among the people or schools for their young ones. The nearest primary and secondary schools then were so far that the children stopped going to school. They suffered separation from family members, desertion, loneliness, hopelessness, hunger and all sort of illnesses associated with it. In extreme instances, their young girls turned prostitutes and became bread winners. Their young men were psychologically affected too. They lost focus of what life is all about as they focused on surviving in the jungle they were thrown into.Quarrel ensued amongst family members as a result of the total loss of livelihoods. The collapse of many uncompleted buildings due to the torrential downpour started to take its toll on Maroko evictees. Some consequently became vagabonds and fierce wanderers.Some are still struggling as a result of the cruel eviction. Some lost out in life completely as they became touts. It is said that most of the thugs and touts on the axis are children of Maroko’s parents who had experienced what it means to be forcefully evicted from one’s home at a tender age.

It is also worthy of note that a former Lagos State Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Land and Housing, V.O. Ogundimu, had said the Lagos state government made an announcement of a regional plan in1981 which according to him, was to guide development in the state up to the year 2000 A.D.

He had said one of the highlights was the creation of a New Town in the Lekki Peninsula (starting from Ilado/Maroko to Ilasan embracing about 16 villages and towns) to accommodate the increasingly growing population in Lagos Island and Mainland.

He went on to say that experts viewed Maroko then with great concern the serious consequences for the quality of life of the inhabitants, and the effects it would have on the economic and social progress of the state, if the rapid unplanned growth rate were not checked.

“Consequently, this compelled the state government to look critically into the Maroko situation since government had stressed the desirability of proper planning and excellent development in this area. Lekki Peninsula schemes are designed to absorb excess population from Lagos Metropolis and in addition encourage the establishment of industrial and commercial centre, tourist and industries and set in motion the total integration of the inhabitants here. When these goals are accomplished, the schemes would be self-sufficient, self-reliant and well balanced. That would make residents of the area to live together in a wholesome environment”, Ogundimu had said in 1985.

Sir Michael Otedola, as governor of Lagos state in 1992, who took over the mantle of leadership from RajiRasaki, made a promise to return the vacated land of Maroko back to the evictees through Oba Oniru. Governor Michael had admitted that Maroko was demolished in error, blaming it on the misleading roles of officials who partook in the demolition.
Maroko’s evictees said they expressed fears then that under such arrangement, the royal father might not let the land get to the real owners because of the powerful Nigerians who were backing him. Larger percent of that same land is owned by Oba Oniru. He acquired the land through his company known then as City Properties Development.

Disobeyed court orders
Investigation shows that the Lagos state High Court had also admitted in 1991 that the demolition of Maroko was done in error. There was an injunction by the Lagos Appeal Court that the Lagos state government should leave the vacated Maroko land untouched till the matter is finally determined but the judgment was not obeyed by both the Lagos state government and the other gladiators in the Maroko tussle.

Also, at the Supreme Court, Abuja, in the year 2002, the then Lagos state Commissioner for Justice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, now Vice President of Nigeria, admitted that though, government acquired Maroko town in 1972, it again relinquished the acquisition in 1977; thereby confirming that Maroko was not under government acquisition when it was demolished in 1990.

The Lagos state government subsequently accepted responsibility through Yemi Osinbajo and promised the evictees 1,000 housing units every year, till the whole former house-owners of Maroko are fully resettled. This promise was also yet to be implemented as at the time of this research.