Every July since 1990, survivors of the brutal purging of Maroko by the then military government have tagged this month with memories of hate, rape, loss of priceless valuables, bloodshed, and in extreme cases, deaths of loved ones. The month of July remains a constant ghost no ‘anointing’ has been able to cast out of Maroko evictees.
But it was not always so. Maroko was peaceful and very popular, inhabited by thousands of Nigerians who eke their living supplying much-needed skills to businesses located at nearby Victoria and Lagos Islands.
The are now known as Oniru Royal Estate; some parts of Victoria Island and Lekki Phase 1, were part of the former Maroko and it was inhabited by mainly low-income earners.
Over 300,000 people inhabited Maroko, a community of over 150 streets and houses owned by 10,000 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
The then military governor of Lagos State, Raji Rasaki saw that Maroko was good and liked it. According to sources, he intimated then head of state, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) of the potentials of the place.
IBB, in the company of Raji Rasaki and the then newly created Eti-Osa Local Government boss, Olatunde Beecroft, visited Maroko on November 17th 1989.
IBB, during the trip, described Maroko as ‘a mini Nigeria’ because all Nigerian languages were duly represented in the community. He also enjoined the residents to continue to embrace government programmes; promising that he would soon send Rasaki to the residents to fast track the development of the community. The promise was followed by ovations that nearly reached into the high heavens.
Surviving ex-Maroko residents told City Voice they were naïve. Raji Rasaki indeed returned to Maroko but, to the chagrin of the residents, it was to demolish the community; arrest, detain, even kill anyone who dared the military invasion.
The first inkling of trouble was an announcement on Radio that residents of the community had eight days to vacate their homes. Yet, by the seventh day, the bulldozers had moved in. By 8: am on that fateful morning, the first set of 30 houses had been reduced top dust by the over 30 bulldozers brought for the task.
Evictees tell City Voice that many did not hear the announcement on the radio. And for those who heard, they were too confused to know the belongings to start packing and where to send them. 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.
Eleven-year-old Bose Atie, a primary five student of Kuramo Primary School, Victoria Island, died when walls of her father’s house, located in 20, Seriki Street, Maroko, fell on her. The father, J.O. Atie now lives sorrowfully in his block 347 flat 2, Ilasan Housing Estate abode.
Seventy-year-old Chief Anitini (aka California), owner of the popular California Cinema, California Hotel, and California Bakery, who also owned 17 other buildings in the then Maroko, having suffered physical beating with butts of guns by soldiers, died shortly thereafter of shock.
Alhaji Akasholojuro of 14 Buraimoh Street, Maroko, said his wife Awawu, and his children drowned in the Five Cowries Lagoon while trying to ferry their salvaged properties across to Ikoyi waterside.
Folakemi Agogo, a widow, still mourn two of her sons, Olugbenga, 18 and David 8 who died in 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 agonizing was the demolition was in mid-July; which means there was heavy rain coupled with heavy coastal winds associated with such areas. Days after the demolition, the residents were spilled all over villages in Lagos and Ogun states. Some moved to church yards and under the bridges. Treasured monuments such as pictures, marriage albums, college certificates, pictures and similar records were lost.
Prince Samuel Adeniyi Aiyeyemi (late), Leader, Maroko Evictees Committee, spoke to the author before his demise. The then 80- year-old man was one of those whose legs were amputated as a result of injuries picked while evacuating belongings during the demolition.
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), 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 12 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.
“I was trying to locate my wife and children who were stampeded and got my right foot impaled by a six-inch nail jutting 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 reunited 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. 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.
“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 insisted he was talking beyond his strength could carry.
Pa Aiyeyemi told the author that a former governor of Lagos state, Lateef Kayode Jakande, tried to obey his mentor, Chief Obafemi Awolowo who had initially moved to dislodge Maroko people but failed to do so successfully.
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 them.
“Till today, the government could not give any offense that Maroko people committed. We had never disobeyed the 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 comply or concord with the voices of both Oputa Panel and that of the Lagos House of Assembly that the evictees should continue to enjoy flats the state government had given to them and that the state should also find accommodation for former house owners who were yet to receive any flat from government.
Unfortunately, successive governments in Lagos had yet to obey the Court Order requesting it to provide accommodation for the remaining 8, 000 former house owners of Maroko.
Honourable 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 how they where 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 on 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 belong to them and have decided to resist any attempt to further harass them.
Stephen Aiyeyemi, the first son of late Pa Samuel Aiyeyemi, said his father was a straight forward fellow, a dodged 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 aggrandizement 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.
Move them to another land
Although Rasaki destroyed Maroko, he was not the first leader to attempt this.
As a former Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Land and Housing, V.O. Ogundimu, recalled, the state government had announced a plan in 1981 to guide development in the state up to the year 2000 A.D.
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).
“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 said in an interview in 1985.
Sir Michael Otedola, who took over the mantle of leadership from Raji Rasaki, as governor of Lagos state in 1992, promised to return the vacated land of Maroko back to the evictees through Oba Oniru. Otedola 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 land might not get to the real owners as a large percent of the land is owned by Oba Oniru. He acquired the land through his company, known then as City Properties Development.
The Awolowo family, owners of Dideolu Estate, located near Oniru Royal Estate appears to have also emerged beneficiaries of the demolition of the area.
The only former leader the evictees talk of with respect was former head of state and now President of Nigeria, Mohammadu Buhari.
Buhari’s appointee as military governor of Lagos, 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 need to demolish the place to make lands available for the General and others.
Buhari reportedly 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, other powerful Nigerian elites at the time pulled their resources (soldiers, police politicians, Lawyers and Judges) together to demolish the community, with Rasaki as the arrowhead.
The late Bola Ige, said at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, in November 1994 where he was chairperson during the launch of a book written by Professor Wale Omole on the late Tai Solarin, that he was made to believe the people living In Maroko were sub-human. The Nigerian elite appears not to have got over this disdain.
Rasaki had told the nation that Maroko would not be shared among the elites and that former dwellers would be brought back when government might have put the place in order. Today, the evictees are still waiting to be brought back.
Evictees also point accusing fingers at Ligali Ayorinde, who was Chief Judge of Lagos state at the time. Justice Ayorinde had refused the evictees’ plea to grant a-one-day extension of the 7 days radio notice. He ruled that the evictees could only come for redress after government action. When the evictees eventually went back to the court after government action in early August of 1990, Ayorinde 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.
City Voice has learnt that the land on which the former Government College and Ilado Community High Schools, with 3,000 students, stood now belong to the estate of the late CJ.
Following public outcry, the government announced that the displaced people were to proceed to an alternative accommodation at the abandoned Jakande estates at both Ilasan and Ikota villages, 6km and 10km respectively east of old Maroko.
These two estates were over-grown with elephant grasses and most of the blocks were without roofs, windows and doors. The ground also was filled with swampy waters and reptiles of all kinds.
The two major resettlements provided for the evictees had no electricity, no roads or drinkable water. There was also no health centre and 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 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. 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.
A people regarded as ‘sub-humans’
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 water. The situation would have been worste but for Femi Falana, human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who immediately dragged the state government to court.
Within four 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.
Lagos State yet to redress the wrong
The Lagos state High Court had ruled in 1991 that the demolition of Maroko was done in error. There was also an injunction by the Lagos Appeal Court that the Lagos 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 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 publication.
Anxiety in Ilasan Estate over demolition plan
Twenty-five years after they were displaced from Maroko, it appears the survivors of the brutal July 1990 dispossession might be uprooted again, according to sources spoken to by CITY VOICE.
The sign has always been there for those who know how to use past events to forecast the future. The signs are that the rain of horror might yet fall on the fallow ground of Ilasan Housing Estate. The type of rain that led to the amputation of the leg of Samuel Adeniyi Aiyeyemi, the late leader of Maroko evictees, and which killed him 24 years after.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Housing, in the last administration, Dele Onibokun, had called a meeting with the leadership of Maroko evictees and did not waste time to sound the ominous warning. As he entered the conference room, Onibokun announced that Ilasan Housing Estate was becoming ‘a gold mine’ which was ‘no longer suitable’ for the evictees; and that ‘the people staying on the axis are not people like you (former Maroko residents).’
“He said we should look at Femi Okunu estate and similar estates around. He was already coming with developers. That was the first thing he told us as he was entering the conference room where we met him. We told him that anybody who wanted to give us trouble again will not have rest of mind in life. He became angry with that statement. So, I told him off. He could not sit again before he left”, Tajudeen Jegede, leader of Moroko Evictees Committee, said.
He said Onibokun left in anger, and very uncomfortable too. Thereafter, the Maroko evictees knew the battle for the soul of Ilasan Housing Estate has started and they have decided to fasten their seat belts. Jegede said his people were prepared to die than to live and fight for recognition years later again. Efforts to reach Onibokun for this report was not successful.
“I really want to ask, sir, is it an offense for somebody not to come from a rich family? Is it an offense for somebody not to have money in life? Why is government taking care of other parts on this axis and have abandoned us here?” Jegede asked, gesticulating towards the expanse of space around the estate.
For instance, the drainages at Ilasan had been blocked because the state government was more interested in developing land around it.
“The plan is that when the flood gets to certain level, they will say it is getting too much, the place is not habitable for human living and that we need to move them out. Before we left Maroko, they said the place was not habitable and that the people staying there are squatters and fishermen. We fear history is about to repeat itself,” Jegede said.
“If the 10,000 former house owners in Maroko are to give government estimation of the losses that we have suffered so far, I think we will be looking at trillions in naira. They want us to go back to square one where the education of our children would be paralyzed again; where they will not be somebody in life. It is not possible. When we came here, most of the buildings were uncompleted. There were no doors and windows in many of the buildings. There was nothing we could really do, we just have to abide. Even we at Ilasan here are still thanking God. Go to Ikota and it will amaze you the extreme inhuman condition of Maroko evictees there. As I talk to you now, we don’t have rest of mind.”
Residents of Ilasan Housing Estate have done the re-certification exercise required of them by the state government, but they were yet to have access to the documentation. Attempts by CITY VOICE to access this was not successful either.
The head of the Estate said: “They asked us to go and pay like other estates, we paid. We did all we can. But, we have not been able to receive our certificates of ownership (CofO) receipts. We have been waiting since 2010 when we completed all the things government asked us to do.”
Joseph Afolabi, Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Tailors, Eti-Osa branch and resident of the estate, confirmed the push to secure their tenancy.
“We have made such payment and government is yet to do anything for us. We are suffering from light outs, suffering from lack of water. Every day, whether you like it or not, you will spend up to N100 for you to drink water. This estate is a suffering and abandoned estate. The government has abandoned us here. Every raining season, you have to roll up your trouser before you can go inside your house. We don’t know what will happen to us here. We are praying they will not displace us again because we are yet to recover from the 1990 displacement. It would be automatic death for many, should government displace us again”, he said.
Sixty-eight-year-old Afolabi, who started his career as a tailor at Maroko in 1971 described how it was for him when Maroko was demolished.
“It was a great loss beyond words. Imagine a situation where you have six children without any work. When I packed here in 1990, I knew what my eyes saw. I had to work in my parlour in the flat given to me. We just have to thank God and Pa Aiyeyemi. If not for Pa Aiyeyemi, only God knows what would have happened to us”, he said.
Sixty-four years old Simon, who also is a survivor of Maroko eviction, said successive governments have abandoned the estate in order to have excuse to demolish it and hand it to the elite.
“Look at this gutter for instance; it has not moved water since we came here in 1990,” he said. “Now we are hearing that they want to give us another place. They want to rebuild somewhere and move us there. Our hearts have started palpitating since we got that news.
They have not fully settled the fallout of Maroko demolition; yet they are planning to take over here again and throw us into further hardship. We are really not happy to be here. You can see the environment; it is sickness every time”, he said.
He was one of those the state government told to authenticate their ownership. “Till today we have not seen anything like document as evidence of the flats given to us. There is no evidence showing that some of the evictees who were given flats are true owners of those flats”, he said.
‘The living here is just terrible’
Simon said when the evictees came to the place provided for them in Ilasan Housing Estate, it was not fit for human habitation.
He said during election periods, politicians would usually sneak into the estate like deer in the jungle to solicit for votes. “We usually vote for them in anticipation that when they got there they will do something about us. Once they got the power, we become their enemy.
This place you are seeing is London compare to inside the estate. Go inside and see for yourself. You can’t see where to put your leg when you go inside the estate. Government is waiting for disaster to strike. They know their plan. They are waiting for the time when even one house will collapse and then use that as an excuse to do more havoc to us. God pass them! ‘God dey’ is a poor man prayer. We hope that one day God will change their minds and make them remember the Maroko evictees who are still suffering years after that inhuman eviction”, he said.
Simon also narrates how it was for him when Maroko was demolished. “The first time I saw IBB in Maroko, it was somewhere in Mobil in (Awoyaya inside, Maroko). Days after that Babangida’s visitation, they did all they wanted to do and pushed us out of Maroko; and brought us here. When we came here, there was no light, there was virtually nothing here. We started managing our lives. I have seven children who could not go to school because of our forceful eviction out of Maroko. As you see us here, that is how most of us are. We don’t have money to train our children”, he said.
“I had two houses in Lekki Phase 1 side. Now I am living like a beggar where they came to dump us like dustbin; and yet, they are still planning to move us out of the place.”
The Vice Chairman of Ilasan Community, Ege Allen, also spoke of the travails of the residents.
“They should not even nurse the idea of relocating us,” Allen said. “I have never seen anywhere in the world where people would be relocated by their government two or three times in their lifetime. I have never heard of such thing.
“The living here is just terrible. Some people here don’t have allocation papers from government. There are many landlords in Maroko who are yet to receive even a pin from government. When they allocated flats to some people, many of us did not get anything. That is our cry to government. They should listen to those that are yet to receive anything. We have been abandoned.”
Locked inside a hole
Most of the residents alleged that the state government was deliberately blocking drainages and channels around the estate in the name of sand filling.
“If you go to the market, there you will see where they have sand filled. That was where we get our water to the lagoon. They also filled the seaside. The RCCG’s side is also sandfilled. We are now inside the hole. If it was not for the intervention of the community and Eti-Osa Local Government, flood would have swallowed the whole estate in 2011. If you were here that time, you would have felt very sorry for us. Many people were using small wooden canoes to move out of their houses”, Allen said.
When the evictees were brought to Ilasan Housing Estate in 1990, the whole place was a wild jungle where the people used to hunt.
Rats, rabbits, monkeys, tortoises, squirrels, snakes and the likes were former occupants of the place before the evictees joined them. They accepted to stay then because there was no other alternative.
Now, Ilasan Housing Estate has become a gold mine that the evictees must vacate if the high and mighty must get to the gold. Investigation reveals that land developers, both government and private, have been visiting to survey the estate. Some buildings have already been marked for demolition.
It was also an issue rife with politics.
Chairman of the opposition People Democratic Party (PDP), Lagos chapter, Captain Tunji Shelle, who said the manner the Maroko evictees had been abandoned by successive civilian administrations in the state was unjust, accused the APC-led government of a deliberate attempt to annihilate the poor living in the state.
“It’s so painful how these people have been abandoned by Lagos government. There is no single government presence in the estate. Lagos government is responsible for the incessant flooding being experienced in Ilasan Estate. What is stopping them from making the Estate inhabitable for the people?” he said.
“It is evident for those who care to see that the government in Lagos is oppressive. Look at Ilasan Estate for instance; if it was a place the rich are staying, the state government would have done something about it. Lagos at the moment is being run as a capitalist state. It is all about making money; building tolls and giving the tolls to friends as means of making money; why the poor are crying and dying”, he said.
Efforts to speak with the leadership of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Lagos did not yield meaningful results. The Party’s spokesperson in the state, Joe Igbokwe, declined to speak when he was contacted on the telephone; saying, “I am in a meeting. Call me back”. As at the time of this report, he had yet to reply to text messages sent to his cell phone or returned several phone calls to him.
APC National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, said he could not comment on the matter since it was Lagos related.
Allies among progressive lawyers
Yet, as the mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, to shield them from the roving eyes of ferocious hawks, Maroko evictees are now seeking refuge under the wings of judicial advocates.
Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer who was the evictees’ savior when Raji Rasaki wanted to throw the people out of the Ilasan Housing Estate in 1990, said he too has seen the cloud of trouble hovering over the Estate and was warming up to enter into another judicial round with any agency bent on evicting the people from their current abode.
In the same vein, rights activist and lawyer, Dr. Felix Morka, the Executive Director of Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC), has been at the forefront of the struggle for the reversal of the injustice done to the displaced residents of Maroko in 1990.
On December 3, 2008, in collaboration with a UK-based firm, Debevoise and Plimpton, Morka had filed a landmark communication before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights against the state of Nigeria on behalf of the victims of Maroko Community in
Lagos. He told CITY VOICE that Ilasan was not an estate anyone can take without a fight.
Before Morka and Falana, the legal adviser to the community was human rights lawyer, Olisa Ogbakoba (SAN). However, the relationship broke down amidst recriminations and accusations that Agbakoba later took on the role of a mediator – negotiating a compromise between the Onirus (the respondent) and executive members of Maroko Evictees Committee (Complainants).
As at the time of filing in this report, Agbakoba was yet to respond to questions sent via his facebook inbox. He also did not respond to enquiries made through his phone.
Falana, who has remained with the evictees, said the demolition of Maroko was not simply a judicial matter; but rather, it was a socio-economic and political matter.
“Whereas, the argument then was that Maroko was submerged and not fit for human habitation. What the government did later, was to sand fill at colossal public expense and then distribute the land among the elite. And that is why you have new Victoria Island in the place.
“What we did then, because the people were scattered and we went to several courts and didn’t get justice. I tried a fast one by simply going to court to say that the government could not eject them from Ilasan without court order; and that was upheld. That was how we were able to get them to remain there” he said at an interview at the Civic Centre, Lagos.
He confirmed fresh threats to eject residents of Ilasan Estate. “I have taken it up with the government. What I have been told, which I am yet to confirm, is that: some of the buildings are not okay and could give way and lead to building collapse; for which reasons government would like to get the people out with a view of rebuilding. I hope that is true. We have a duty to keep them there and to protect them”, he said.
The Oputa Panel, set up by the former president Olusegun Obasanjo to investigate human rights abuses in the country, ruled that the people were wrongly evicted, but Falana said there was little benefit from this.
“It was an administrative panel set up by Obasanjo’s regime. Unfortunately, the decision of the panel was not obeyed by the Lagos state government. It will be very difficult to hold the government accountable based on the report of that panel. For me, all hope is not lost.
We must continue to protect the people of Maroko and insist that justice be done for those who have been stranded”, he said.
Morka, however, said he was not aware of any actual plan to evict Ilasan residents.
“If anything at all, the government should be thinking how to go into Ilasan, help extend social services to the community and enable the people to live better. What I am aware is that the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LABCA), is concerned that a few buildings in the community may be structurally defective and that it may pose a threat to the occupants”, he said.
According to him, some people think Ilasan is theirs for the taking.
“That is where we are having problem. We have resisted several attempts. The idea of relocating the people of Maroko is not acceptable to them and to any right-thinking citizen. Ilasan is not an estate anyone can take just like that without a fight. But, hopefully all that would not be necessary because my assumption is that Lagos state government would realize Maroko people are a very special group of people who have suffered repeated injustice and violence at the hand of the state. So, I do not expect the current government in Lagos state to make things worse for the people”, he said.
“Most of that land that comprises Oniru estate and part of Lekki Phase 1 are Maroko land; where the Shoprite is, the British International School and all of those multi -billion naira houses on that district are built on the land of Maroko people. And yet those who own the land are living in desolation without a word from their government. It’s just wrong.
“When the people moved into Ilasan, the road was like a very narrow path. But today, after 25 years, there is a lot of development along the corridor. A lot of expensive real estate is coming there. The people who are driving this expansion now see Ilasan as a bride and are asking what is this estate doing here? It is a colony of the poor: and many of them now think Ilasan shouldn’t be there. But in all of that, nobody is taking the time to think about the people of Maroko. The few who are in Ilasan are lucky. Like I said, over 7,000 of them used to own houses. Some of them owned more than one house in the former Maroko and now are without even a roof over their heads”, he said.
In the communication to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, filed by SERAC on behalf of Maroko residents, the applicants submit that the Nigerian government has violated their rights under Articles 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22 and 24 of the African Charter and Article 16 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in African.
In a letter of admissibility, with Ref: ACPR/COM/370/09, titled: Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) V Nigeria, sent to SERAC by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, dated 24 September 2013, and signed by the Commission’s Chairperson, Hon. Dupe Atoki, and Secretary Dr. Mary Mabokere, ACPR agreed that the requirement to submit the Communication within reasonable time has been satisfied and therefore declared SERAC’s communication admissible in accordance with Article 56 of the Charter.
“We are currently now preparing the full brief to the commission where we would lay out all of our concerns,” Morka said. “But, the decision by the Commission deeming that communication to be admissible by itself is some kind of victory in this matter. We are pursuing it as relentlessly as possible.”
Unending pain, loss for the displaced
Speaking on the way Maroko was demolished, Leader, Maroko Evictees Committee, Tajudeen Jegede, said 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 heart attack.
“My dear brother,” he called three times, and paused. “Maroko story is really too sad to talk about. I lost a lot to the Maroko injustice. How many will I count? I lost three wives. There were a lot of atrocities; raping housewives, raping young girls. Some of the demolition was carried out in the night.”
The setting became 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 itching ears to listen to one of the greatest injustices committed by Nigerian leaders against their fellow citizens.
“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. The losses are too many to be counted.”
Jegede, a printer by profession, explained that it was difficult to exactly say who owned Maroko then. According to him, the Onirus were the major landholders 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. We hear that the Oniru family’s ancestors are from Benin Republic, including the Elegushis as well. The Ojomu, the Oba Ajiran also came from somewhere else,” he said.
“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. “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.
“Oba Oniru did not have any other house in Maroko, except his extended family. His Palace was situated at N0 1A, Ozumba Ubadiwe street. He was already a wealthy person at the time. Right from his school days his friends called him raw cash”, he said.
“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.
The others also spoke of their tiredness at being constantly moved.
“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 Alisa Agbokoba, our lawyer then, said he was tired because of how the case was stalling” said Titilayo Anitini.
After Agbakoba pulled out of the struggle to get justice for the Maroko evictees, Femi Falana 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 welled in tears.
“My husband was a big man in Maroko. He owned an 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.
All his buildings were built with bricks. The thought of those losses facilitated the heart attack that eventually killed him. His death certificate is still with me. The thought of a landlord of 17 houses becoming a tenant again in such dehumanizing circumstance was responsible for his death”, she said.
When asked to explain the role of the traditional fathers back then in Maroko, Mrs. Anitini who turned 73 this year, said that Oba Ajeran was the only King then in the whole of Eti-Osa.
“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 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.
All efforts to speak to the royal fathers involved, either directly or indirectly, did not yield any result. When the author visited the Palace of Oba Oniru, a tall man came out angrily once he saw Maroko on the visitors’ form. “Are you the one asking about Maroko? Don’t come here again asking about Maroko,” he warned. “Maroko is a dead case.”
Visits to Oba Patrick Ibikunle Fafunwa, the Onikoyi of Ikoyi and Oba Saheed Ademola Elegushi were also met with resistance. The promise of the secretaries of both royal fathers to arrange interviews was not fulfilled depite countless calls to their cell phones.
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 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.
Speaking on the manner Maroko was demolished by the military in 1990, then Spokesperson of the Lagos Command, Colonel Kingsley Umoh, said the military leaders at the time should be held responsible, and not the soldiers who allegedly committed several atrocities while carrying out the demolition.
“Government is continuous; 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 Umoh said in his office in Victoria Island.
Maroko injustice holding Nigeria back
Pa Ayeyemi, the late leader of Maroko evictees, told the author that on the morning of 19th December 1998, following the previous night’s Holy-Ghost Congress of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), he heard an unusual voice saying: “I will not be happy with Nigeria until Nigeria makes Maroko people happy”.
He said he had left for his Ilasan Housing Estate home at about 5pm on that fateful day from Ilupeju; but could not get home till 11am the following day due to the traffic situation resulting from the church programme.
“I was woken from my short sleep inside the vehicle by the noise of the crowd coming from the RCCG programme. This continued until 9am when I had to get down from my stranded vehicle. Since my sore foot had eased, I decided to continue my journey home on foot. Pushing myself opposite the surging crowd, I did not know when suddenly I wondered aloud “if God could be so hard-hearted as not to listen to the prayers of so great a multitude of people”.
He said the soliloquy had hardly left his lips when an angry voice quickly retorted: “How do you want God to be happy with Nigeria, with what they have done to Maroko? Maroko’s complaints are still before me, when they forgive Nigeria, I will forgive Nigeria,” Pa Aiyeyemi said.
Abdurraheem Ahmad Sayi, the Chief Imam of the Lekki Central Mosque told the author that: one fundamental value in Islam is justice, fairness and equity.
“A state in Islam is built on five fundamental objective principles which are: preservation of faith, the state is expected to be organized in such a way that the worship of the Supreme Being should be freely carried out without any hindrance from any quarter. The second which is preservation of life, the third which is preservation of property, the fourth which is reputation; and then we have the last which is preservation of linage”.
“We understand there are provisions where the state is allowed to take over private property for public policy; but that purpose must remained for public policy”, the Chief Imam, who is also a legal practitioner, said.
“The idea of saying we want to clear Lagos of all sorts, when you now take over the land and demolish it, you are only now going to allocate the land to the privilege who would put in exotic buildings or the government itself converting it to an estate that would be beyond the reach of the people who were chased out of the place, I think it is injustice, it is bad, and it is also a fact that, wherever injustice goes, it is a natural law that such society will not know peace. Until we learn to do things right and justly as well, I don’t think there can be any hope for a peaceful and enduring harmony in Nigeria.
“The Maroko people are suffering because other Nigerians who have not suffered the same thing have left them alone. It shouldn’t even be their right to fight; it should be those of us who are their brothers. An injury to one, they say, is an injury to all and that is the essence of brotherhood and this is the culture all of us in Nigeria should develop.”
A Christian Cleric with the Redeemed Christian Church God (RCCG) Lagos, Iliya Idris Abdul, said biblically, wherever there is oppression, particularly coming from leaders (whether chosen by God or allowed by God to be leaders), God would respond.
“If you look at 1Kings chapter 21, there was a story about Ahab, a King in Israel and Naboth, an ordinary citizen. Ahab loved the vineyard of Naboth and wanted it by all means. Naboth refused and the King was not happy about the refusal. Jazebel his wife manipulated the King to the point that Naboth had to die simply because the King liked his vineyard and wanted it for himself even though it was not his own”, he said.
He noted that Naboth’s vineyard sounds almost similar like that of Maroko; because it was a pleasant land that was strategically located. “When the King subsequently went to possess the land after the death of Naboth, immediately God spoke through a Prophet; warning him not to possess the land and that the King would die the same way Naboth was killed including his generation unborn. Though the King eventually repented and God forgave him, his generation after him suffered the consequences of their father forcefully taking the land belonging to the downtrodden in the society as a leader”, he said.
“At a time, the rains were withheld in Israel for three and a half years. To us as Nigerians, the rains being withheld could represent many things: under development, corruption, kidnapping, epileptic power supply, not prospering in spite of the natural and human resources etcetera.”
Maroko’s long history of displacement
Maroko evictees had pursued their claims in the Nigerian national courts and other independent bodies for more than 23 years but had yet to obtain any relief.
After the total demolition of Maroko in 1990, Lagos state government gave allocation papers to about 3,000 of the Maroko evictees to occupy the uncompleted flats at Ilasan, Ikota and the Epe Federal Housing Estates. About 1,000 out of the purported 3,000 allocations were not available, because they were yet to be built.
In reality, only about 2,000 out of the 10,000 house owners of Maroko were given some sort of shelter after the eviction. The remaining 8,000 former house owners of Maroko are still groaning under extremely harsh economic conditions still waiting for justice.
Findings also showed that the Lagos State government attempted to further displace the former Maroko evictees from their current abode in Ilasan Housing Estate, otherwise known as Jakande Estate by sending demolition gangs more than five times.
History of Maroko
The whole of Victoria Island was originally surrounded entirely by water. It was bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the south, the mouth of the Lagos Lagoon to the West, the Five Cowries Creek to the North and swamps to 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, thus ending its existence as a true Island.
After independence, successive governments expanded this development, culminating in the construction of a highway connecting Victoria Island to Epe by the Jakande administration.
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 before its demolition in July, 1990.
The old villages that fused into one common Maroko Community before its demolition by the military administration of Raji Rasaki 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.
Some of the villages had the Oniru family as their head. Others had the Elegushi and Onikoyi families as their heads, respectively.
Before Maroko’s unification, non-indigenes 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 expatriate workers and their Nigerian counterparts.
Some of the villages that were affected were: Oroke, Ilabare, Apese, Itinrin, Igbo and Magbon. Indeed, present-day Ikoyi has streets such as Apese Street, Oroke Street, Ilabare Street and Magbon Street in remembrance of former owners of the places.
Here are some of the former Maroko villages with their present occupiers:
Mekuwen Bonny Camp
Iru Village Federal Palace Hotel
Apese Japanese Embassy