Sitting dispiritedly on a wooden bench in front of his house which has become mountainous ruins of twisted metals, disjointed slabs and destroyed pieces of furniture, Mr Peter Lawrence, momentarily stared at sweaty scavengers hauling metal items into their carts.
The sadness in Lawrence’s eyes evinced grief. His house which was situated at King’s Royal Estate in the Abule Ado area of Lagos State, was demolished a few days ago, bringing his decades of toil and gain to an end within a day.
For many homeowners in the Festac Phase 2, the pride, joy, and safety that come with owning a comfortable home have given way to dejection, despair and a deep sense of loss.
During the week, several palatial houses in various estates within the Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area were pulled down by officials of the Federal Housing Authority for allegedly contravening housing and development regulations.
Since the demolition began, several heartbreaking video clips and photos have emerged on social media, showing distraught residents hurriedly evacuating their possessions as bulldozers charged at and levelled their buildings.
In these videos, onlookers could be seen standing around the structures in shock.
Property owners also recounted their losses as breathtaking edifices collapsed into piles of rubble and dirt right before their very eyes.
Billions of naira lying in ruins
When Sunday PUNCH visited the swampy, untarred area on Saturday it was observed that most owners of the demolished buildings were still on site.
It was gathered, however, that many of them have sought shelter with their relatives and kept their property with trusted friends and neighbours, where they are protected from the elements and the roving eyes of marauders.
Findings by our correspondents indicated that quite a number of the victims are traders at Trade Fair, a bustling market located in Satellite Town, close to the affected area.
Most residents of the demolished structure declined to speak with our correspondents, citing reasons that border on the absence of their landlords.
The area, they said gloomily, presently echo shame, misery and wasted billions of naira saved over the years through hard work
While several structures – mainly duplexes – were already demolished, there were houses around them that were left intact.
In some of these houses, only the fences and security buildings were brought down, leaving behind an unsightly scene.
In most of the demolished structures, manual labourers could be seen working tirelessly as they further broke down the remaining pillars and hard concrete into pieces.
Cart and wheelbarrow pushers could be seen converging at demolition sites, conveying roofing sheets, bent iron, metal scraps, and other items that could be sold or recycled to unknown destinations.
Sunday PUNCH also observed that eviction and demolition notices by FHA were sprayed in red ink on many buildings in the area. Most of the houses, it was observed, still had people living in them.
Many of the markings, dating back to August and September, indicated that these buildings had been marked for demolition and may soon be brought down.
Not all the marked buildings, however, were residential homes as some were pharmaceutical stores and hotels.
On inquiry, their owners shied away from speaking with our correspondents.
Property owners offered bribes
A resident of Ninth Avenue, one of the areas with recently demolished houses, who gave his name simply as Eberenna, told one of our correspondents that some of the homeowners had pleaded with the agency not to demolish their homes and had offered them over N50 million in cash.
He stated, “We just got home from the market at about 5 pm when we heard that they were demolishing houses. They started from the other side. The next day, we heard that they were demolishing new buildings on my street.
“The owner of one of the new houses opposite where I live promised to give them N50m cash. Another even said any amount they asked him, he was willing to pay. Almost all of them promised to give them money so that they would not demolish their houses but they refused.
“Their reason for refusing, according to them, is that they came before, marked the houses and warned owners that if they don’t receive any allocation number from the Federal Housing Authorities, they should not build any house but some of them went ahead to continue building.
“They told them that if anyone had received an allocation number and was yet to pay, they should pay up, but some that got allocation numbers either refused to pay, delayed payment or short-paid.”
Eberenna added that one of those whose house was demolished said he was warned not to build but he ignored them and continued.
“Now, his house has been demolished. They were now scampering to pay the money they asked them to pay earlier but it was already late,” he added.
Buildings that were spared
A landlord, whose house was marked for demolition in Ado Royal Estate, who gave his name only as Samuel, disclosed to our correspondents that he paid an undisclosed sum of money in order to spare his building from being demolished.
“The initial purchasing of my house was from the omo onile (land owners) but there was an order from the court that revoked the land from them and the FHA began to notify occupants that the agency was now in charge of the place and no longer omo onile.
“But we had our documents which showed where we purchased the land from, so they asked us to pay for rectification. As long as your property doesn’t obstruct a waterway or overlap with the roadside, you have to rectify your documents with the FHA.
“The demolitions are based on three reasons – you didn’t rectify, your pace was too close to the road, or are on a waterway. When I rectified it, they came here to issue me a new number. This marking you are seeing on the wall is no longer valid,” he said.
Pointing at a demolished building opposite his house, Samuel added that the house owner was a retired military man from Benue State, who had been planning to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays there with his family.
“He paid for his own rectification, but they observed that his house was on a waterway so they demolished it. But I believe he would be compensated,” he added.
Confirming Samuel’s narration, a manual labourer who declined to give his name explained further, “The infraction of these demolished houses bothered on two things – houses were built without consultation and approval of the FHA and marked for total demolition and houses with fences that were marked for being too close to the roads.”
Four landlords died of grief – Resident
A resident in Unity Close, Anthony Okoli, told our correspondent that some landlords have died because of the demolition.
“I know of four landlords who died because they could not bear to see the evidence of their hard work brought down. Some others have developed heart-related problems and hypertension because of this development.”
Another man who gave his name as Obinna, whom our correspondent met as he came to pack some of the property salvaged from his brother’s demolished house, lamented that they had planned to move into the house in December and were already furnishing it.
He revealed that his brother’s two buildings on the same street; a duplex for his family and a four-flat tenancy house were demolished.
Obinna accused the government of deception, claiming that the government accepted all the payments he made without telling him anything.
“As you can see they are new houses. The owner was about to pack in next month and I came to pack some of the furniture that we were able to remove before the house was demolished last Tuesday.
“The reason they gave for demolishing some of the buildings is that they asked them to stop work but they refused. They bought the land legitimately and when they were building, they were paying for everything. Development fees were paid to Omo onile fee and the local government. We also paid for soil tests. The government was busy collecting the payments.
“They said their reason for demolishing some other houses was because they didn’t give them numbers when they were giving others.
“That same day they came to demolish it, we begged that we would pay N30m just for them not to demolish it, while another man begged to pay 50m. One Ngwa man had just built a very big two-storey building and even promised to give them N100m so that they wouldn’t demolish their houses but they refused.
“You can imagine pricing your own property so that they won’t demolish it. My brother bought this land when the road stopped at Beacon Light School. He bought it years ago,” he complained bitterly.
Another death due to shock
Another land owner, Chibuike Ikemefuna, whose undeveloped land was also taken, said his neighbour lost his life when the demolition started.
“My neighbour, after the first time they came, died. I begged them to take my own land and leave his because he had just built on his. They refused.
“Another victim has not picked up anybody’s call since the day his house was demolished. He fell ill immediately and he is 58 years old,” said sadly.
He added that some of the victims who are young men might recover but the older ones may not survive.
Another tenant in the area, Chibuzo Ugochuwkwu, told Sunday PUNCH that although his house was not demolished, his fence was brought down because the agency found that it was too close to the road.
Attempts to speak to some other tenants in the area proved abortive as they refused to speak, but a builder working in the area, who mistook our correspondent as one searching for a house advised, “If you are looking for a house to rent in this area, better ask the landlord if the house has allocation number first.”
A man, Osas Idiagi, who introduced himself as a brother to the owner of a house in Ado Royal Estate, also told our correspondents that his fence was demolished leaving the main building porous because there was an apartment building on the fence, which was seen and as a violation of FHA regulation.
A resident of King’s Estate, Mrs Nneka Uzor, whose building was likewise demolished, described the despair she felt after discovering that the building her husband started building in January had been demolished.
“We have a platform in the estate and we have been talking about the situation ever since they came to mark different people’s houses here. It is very sad. I believe there will be another meeting with the landlords by 6 pm this evening.
“I think they started demolishing buildings at the beginning of this week. We don’t know why the government wants to collect the land. It is not our fault, and we don’t have any power to fight the government.
“Just early this year, my husband bought the land. Unfortunately, we have not even completed the structure since we started and the FHA has already destroyed the building. Now the money for the land and millions invested has been wasted. We have been living in this house for a while and we planned to move into our own house this year.
“This situation is terrible and we don’t even know what to do about it. All the landlords in this area have always been meeting since the beginning of the week to discuss what can be done,” she said amidst tears.
Uzor said several houses of people she knew had also been pulled down.
“Just this morning, I got a message from my brother-in-law, who told me that he wants to rent an apartment because his house along the army area in Abule-Odo was among those demolished. He is currently not feeling too well and has spent a lot of money on his health. House rent around this time is going to be very expensive,” she added.
In a video posted on Facebook on Friday, a man who gave his name as Chimobi Ezenwa, said his estate, estimated to be worth N300 million, was also demolished.
“I am Chimobi Ezenwa, and I am one of the victims of the ongoing demolition here in Abule Ado, Lagos. My property has been completely destroyed without any warning or notice. Even if I didn’t possess an FHA allocation, I would have willingly paid for the land reclamation if that’s what it took,” he said.
FHA alleges encroachment
Earlier this month, the Federal Housing Authority disclosed its plan to demolish 677 houses, while 744 others would be partially demolished over infringement by a developer in the area.
The agency’s South-West Zonal Manager, Akintola Olagbemiro, during a preliminary visit to the affected area, disclosed that despite letters and stakeholders’ meetings, some developers continued to build on the swampy land without meeting the requirements.
According to him, “After so many years of trying to get into the property belonging to FHA, which we labelled as Festac Phase 2, there has been encroachment and illegal development and it’s turning the place into a slum.
“We are trying to see how best we can resolve it and make people live in a more serene environment. Unfortunately, there have been cases of illegal developers and land grabbers.”
While addressing journalists during a visit to the area where houses were marked for demolition, the Zonal Deputy General Manager of Urban and Regional Planning Francesca Michael-James, stated that the FHA was ready to demolish houses marked for demolition and deal with those with no regard for the law.
“We already have the permission of our management. So, I’ll also source for security. When we have that security backing, we’ll start to enforce. The structures on the road, the pipeline settings, and the ones that were built after that stakeholder meeting where we all said everybody should wait,” she was quoted to have said in a statement.
According to FHA, house owners were served notices since August about the proposed demolition of illegal structures.
Efforts to get comments from FHA proved abortive as calls made to the phone number provided on the agency’s website rang out and a text message sent to inquire about the truth regarding rectification fees was not answered as of the time of filing this report.