In Otodo Gbame, a slum community in Lagos State, gloom is a word that best describes the mood in the community. The misery has to do with the series of attacks on the community in recent months by people still at large, acts that led to the displacement of many inhabitants. While some Otodo Gbame residents point accusing finger at some powerful indigenes of the state, others say they are working in league with the Lagos State government to forcefully take over their land.
In this interview with Anthony Akaeze, Associate Editor, which held weeks before the latest assault on the community in March this year, Ahisu Celestine, a youth leader in Otodo Gbame, recalls the series of attacks on the once vibrant commune and why he thinks the Lagos State government has a case to answer.
Otodo Gbame has been in the news in recent times owing to the demolition of parts of the community by some people. How did it all happen?
The first attack happened in September 2014 by the Elegushis( an influential Lagos family) who want to claim this place(Otodo Gbame, a slum settlement). We had been living in unity with them from time immemorial. We shared the same custom because we learnt that they are also Awories(ethnic group). But when real estate started booming, that’s when we became their enemy and they were even trying to claim this community. Otodo is a big community. We are more than 300,000 inhabitants. Part of the community is on water built with stilt. We have three (major) groups here: the Elegushis, the Itedos, who are Ilajes from Ondo State and the Ogun (his ethnic group). It is the same fishing work that brought them here. They came and met us here. Chief Gbambala Elegushi is their fore father and their community is Ikate. Even in present day Lekki, there were many communities there also, we were all living together, but when Lagos State government came to take over the place (Lekki), they had to relocate the communities. When they did their survey, we were not affected, that’s how we remained here. Those communities that were affected, they resettled them at Ajah area called Indigenous communities. They were given land to build for themselves. Wasiu Elegushi, the son of Kabiyesi(king), on September 11, 2014, came with thugs and some police. The police were about 10 in number. And the thugs had machete and gun. When they came they started shooting sporadically to scare people away. They set houses ablaze from the other end of the community. Their intention was to sell sand, reclaim the land. I’m the youth leader of the community so we now organised boys to repel the attack. When our boys tried to repel, they tried to shoot. On that September 11, 2014, they killed one Calaber boy, Bassey. They came on the 17th of the same month and killed another person. But they denied that they were the people that attacked the community.
The second one was last year, 6th of November 2016. We had been seeing different faces and we had been hearing rumours that people are coming, they want to drive us away from here. So Baale (community ruler) called a meeting and said, ‘let’s be vigilant.’ We know everybody in this community. So suddenly, from the different faces, fight broke up between two boys. We didn’t know that they were up to something sinister. Baale called the police and when the police came they went to Baale’s office and took him away and remanded him and also arrested about 27 key members of the community. We asked them why and they said the report was that Baale instigated the youth of the community to fight whereas it was some strange faces that were fighting. Since that incident, we saw different faces again coming in. They took Baale away on Monday, 7th of Nov. On the 9th, that was when we saw police and some hoodlums. They came in three vans. They started setting houses ablaze. We thought police came to make peace in the community. I had never seen that kind of thing before. Police were watching hooligans carting away peoples goods. Our wives had shops. The Police said government is aware of this burning; they want this place to go down.
How would you quantify the loss?
If I’m to quantify, the loss is in billions (of naira). Our women used to go to market to buy bags of rice. A single woman used to buy like ten bags of rice. They had plenty shops there. They also used to sell fish, they had their cold rooms. This place was a busy community. People used to come from outside to buy from us.
Who do you suspect carried out the second attack?
We suspect the Lagos State government and I will tell you why? [ctt template=”11″ link=”m9ISd” via=”no” ]Who authorized the ministry of physical planning to bring excavator around 11.30 in the night to destroy the buildings, including those built with blocks? The Catholic Church, Methodist Church and some other private buildings[/ctt]… and they were led by police. They started their work from 12.00 midnight till 11.30am. It was to the point that the commissioner of police came here. They came with their helicopter and were hovering around the community but did nothing. Rather they were trying to aggravate the situation. That day, tenants in Otodo Gbame were nervous and got drowned as a result of the attack on the community.
How has life been since the attack?
Economically, socially, things have not been okay since the attack. The trauma has remained with the people. How can we sleep with two eyes closed? It’s not possible. The residents of the community don’t have food to eat. Most of our livelihood have been destroyed. [ctt template=”7″ link=”asTVf” via=”no” ]We had some private schools, three or four, they destroyed them.[/ctt] It was NGOs like JEI (Justice & Empowerment Initiatives-Nigeria) that came to our rescue. They brought lifeline like food and other things to us. But we’ve not seen government help here. Since the incident, the government has not sent any relief material to this community. Before the incident, they had not been doing anything.