By Kingsley Adegboye
An erstwhile serene suburb, tucked between Arakan BarracksÂ in Apapa and former Malu Road in the outskirts of AjegunleÂ in Lagos is the centre of a fresh controversy following theÂ recent demolition of this pre-colonial rail line community.
Settlers say they inherited the location fromÂ their progenitors who were originally cattle herdsmen andÂ dealers, hence the area was christened Agbo Malu, a YorubaÂ phrase that could be translated more or less in EnglishÂ language as an enclave for cows.
It was learnt that the residents, most of who have nowÂ abandoned the past trade of their forebears, followingÂ developments that have necessitated a shift in focus toÂ allow for proper environmental planning, are now engaged inÂ various trades while still holding on to their homes.
Vanguard Metro learnt that about 30,000 persons inhabited the nowÂ decimated Cow Village. Residents who spoke to Vanguard Metro said when they woke up on June 18 prepared to face the dayâ€™s activities, they wereÂ oblivious of any looming crisis.
Suddenly, however,Â a group of people led byÂ Mobile policemen armed toÂ the teeth and with the complement of earth moving machinesÂ descended on the community and before they could shout for help everyÂ bit of structure along the corridor had been pulled down.
They pointed to someÂ charred household equipment which could not be salvagedÂ before the incident, stressing that they had been severelyÂ dealt a severe blow following the demolition.Â The Chairman of the Agbo MaluÂ Arewa Community AlhajiÂ Audu Adamu said the people were tenantsÂ to the Nigerian Railway Corporation NRC and were indeed rentÂ paying tenants.
He tendered copies of allocation documents from the NRC which he claimed gave them title rights and legal backing to occupy the land. He informed that before the incident they had lived in peace with all their neighbours,Â including Mobil Oil Nigeria LimitedÂ whose depotÂ adjoins the settlement but only separated by a wall.
AccordingÂ to him, there has been no face-off with any entity until aboutÂ 10 years ago when he alleged Mobil Oil sought their ejectionÂ from the location. The situation, he said led to anÂ arbitration from the then Federal Environmental ProtectionÂ Agency which was unable to get commitment from theÂ stakeholders to re-settle the residents in another locationÂ in order to stave off any fears of incidents that couldÂ arise from the mix of human activities following the very volatileÂ nature of oil operations.
Audu alleged thatÂ the company was reluctant to footÂ any bill to relocate them, but thatÂ a gentlemanâ€™s agreementÂ was reached between the parties that each of the partiesÂ should maintain the status quo, though with a concession thatÂ Mobil should raise its perimeter fence so as to block off any interference fromÂ its neighbours, including the residents .
He said MobilÂ adhered to same and that it has been a peaceful co-existenceÂ since then.Â He alleged that contrary to insinuations that the LagosÂ State Government was responsible for the demolition of itsÂ quarters, there was evidence to believe that some of its corporateÂ neighbours were behind the incident.
Another, member of the executive of the Agbo Malu ArewaÂ Community, Alhaji Hussaini said as part of the systematicÂ erosion of its legitimacy and sense of communal co-existence spanningÂ over a decade was the change of the former Malu Road to Mobil Road.
That according to him, was the beginning of the long-drawnÂ psychological warfareÂ He said in order to avoid any situation that could spark offÂ avoidable fire outbreaks, all houses within theÂ domain were cast in cement bricks with most of them modestlyÂ decorated. But all that, he said, have been lost inÂ theÂ demolition.
Unconfirmed reports have it that the loss in theÂ demolition saga is estimated at several millions of naira, even as twoÂ persons were said to have died during the crisisÂ with several others injured. However, the Police in Ajeromi could notÂ confirm if there was any loss of life as no such case was reported.
But the displaced and presently aggrieved residents are now seeking legal redress through the Festus Keyamo Chambers which had already petitioned the Lagos State government on the matter, asking it to intervene immediately to avert an outbreak of violence.
According to the petition signed by David S. O. Adjharho and Napoleon Emeaso- Nwachukwu of the law firm : â€œIndications are thatÂ some sympathisers to the plight of our clients areÂ massing for reprisal attack on the masterminds of thisÂ unjust and oppressive conduct.
Elders among the rank and file of our clients have been making desperate efforts to calmÂ frayed nervesâ€.Â The letter copies of which were sent to theÂ State Security service, SSS, the Nigerian Railway and MobilÂ Oil Nigeria Plc had called on those concerned to investigateÂ conducts likely to cause total breakdown of law and order,Â compromise state security, loss of lives and properties byÂ the alleged illegal eviction of the members of the Arewa CommunityÂ in Agbo Malu, Ajegunle, Apapa, by Mobil Oil Nigeria Plc.