Occupants of the shanties along railway lines between Ilupeju bypass to Yaba axis of Lagos State, broke down in tears on Friday when a bulldozer ripped through their structures and destroyed goods and properties worth millions of Naira.
No fewer than five churches, three mosques and two preparatory schools were reduced to rubbles in the demolition carried out by the NRC to clear the rail track for the Federal Government Railway Modernisation Project.
The distraught occupants of the structures complained that the corporation did not give them enough time to remove their properties and relocate before the demolition.
The demolition started at 8 a.m when many of the traders were yet to open for business. The operation was led by the chairman of NRC Committee for Removal of Illegal Structures, Mr Anthony Ochuko Onyokoko.
More than 2,000 shanties were demolished in the operation.
It was gathered that the occupants got a notice to vacate the shanties on Thursday, less than 24 hours before the exercise was to be carried out.
It was gathered that the NRC officials were in the area on Thursday to mark the structures for demolition.
It took many of the traders by surprise when the NRC officials led a contingent of riot policemen to carry out the demolition.
Some of the affected occupants and traders could not be consoled as they counted their losses.
Mrs Kabirat Adeniji, 48, who operated a wholesale liquor trader rolled on the floor as her three shops were brought down.
She said she had recently stocked her shops with goods worth N500,000.
Mrs Adeniji, who said she rented the three shops 18 years ago, said: “These people (NRC officials) have finished me.
There is nothing my children and I will eat again. As you can see, my source of livelihood has just been destroyed by the Railway Corporation. I don’t know where to start again. As I am talking to you, I don’t have anything again.”
The Imam in charge of Orire Mosque which was also demolished, Alhaji Abdulazeez Ajetunmobi, said the mosque was built on the approval of the NRC.
“This mosque was built in 1963 and there was no prior notice for the demolition. We only saw the NRC officials yesterday (Thursday) marking buildings for demolition. We were not told the demolition would be carried out today (yesterday), so that we could start relocating the mosque’s properties. Last month, we spent N2.5 million to renovate the mosque and carry out capital projects. Everything is gone now, ‘’ lamented the 54-year-old Muslim cleric.
Coordinator of a Pentecostal church’s Sunday School, which was also demolished, Mr Israel Komolafe, said the exercise took the church by surprise.
He said the church had been occupying the space for 16 years and had been paying monthly rent to NRC officials. He said the corporation did not give notice to vacate the space.
The affected traders said it was wrong for NRC not to give them time to relocate after its officials collected monthly rent from them. They said the NRC’s Station Manager in Mushin, whose name was identified as Mr Ojo, collected the undocumented rent in cash on behalf of the corporation.
Mrs Pelumi Aluko, a hairdresser, said she paid N2,000 as rent on Thursday, wondering why the occupants were not notified of the demolition before they paid the rents.
In protest, some of the traders besieged the Mushin station of the NRC to get back the rents paid to Ojo, who allegedly ran away on sighting the crowd.
Arguments ensued between the NRC officials and a septuagenarian, Pa Madamidola Aremu, whose property, leased to a Cherubim and Seraphim Church, was marked down for demolition. Aremu, who claimed to have Queen’s Conveyance approving the perimeter of the property, accused NRC of encroachment on his property. He threatened to sue the corporation if the property is demolished.
Prophet Eri Atobatele whose Cherubim and Seraphim (Ijo Temidire) church was also marked for demolition said he paid N275,000 to rent the property six month ago.
Reacting, Onyokoko dismissed the claims that enough time was not given the occupants to vacate the structures and relocate their properties.
He said the corporation had issued quit notice to the occupants three times in the last three years, adding that the notice for the yesterday’s demolition was issued two months ago.
Onyokoko said the demolition was to clear the rail track ahead of the commencement of the modern rail project of the government.
He said none of the shanties built on the rail track was approved by the corporation, dismissing claims that NRC collected rent from the occupants.
He said: “We are starting a standard rail project from Lagos to Ibadan and the only way to make the project successful is to clear railway’s corridors of illegal structures. We have continually reminded them the railway corridor will be cleared.
“The modernisation project will start next week. We gave the occupants notice of three months. We announced on radio and newspaper. So, they are all aware of what is going on now. That is why they are not resisting our officials from carrying out the demolition. The government’s railway modernisation project is for public good. Over time, the illegal structures’ occupants were served notices of demolition. They thought we would not come for the demolition as promised.
On whether NRC is aware of the rent collected from the occupants, Onyokoko said: “We are not aware of any rent paid by the occupants of the illegal structures. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing like that. If the employees in the lower cadre collect rents and it is not brought to our notice, we cannot know. Why did they not complain before now that somebody was collecting money from them? If any money is paid by anyone, it is to keep them to illegally occupy railway land.”