According to a report by The Nation, the last four weeks have been hell on earth for the people of Iraye Oke, a community in Eredo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Lagos State.
Until its serene and peaceful ambience was violated by some soldiers who invaded it recently, Iraye Oke was a rainbow community that hosted Nigerians of different ethnic backgrounds.
But the peace of the community has taken a flight and left the people to live with fear that their homes could be demolished at any time.
One of the inhabitants, who identified herself simply as Mrs. Balogun, said she moved into her beautiful three-bedroom bungalow with her family in 2016.
According to her, she had struggled to build the house in the hope that its completion would put an end to her suffering with regard to accommodation. How wrong!
“The events of the last few days have removed sleep from my eyes. I cannot sleep or do anything. After struggling to build the house with my life savings, soldiers are now threatening to demolish it,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.
And she is not alone in her travails. A neighbour of hers, Mrs. Abiodun, who moved into her own house about three months ago, also had a sad storyto tell.
She said: “My husband completed the construction of our house late last year, we moved into the house in November and we were happy that we finally had house we could call our own.
“Where do we go from here? We are confused and we don’t know what to do.”
Sadly, the story is the same for many other families in the community whose homes are marked for demolition.
But most pathetic is the story of one Dauda, a gardener in the local council office. With tears rolling down his cheeks, the Ondo-State-born gardener lamented that it took him years of self-denial and determination to build a house from his meager salary.
He said: “I am a labourer. I work with the council, cutting grass every day. I had to deny myself and my family many things so that we can have a roof over our heads.
“If this house is demolished, what do they expect me to do? Sure, they are asking me to go and die.”
Another resident, Olale Abdulganiyu, has lived in his house for more than nine years. A retired civil servant, Abdulganiyu, who is also a traditional medicine practitioner, said the arrival of soldiers in the community was driving the residents to the edge.
He said: “I moved into this house in 2012. We all live like brothers and sisters here. But since they arrived, the place is gradually becoming a ghost town. Everybody is scared.”
According to him, the soldiers first appeared in the community last September.
He said: “We just woke up one day and saw a helicopter flying very low. The people were scared, but it later went away. A few days later, we saw some men in army uniform measuring the land. I approached them and one of them told me that they were measuring their land. I was shocked because we never heard any story of the army having any land in the area.”
He called on government to intervene and help them secure their buildings.
“We smell a rat in the whole matter. That is why we are calling on the government to please intervene and rescue us from these people.
“Imagine what will happen if you take over more than 200 buildings. Do you know the number of families that will be sent into the streets? It is sheer wickedness.”
Alhaji Kazeem Anwoju, the deputy Baale of Iraye Oke, whose family, Lenuwa royal family, owns the land, said the arrival of the soldiers has thrown the entire community into confusion.
Anwoju said some youths who were working on a site were brutalised and detained by the soldiers before they were released following the intervention of some community leaders.
“The Army arrested 10 indigenes and took them to their barracks inside the LASU campus in Epe and beat them up,” he said.
Sharing his travails, one of the youths allegedly brutalised by the soldiers, Gbenga Ibrahim, said they were subjected to torture and other forms of inhuman treatment.
Ibrahim said: “In September 2022, I and some members of our family were working on a portion of land in the community when we suddenly saw soldiers storming the premises and started asking what we were doing on their land. The next thing was that they started beating us and told us to roll on the floor and do frog jump.
“For hours, we were asked to roll on the ground and they collected all our mobile phones. They later tied our clothes together, put us inside a contractor’s truck and took us to their barracks where we were asked to do push-ups on hot granite. They later gave us cutlasses to start cutting grass until one of our uncles came to secure our release.”
Expatiating further, Anwoju said: “They (the army) are encroaching on our land. They came and started saying they wanted to mark houses for demolition. We don’t know why and we don’t have anything to do with the Army.
“They came to our land and started erecting pillars, claiming the land belonged to them.
“We petitioned the Lagos State Government but nothing was done. We also approached the 81 Division and what we were told was that they were posted there and that there was nothing they could do except to report to the higher authorities.
“We have contacted the Army authorities in Abuja but got no response.
“Historically, Iraye-Oke is one of the communities that make up Epe but we are under Eredo Local Council Development Area (LCDA).
“Soldiers came to Epe in 1970 and built their barracks there. In 1975, the soldiers left Epe and their barracks are now the LASU campus.
“However, about a year ago, the soldiers returned to Epe, left their barracks, and started encroaching on Iraye land.
“They have been harassing and beating our people. As I speak with you, the soldiers are in the Iraye community, fighting our people over our land.”
He added: “We never had any agreement with them. We are sad and we want the government and Nigerians to help us out.
“The Army does not have any land in our community. They never bought any portion of our land from us and never asked us about the land. They just came suddenly and started doing what is not right on our land.
“People now stand in groups of three or four discussing the problem.
“We have approached them and presented all the family documents. No part of Iraye Oke land belongs to the army.
“We are calling on the authorities and Nigerians to come to our rescue.
“Recently, the soldiers beat up some people. This is just the beginning and we don’t know where this is heading?”
In a WhatsApp message forwarded to our correspondent, the Deputy Director of Army Public Relations, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, Lt. Col Olabisi Ayeni, said a committee had been set up to look into land-related matters, urging the affected community to submit their complaints to the Army Division for resolution of the issue.
“Headquarters 81 Division has set up a committee that resolves land issues between the Nigerian Army and host communities in Lagos State. I will advise that the representatives of the community liaise with the Division and make their grievances known officially.
“I assure you, the committee will look into it and the issue will be resolved,” Ayeni said.