2nd August, 2011
It was not a pleasant experience for the Deputy Chief Whip of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Rotimi Abiru, yesterday, when he addressed victims of the 2010 flood that swept the Ajegunle and Agiliti communities, who have since then been in the care of the state government.
The lawmaker, who was there as a representative of the Assembly Speaker, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, was almost moved to tears when he saw aged men and women weeping. He had to quickly summarise his speech and leave the protesters among whom were nursing mothers, some with babies who are not more than two weeks old.
The protesters carried placards with various inscriptions like, â€œOsaanyintolu, abeg pay our entitlement,â€ â€œThe flood victims that were camped at Agbowa are crying for justice,â€ â€œOsanyintolu treated us like prisoners,â€ â€œWe want our people detained at the task force office to be released.â€
The flood which forced President Goodluck Jonathan to visit the state then also made the state Governor Babatunde Fashola to relocate the victims and since then, they have resided at the relief camp at Agbowa area of the state.
After 10 months in the camp, they claimed the General Manager of the State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA, Dr. Oke Osanyintolu, came and told them that the government had given them only one week to leave the place. According to them, the one week was to expire on 31 June and the LASEMA boss also promised to provide them with materials and money that would keep them till they find their bearing. They said that two days to the expiration of the notice they were forcefully evicted while many of them did not get the money that the governor promised them.
Joshua Ojebo, one of the victims, told P.M. NEWS that they were moved on 12 September, 2010 after Governor Fashola assured them that there was provision for them. â€œThe governor told us that he had provided everything we needed and that we should leave our properties and we did.
â€œAt the camp, Osanyintolu treated us like animals. He was giving us fish instead of meat. They would bring a cow into the camp, but after killing it, the meat would disappear. His in-law was the one who was in the kitchen and she never treated us well,â€ he lamented.
On 29 July, Ojebo said the LASEMA boss came into the camp with journalists and camera men and told them that he was there to give them the money promised them. This, he said, caused jubilation and the victims praised the government. â€œThen he asked all of us to go outside the camp and while addressing us, he said the government would not be responsible for our welfare henceforth.
â€œHe took out a list and started calling names and handing over envelopes containing the money. We realised that the names he was calling were not part of us. We donâ€™t know where he got the names from. The few names among us that he called were given between N1, 500 and N25,000.
â€œSome got N9, 500 whereas last week, we heard through the media that he was going to give each family N250,000, while the bachelors and spinsters among them would get N150,000 each.
â€œAnother trick he used was that he did not state on the list the amount he was giving any family. He only asked those who were fortunate to have their names on the list to sign against a blank space where there was no specification as to the amount they were collecting,â€ he explained.
Ojebo further said when Dr. Osanyitolu finished with the list, those whose names were not mentioned complained , but he allegedly called them thieves, adding that they should leave the camp as he did not know them.
According to him, when the victims refused to leave the camp, Osanyitolu came with mobile policemen at about 11pm and sprayed the place with tear gas and beat some of the victims (they showed our correspondents the injury they had as a result).
â€œThe mobile policemen seized our phones and while we were all running for our lives, some of us who had been fortunate to collect the envelopes lost them,â€ he said, adding that over 80 people including the Chairman of the group were locked up by the officials of the State Task Force. He said many of them were stranded as they were tenants before the flood and do not have where to go.
He said the police officers that came with the LASEMA officials were shouting that the victims were given N250,000 and they were not satisfied.
A nursing mother and victim, Blessing Utobo, who said she lost her husband to the flood last year, said she was due for delivery when they were relocated. She gave birth to the baby in the camp and had been living there since then, yet she did not get anything as her name was not on the list. She said she and some others slept at the cemetery in the area that night.
Another victim, who was later introduced as the vice chairman of the group, also told the lawmaker and his colleague, Olusegun Olulade, who represents Epe 2 at the Assembly, that his name was not on the list despite his recognition by the LASEMA officials. He said it was after he complained that Osanyintolu took him aside and gave him N25,000.
He said the LASEMA boss explained that the particular list was given to him by the Community Development Association despite that the LASEMA officials had the authentic list.
â€œAs the vice chairman of the camp, I am supposed to know everybody especially with the fact that we have been together for 10 months. But on that day, when the list was been read, the faces who bore the names Osanyintolu mentioned were total strangers. They were never with us at the camp.
â€œIn one of the meetings he had with us earlier, he explained that the money donated by the Federal Government for the victims was kept in the bank and would be used to settle us when we would be leaving. He said we should be patient and not complain about the food we were getting since that was handled by the state government. Since then, we had hopes.
After listening to their complaints, Abiru promised them that the House of Assembly would investigate the matter and reach the victims appropriately, Dr. Osanyintolu, on his part, explained that the amount given to them was not to compensate them, but a token from the government which had also engaged them in vocational and skill acquisition schemes.
According to Osanyintolu, there were 264 families with children, making 1,100 people in the camp.
He said the order to quit the camp was given by Governor Fashola who wanted the camp to be available to the victims of the recent flood in the state. He added that on that day, the number of the residents swelled as those who heard that he wanted to give them money rushed down.
He said those whose names were on the list were given N50, 000 each while N25,000 was given to those who complained that their names were not on it. He said that he was even held hostage by the victims and had to be rescued by officers of the RRS, adding that his car was, in the process, vandalised by the violent victims.
â€”Kazeem Ugbodaga & Eromosele Ebhomele