In the far distance a bonfire thick with black smoke from the incinerating rubber tyres. Behind it, half-clad caricatures wildly gesticulate their defiance of the advancing line of policemen. Between the two opponents lay a destroyed taxi cab – its tyres ripped off for the bonfire fuel, an armored personnel carrier strewn with bits of glass, and two hundred yards of road strewn with bottle shards. The police, about twenty strong fired dummy bullets to try and disperse the gathering. The infuriated mob hurled glass bottles in response.
The scene hit us like a huge fist in the guts. Our destination was the walled and gated estate down the road, behind the angry mob’s deadly picket. Queen had all her travel stuff trapped in that estate, where she had dropped them with Bro earlier in the day before we left for the funeral of a friend’s late father. Qurrn’s flight was booked for tonight, and she was to rendezvous in Dubai next day with her husband and children, all coming from the US. The other party were already in the air and unreachable. Queen was in a state of restrained hysterics. Our attendance at the funeral had been earlier cut short by a lucky bit of information about this riot. Along the way back, a contrary, phone conversation had assured her that the report of a riot was not true, and so we had in high spirit traveled on to Bro’s house looking forward to a glass of wine and a already meal. However, what we beheld scared the saliva away from my mouth. I had never seen Bro nor Queen so confused and flustered either. For a long time, they’d been on top of my model list for cool composure.
The police fired more dummy bullets, the mob thundered back with a hail of bottles which even though they shattered a good distance away, the scary sound that they made was loud enough where we stood. Queen and Bro hunted for an alternative route . Scaling a ten foot high fence was considered. Finally the police, tired and thinking what the heck were they doing here anyway, drew back and thought it’s a wise idea to return home to the station, which was about two hundred yards away down the perpendicular highway. The mob, embraced, surged forward with cries of triumph. My heart sank deeper. Queen is distraught. A hundred yards impasse separated her from the means to go reunite with her children. I had always called her ‘angel’. She seems right now to wish she truly had wings .
“Six souls in the air” she feebly muttered, pointing her hand to illustrate.
Bro had an idea.
“My apartment is near the back fence of the estate. Maybe if we go to the road which leads through the back of the estate, I could call my housekeeper to throw Queen’s stuff over the fence.”, he suggested. And so, we embarked on the alternative plan. The road near the back fence was not navigable by any car for more than fifty yards because construction yet was in progress. So we left the car and began the hopeful trek.
A group of touts were idly hanging around in a shed along the road. On impulse I went to them, and this probably saved our life.
“We are visitors in the estate, and we need to get our luggage out so we can go home, but your boys won’t let us in” I said to them.
They looked as us suspiciously for a long minute
“You want us to be your bodyguards?” one of finally volunteered.
“Yes”, I nodded. They looked at us again with gentler eyes. Three prosperous-looking persons certainly gave the promise of a large amount of money.
“Okay then let’s go”, the one who presented self as their leader decided. And so with a gang of four neighborhood boys we proceeded along the road.
The fence behind Bro’s house was inaccessible as we found. It was skirted by a smelling bog, twenty yard wide. Resolutely we proceeded along the road passing through the shanties, circumnavigating the estate walls and hoping soon to arrive at the gate in front of which we had earlier found the bonfire lit.
Queen and Bro plodded on in front; Queen keeping the bodyguards captive with a desperate spiel. To the bodyguards and some other stragglers who had joined our procession, we had by her persuasion suddenly become human rights activists, looking to get their case across to the world. I trailed along about five yards behind, walking automatically and with each step I took, expecting to be shot.I really had no business to be here. The hateful side talks, the harsh screech of machetes threateningly dragged on the concrete road, filled my entire world. The hateful suggestions:
“Where did these three dead bodies come from? Shouldn’t they be returned to the mortuary?”
“You agent of land thieves, today you will meet your end”
The journey had become as hair-raising as walking through a street lined with huge slavering mad dogs, barking and growling. You know your only chance of remaining alive would be to ignore then; to just keep walking steadily on; to not meet their eyes, to not answer back, to be mindful that to run will be to die.
By a miracle we eventually got to the estate’s gate, which had been locked from inside to keep the mob out. The gate guards were reluctant to open it, and neither would the hooligans permit. They wanted money before. Three of them had been shot by the police earlier they explained, and they needed money to pay for their treatment in hospital.
Queen gave them twenty-five thousand.
“Let’s get you bags through the fence and get out of here quickly, I advised her.
“I need to get some vaccines from inside for these people”, Queen insisted
“Vaccines?” This was to me a new development. I was confused and angered. We had risked our lives to come here and to get her luggage and now she is talking about vaccines. I just couldn’t believe this. Finally though, the gate cracked open and we escaped into the estate, heading straight for Bro’s house. I think I drank two bottles of water immediately, while Queen assembled her stuff. Fear had drained all the water out of me.
“Have you got the vaccines now?”, I asked her. She laughed
“I promised our bodyguard a hundred thousand. That is the vaccine I needed to come get inside here, else no way would they let us leave this estate”.
This woman is amazing. I was completely thrown.
“You promised them a hundred thousand? Do you realize these people could get it into their head to begin making a living from this attitude?” I scolded. But really l was thankful for her resourcefulness.
The leader of our bodyguard team, now fully paid for his work, guarded us out of the estate and through the angry mob who had suddenly erected toll gates to extract their share of the loot, and back to the main road. He kept pestering Queen for the opportunity to tell their side of the story and why they were attacked by the police. After all we were human rights activists with a duty to make a report to the entire works regarding their plight . They were the Lagoon People , and their shanty town which had existed for three generations was what the government now wanted to pull down to build mansions for rich people. He proffered a slip of paper in which he had scribbled his phone number. I took it from him and promise to call.
Safety now on the way to the airport, Queen’s joy was not describable. She made excited phone calls around to announce her wonderful escape.
“Six souls in the air”, I said to her, demonstrating with my finger drawing a circle in the air. She wondered what I was talking about.
The Lagoon folks have built shanties along the Lagos lagoon. These unsanitary dwellings have been the direct origin of the uncontrollable debris along the Lagos water sides – and the source of the horrible pictures which have become in many foreign presses as representative of the state of housing and social amenities in Nigeria. The government says they are squatters, but they say they have lived in this place for more than three generations. They have no other place to go. Does living illegally long enough in a place that does not belong to you, eventually qualify you as the owner? Does government have a moral responsibility to resettle land squatters?
Dateline June 12,2014
Maroko boils: Three feared dead as Police, hoodlums clash
LAGOS — Commercial activities were brought to an abrupt end in Makoko area of Lagos, yesterday, as protesting youths allegedly attacked policemen who were in the area to execute a court order on demolition of parts of the area.
Three persons were reportedly feared dead in the fight that extended to Herbert Macaulay Street and the Adekunle end of Third Mainland Bridge. But the Police said no lives were lost.
Seven policemen, as gathered, sustained bullet wounds while others reportedly fled the scene when it became apparent that the youths may overpower them.
The state government, two years ago, began demolition of the coastal community occupied mainly by fishermen, claiming that the structures did not observe the mandatory 100 metres setback from a powerline installed on the lagoon. The demolition was, however, extended beyond the lagoon, thereby displacing over 3,000 families .
The action which was kicked against by a team of human rights activists on the ground that the residents were only given just 72-hour quit notice, resulted in a peaceful protest by the residents during which one of the traditional rulers, identified as Timothy Hunpoyanwa, was shot dead by a Police Corporal, one Pepple Boma, attached to the Marine Police, Oworonshoki .
His death sparked off another protest during which there was a call for the prosecution of the killer policeman as well as urging the Lagos State Government to compensate the family of the murdered community leader.
However, acting on a purported court order yesterday, a team of policemen were said to have stormed the area at about 8 am to provide security for officials that would carry out the demolition exercise, only to be taken unawares by the residents.
Eye witnesses said dangerous weapons were used. An unconfirmed report alleged that the policemen fired some shots at the rampaging youths. Hoodlums were said to have hijacked the moment, as they reportedly vandalised vehicles plying the route and also looted shops in the area.
An eye witness, who identified himself simply as Wemimo, described the demolition as a trespass on Federal Government land. He said: “The Policemen were not attacked by youths residing in the area that is to be demolished. Nobody knew where the attackers came from.
“We were only attracted by gun shots and in the process we all took to our heels. We were later told that the gunshots were from policemen.
“The demolition started in 2012, after we were given just 72‑hour quit notice. They pasted the notice at Makoko on Friday, July 20, 2012 to prevent the owners from seeking redress in court. Before the expiration of the illegal ejection, the Lagos State Government took the law into its hand by engaging in the demolition of houses without a court order.
“Today (yesterday), they came again wanting to continue from where they stopped two years ago.”
Hoodlums on rampage
Another eye witness, who gave his name as Kunle Kolawole, said: “We were going about our daily activities when the fracas started. We waved it off at first because something similar occurred two weeks back but it was contained.
“Then all of a sudden these hoodlums went on rampage, even when a team of policemen came and tried to restore peace, they fought back.
“It was a full blown war between them and the police and we all ran to safety because they were shooting indiscriminately. Soon, the hoodlums started vandalising cars and shops.
However, the Police later reinforced and subdued them but the harm had been done. It was after peace had been restored that we saw some corpses around. I don’t know if they were that of the hoodlums or bystanders. The corpses were later taken away by the Police.”
Seven Policemen injured
Contacted, spokesperson for the Lagos State Police Command, Ngozi Braide, said: “Policemen at Makoko at about 8am today (yesterday) went to execute a court order on demolition of certain area of Makoko.
“Youths of that area on sighting the policemen mobilised and launched an attack on them. They were armed with guns and other dangerous weapons like cutlasses, bottles, daggers,rods and sticks. Seven policemen sustained pellet injuries and are receiving treatment now.
“At this juncture, Police decided to withdraw to avoid innocent casualties. Security is heightened in the area and normalcy has returned, but no life was lost.”