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4,723 NIGERIAN SLAVES IN ITALY, RUSSIA, spain

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It is shameful that in the 21st Century the evil crime of servitude lurks in every corner of the globe. Of the estimated 46 million people living in modern slavery across the world, Nigeria is believed to have a large chunk of them, who had been trafficked, coerced, or forced into terrible exploitation, labour, and domestic vassalage. In this report, ISIOMA MADIKE, reports the barbaric crime, a trade, which earns more for criminals than any other, apart from the illegal drug business

 

Steven, 32, is from Idumu Ogo in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. He had been trafficked around the world. He was first moved across countries of Africa such as Mali, Senegal and Libya before he was taken to Eastern Europe and later to Australia, where he worked as house help and on farm lands.

As a house help, Steven was not remunerated. “The madam who facilitated my journey to the unknown said she was saving the money for me. She had made an arrangement with my masters to be paying directly to her.

In Australia, it was almost the same thing as ‘our master’, though promised to be paying us an equivalent of N50,000 per month; he never released the money to us. We were 32 from Nigeria that worked for him on his farm.

We were housed on the farm for the period of two years that I was there and never had anything to do with the outside world. He only promised to release our money anytime we were ready to return to Nigeria.

“We were given food two times in a day and made to work for 12 hours every day with a 45 minutes break interval. One day, the man called in police and alleged that we were stealing his farm produce and secretly sending same back to Nigeria.

He also alleged that we connived to steal about $240,000 he kept on a safe in the farm. That was how we were bundled into a lorry used in carrying farm produce straight to the airport and deported back. What we went through was worse than the slavery we read in our elementary history.

It was horrible to say the least.” With what he went through, Steven has vowed to one day challenge the cultural acceptance of human exploitation for young Nigerians, who often end up trapped in abusive trade.

“I would also challenge families who continually encourage their children to risk their lives in search of money and a better future,” he said. There are some like Steven who were taken to other Nigerian towns and villages to work where they were being paid peanuts.

Others were taken to a town in the South West to work on farms as labourers and as house helps. There have also been reports of many in a remote jungle of Ondo State. They have been labouring away for years in an expansive cocoa plantation.

They could neither read nor write except to communicate in their native dialects. Though, some of them managed to speak Pidgin English as well. The boys live from the handouts offered by their “masters” who have arranged for their departures to the “Promised Lands”.

“Now the land is cursing us, and we want to return home, but it is becoming increasingly difficult,” said one of them, amidst sobs, through an interpreter. These hapless children, adored in the African tradition and seen as a great asset to the family and the community, have been trafficked internally, becoming labourers in another man’s empire. Yet, what Steven and others were made to go through, starts with the promise of a better life.

The parents are taken in and the children are persuaded. When they leave home they do so willingly, with some excitement, not fear. The traffickers often promise a good job, schooling, and regular income. But that is not how it works out.

But the boys are not the only ones taken in as slaves in this modern time. For the young girls, the word on the streets is “hustling”. When they land in their destinations, they are taken to the sex markets and sold to bosses or madams. From testimonies of some of the “freed slaves”, according to Joseph Famakin, Zonal Commander, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Lagos, they are not paid; they are the ones that are indebted to their madams.

Those that were trafficked to Europe for instance, were bonded to the tune of $60,000 to $65,000 before they could regain their freedom, Famakin said. By a simple arithmetic, $60,000 to $65,000, means that such a girl, trafficked to Europe is bonded to the tune of over N20 million, which she has to pay with her body.

For those trafficked to Dubai, they are bonded to the tune of about $30,000, which is over N10 million; same for those in Russia, Oman, and other oil rich Arab countries. However, most of the girls prostitute on the rented portions of roads, and their clients often make love to them in the bush or in their cars.

They make daily returns to their bosses or madams who usually employ the services of cult members to enforce compliance. Also, the girls are expected to pay certain amount of money to their madams per month to rent the roadside spot where they wait for clients in extreme weather conditions.

They are equally expected to contribute certain amount each on a weekly basis for their feeding and buying of provocative clothing. “When we don‘t earn the money our madams want, they would press a hot iron on our chests,” one of the rescued victims was quoted to have said. Others died on the streets of these foreign lands while prostituting. Another of such “freed slave” who does not want her name mentioned, said her case was very complicated. She wept profusely when narrating her ordeal to Saturday Telegraph with tears sliding down her cheeks.

More than 10 years ago, she said, she was offered a job in Holland. She signed a paper in which she would repay the fare. She left two children with relatives and said she would send money frequently based on the promise of those who sold her out.

When she got to Holland, she was imprisoned in a flat and forced to work as a prostitute. She was paid nothing and had a terrible time. But she was worried about her children too.

After some time, she escaped and lived for a while as a homeless prostitute on the streets. She later found she was pregnant. By the time she returned to Nigeria she discovered she had contracted the deadly Human Immuno Virus (HIV).

She has been managing to stay positive with the attendant discrimination from relatives and friends who now treat her like an outcast. Meanwhile, over 4,723 of these “slaves” returned to from different countries to Nigeria since January, according to Famakin.

Of this number, the Lagos NAPTIP boss, said 459 were taken to his agency’s shelter. He also gave a breakdown of victims’ statistics. He said that 417 comprising 91 males and 326 females were literally set free from captivity in 2015.

For 2016 it was 502, with 19 males and 223 females while as at September it was 581, making a total of 1, 500. From investigations, it was discovered that the root cause of the phenomenon of trafficking into slavery is poverty, ignorance, greed and in some cases the incidence of child rejection.

A few days back, a Nigerian girl, who was sold in Mali for N450,000 called for help. The 25-year-old lady, Ogechukwu Okonkwo, made a frantic telephone call from Mali, to her uncle, Ndubisi Okafor, in Nigeria to come and rescue her.

Okonkwo made the call from Mali after discovering that one Helen, who came to pick her in Nigeria to Mali, had actually sold her to bondage. The girl had further urged her uncle to do everything to ensure that police got Helen arrested. Okafor, who was worried and unsure of what to do, run to a Non- Governmental Organisation, Welfare Peace and Universal Human Rights Initiative, located in Anambra State.

After listening to his story, the rights group petitioned the Zonal Commander, NAPTIP, Enugu State. A representative of the NGO, Comrade Chris Chidiadi, said: “We received a report from Okafor on September 2, in which he said his friend, Akunwata from Ukpo Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State approached him that his brother needs some girls that will work in a restaurant and that the girls after working for six months would be settled to start their own restaurant business.
“Okafor went to Okonkwo and told her about the business. She accepted. He then took her to Akpo, where he met Akunwata and a woman.

They both introduced her to Helen. Okonkwo was told that Helen had been assisting people to Mali, and was subsequently handed over to Helen.” Chidiadi said three weeks later, Okonkwo called him, complaining that she was suffering in Mali. She urged him to do everything possible for her to return to Nigeria, that where she was, there are too many girls packed into a room.

“Okonkwo said that every day people will come to pick one or two of the girls and that none of the girls had ever returned. She further informed Okafor that Helen sold them at the rate of N450,000.

Okonkwo said that she was in big danger in Mali. She further said that she suspected that the girls, who were taken out, were taken out for ritual purposes. She then begged Okafor to arrest Helen.” Since Okafor received the frantic telephone call from Okonkwo, he had tried calling Helen on her international and Nigeria lines, but none went through. He finally was able to get through to Helen on October 4.

When he asked her where she was, she said in Edo State with some girls she wanted to take to Mali. That prompted him to alert the police who arrested Helen. Chidiadi said: “Okafor informed us that since the day she was arrested, he has received a lot of telephone calls threatening him that he should release Helen or they would harm him.

They also told him that if he allows the police to release Helen that they would release Okonkwo. It would useful if NAPTIP could as a matter of urgency institute a proper investigation into the case as those calling are suspected to be members of Helen’s syndicate. Helen should be made to reveal where she kept those she recently got from Edo State, which she wanted to transfer to Mali before her arrest.”

The Rights group had also petitioned the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, asking that Helen’s case file, which is with the police, should be transferred to NAPTIP. The petition, signed by Chidiadi, stated: “We shall be grateful if your office will authorise the Police Area Command Nnewi to transfer the case with the suspect, Helen, who is currently in their custody at Nnewi for further investigation by NAPTIP as victims involved are more than 10, who are held by Helen’s syndicate.” International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that approximately 80 per cent of girls arriving in Europe from Nigeria are potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

The numbers, however, soared from 1,454 in 2014 to 11,009 in 2016, according to IOM data. According to latest figures, 875,000 Nigerians are living in modern slavery worldwide, including in the UK. According to the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, June, 2009, Nigeria is believed to be a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.

Within Nigeria, women and girls are trafficked primarily for domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. While boys are trafficked for forced labour in street vending, agriculture, mining, stone quarries, and as domestic servants. Each year, more than 200,000 Nigerian children are said to be forcibly taken from their homes to be put to work. Some go with the permission of their parents, while others do not.

Many, especially boys who may be as young as five or six, end up as household slaves far from home, or as agricultural workers, where they earn little or nothing. Some, especially the younger ones, die as a result; others end up with terrible scars, both physical and psychological.

The girls who are taken may end up in domestic service, but many become prostitutes, perhaps in Cote d’Ivoire or Gabon, but increasingly in Europe, particularly in Italy, where a well-organised criminal network distributes them to major cities like Rome, Florence and Turin. Those are the lucky ones, who reach their destinations safely. But they often do so after encountering untold hardships on the way.

 

  • Additional reports from Juliana Francis and Mosunmola Adeyinka.

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Investigation

KUJE PRISON INMATE: His operations, connections and lifestyle

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When, on June 30, 2017, Mr Dalhatu Yahaya, a 43-year old, walked into Elizade Motors Nigeria Limited in Abuja, explaining that he came to collect quotation for three Toyota vehicles, everyone around was on ground was happy that fortune was smiling on the company as regards sales that day. Mr Ige Olaleye, one of the members of staff of Elizade Motors who attended to Yahaya, said the man requested for quotation concerning a Toyota Hilux Pick-up, a Toyota Prado as well as a Toyota Land Cruiser, all amounting to a princely N38.9million.

Unknown to 48-year-old Olaleye, Yahaya, allegedly working with Ifeanyi Ezenwa, an inmate in Kuje Maximum Prisons in Abuja, was out to defraud Elizade Motors with fake bank alerts being their weapon. According to Olaleye, the recovery of the cars by his company would have come to nothing if not for the interventions of operatives attached to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Abba Kyari.

“The main guy, Ezenwa, is in Kuje Prison, Yahaya is his collaborator. In fact, it was Yahaya that came to defraud our company, he’s the person the syndicate uses to defraud people. As at the time this crime was committed, I was Acting Branch manager, all my statements are with the IRT operatives. Yahaya came on that fateful day, saying that his boss asked him to come and obtain quotation for the procurement of different cars,” Olaleye said. According to him, when he demanded to know who Yahaya’s boss is, the latter quickly put a call through to someone, clearing the cloud of suspicion and making Olaleye hand over the quotation and the company’s account number to him. “Yahaya’s boss introduced himself as Dr. Sam Attah. He claimed to be in Lagos as at that time and said we should give his boy, Yahaya, quotation of cars, which we gladly did. We didn’t hear anything until some weeks later.

He sent me a text; we were communicating through phone. I still have his number. One day, he called me twice; he said that he had paid thirty nine million, eight hundred thousand into the account number I gave to him. I asked him to forward me a cheque on how the payment was made, which I forwarded to our accounts department and our accountants confirmed that the money was already in our company’s account.

When Yahaya came to pick the cars, only one vehicle, which is the Hilux, was available. “I asked them to come back for the remaining vehicles. As a matter of fact, I reluctantly released that Hilux Jeep, since the receipt had been issued to my department by the account department. We had no reason to hold on and we were not aware of their fraudulent intentions. When it was time to issue the invoice, we asked him the name that should be there, he said Eniola Oladapo Hannah.

That is the name of the lady whose bank account they use to commit fraud. The payment was split into four parts of N9, 950,000 each amounting to N38, 9m, which is the total amount for the three vehicles. On July 13, Dr Sam Attah (Ezenwa) credited our Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) with another N38.9m, asking that we should double the number of the previous vehicles. “It was because of the alert, that the available Toyota Hilux, worth N17.5m was released to Yahaya on behalf of Dr Sam Attah on July 13, 2017. I pleaded with them to give me till the next day to provide the remaining vehicles.

After a while, our accounts officer called that all payment from Eniola Oladapo Hannah had been reversed. All efforts to reach Yahaya and Dr Sam Attah proved abortive. I even rushed to check the address, No. 92. T.Y Danjuma Street, Asokoro Abuja given to us by Dr Attah. When we got there, the address was fake, the street ends at No. 56.”

The company lodged a complaint with Independent Corrupt Practice and other related offences Commission (ICPC), IRT, Department of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Not long after, Eniola Oladapo Hannah was traced to Owo in Ondo State, she’s a mother of two kids. She probably got information that security agents on her trail and absconded. Eniola’s mother was arrested, detained for three days and then allowed to go. “The account officer that the fraudsters were using, was later arrested.

The account officer is with First Bank of Nigeria and our own account officer, GTB was also invited by EFCC. God was on our side. We didn’t stop praying on the matter and fortunately for me, one of the prayer points was for God to cause confusion in the midst of the fraudsters. Police traced the number Ezenwa used to call me to Kuje area.

The police used their GPS, but really couldn’t get the exact location of the caller. The trackers took us to Kuje Market, Winners Chapel Church, Deeper Life Church but nothing panned out. Most of the people arrested were interrogated and later allowed to go. We didn’t know he was in Kuje Prison. Nobody bargained that he was calling and pulling strings from inside Kuje Prison. Along the line, this same Attah started calling me; I had already saved his name as Dr Sam. He asked me how many cars were moved from my office, I said two Hilux vehicles. He said No! No! No! It was like a miracle when he gave me all the information on how to get Yahaya. He kept calling me back every three minutes.” Olaleye would later discover that Ezenwa was miffed because Yahaya, rather than sell and bring the money for them to share, disappeared with the cars. Angry and vengeful, Ezenwa called Olaleye and directed him to the location where he would get Yahaya, urging him to report to the police. “It was then I knew that God answers prayers.

There was confusion in their camp already. I went to EFCC to inform them, but they couldn’t believe it that a criminal actually called to give me information about other criminals’ whereabouts. Eventually, as God would have it, I put a call across to Mr Abba Kyari. He gave me a phone number of his team and the men immediately moved into action and arrested Yahaya. He’s the same guy that came to pick the cars. When police called me, I immediately identified him.

That was how God saved us. It was during interrogation that Yahaya confessed that he sold the car to someone in Kaduna State, their prime location for selling of stolen cars,” Olaleye noted. IRT operatives, the following morning, travelled to Kaduna State and arrested the man that bought the car from Yahaya. They also saw where the car was parked.

“I appreciate Abba Kyari and his men for a good job,” Olaleye said with joy. So powerful is Ezenwa that in June last year, he allegedly connived with some prison warders and sneaked out of his cell. He allegedly went to a store to buy an automatic wheelchair, using a fake bank alert. Mr Ani Okwudili, a 44-yar-old, reportedly told police: “On June 15, one Igwe and four prison officers, which the Igwe used as his body guards, came to my shop, situated opposite National Hospital Abuja requesting to purchase an electric wheelchair, BP apparatus, humidifier and 1 Q142 Omron, which amounted to the sum of N924,000. Igwe was complaining that he didn’t have money right then. After much persuasion, he demanded for our account number and phone number to enable him pay the money.

On June 20, Igwe called with phone number 09068148786, to tell me that his boy had paid the money for the items into my GTB account. He said that his boy made a mistake and paid the sum of N1, 050,000. He said that I should pay back the excess of N121, 000 into an Access Bank account, with account name Alhaji Galuba Shaidu and account number 0032392135. I confirmed from my account officer that N1, 050,000 clearing First Bank cheque with account name Eniola Oladapo Hannah with account number 2031617202 was lodged into my account from Akurem, Ondo State. After that verification, I paid N70, 000 into the Access Bank account given to me by Igwe.

He told me that he was sending his boy, with phone number 08022729641 to come and pick up the wheelchair and other items, including the remaining cash of N50, 000 of which he did. I released everything to the man that came from Igwe. I even called Igwe, who confirmed that he has received the items. Later, my account officer called me, saying that the lodged cheque from Igwe is a DUD cheque. He scanned and sent the cheque to me.” A frustrated Okwudili is of the view that police are delaying the case of Ezenwa. He wants him to be charged to court and prosecuted accordingly, rather than remaining in prison custody. “He should be prosecuted first and then, his victims would tell their stories to the media. He should be prosecuted and judgment passed on him.

The most important thing right now is to get judgment against him. Many people have information about him but once judgment is passed on him, people will open up. Moreover, police have all the information about him. Whatever information you need is with police. They cannot lie to you. Our statement is with the police and we cannot retract our statements. Several security agencies are involved in this matter.”

Ezenwa would have got away with the alleged crime against Okwudili but for a Close Circuit Television (CCTV), which captured him posing as a rich man, with the prison warders as his guards. Having allegedly left prison accompanied by prison warders to perpetrate the fraud, police now believe that warders are part of Ezenwa’s fraud syndicate. Speaking on the fraud perpetrated at Elizade Motors, Yahaya said he knew Ezenwa and a judge who is a friend of his were running a syndicate and was determined to get a piece of the action. He asked that a percentage should be given to him after the car had been sold, but Ezenwa and the judge allegedly refused.

This made Yahaya to disappear with the car. He ran to Kano State and sold it for N9m. He used N1.9m to buy another car and used N7m to run his political campaign. A vindictive Ezenwa, upon realising that Yahaya, a father of five children and husband to two wives, had played a fast one on him, he called Elizade Motors and spilled the beans. Already in prison, Ezenwa knew he had nothing to lose. Yahaya, who describes himself as a holder of a Diploma in Sharia and Civil Law which he bagged at the Legal Islamic School in Yola, Adamawa State, used to work at a Sharia Court in Gombe State as a driver. He resigned in 2013 to contest election as a local government chairman. Upon failing win the election, he relocated to Abuja in 2017 and went into property business. “In July 2017, Isah Imam Jega, an ex-convict from Kuje Prison, who is a judge, called me to go and pick up some cars.

I was arrested by the police. It was a man who I then only knew as Igwe that initiated me into fraud. I met Igwe in Kuje Prison when I went to visit one of my friends, the judge. The judge was an inmate in Kuje Maximum Prison, just like Igwe. It was after I was arrested that I learned that Igwe’s real name is Chief Ifeanyi Ezenwa. “The first job I did for him was at the Orthopeadic store, where I collected two wheelchairs, blood pressure machines and N50, 000 for him. After I collected the money, the judge instructed me to take the money to High Court and pay for his bail. It was after the payment, that the judge was released from prison,” he said.

Yahaya said that he was given nothing from the automatic wheelchairs deal because at that point, he was not aware that the items were not paid for. According to him, “I would have collected my share” if he had known. Speaking further, Yahaya said: “Later, my judge friend called me and told me that those items where bought with fake bank alerts. After the judge was bailed, he called and told me that Ezenwa wanted me to do a job for him. He asked me to go to Elizade Motor Company; he made me to speak with them. At the end, he told them that he wanted to buy five vehicles. I don’t know how he did it, but after a while, Geja called me again that the company was ready for me. He said I should go and pick two of the vehicles. When I got there, they gave me just one vehicle; a Toyota Hilux. I called my judge friend and told him that I would not deliver the vehicle to Ezenwa if he didn’t give me 30 per cent of the value of the vehicle.

“They turned down the deal, which made me to take the vehicle to Kano State, where I sold it for N9m. I bought a car of N1.9 million, and spent the rest of the money on my people. I contested for election.” Another victim of circumstance in the ongoing scam of Ezenwa and his cronies is Alhaji Umar Muhammad who spoke about Ezenwa and Yahaya. A 42-year old, Muhammad is into the business of buying and selling cars and has a car stand at Mai Tambari Motors in Kano State. “Dalhatu Yahaya was introduced to me by two of my trusted business associates, Shehu and Matawale. They called me on phone that one of their friends,

Dalhatu’s boss wanted to sell his Toyota Hilux for N9m, but I told them that I didn’t have money. I told them once I make some sales, I would buy the car. In July 2017, I was making transaction at GTB in Kano State, when Shehu and Matawale called me that they were coming, so that I could take a look at the Hilux,” he began.

When he sighted the car, he decided to buy it, especially since the documents and keys were intact. “I was in Saudia Arabia for Hajj, when I got a call saying that there was a problem and that police had come to collect the car.” Nobody knows for sure when Ezenwa took to the life of crime like duck to water but he first came under the radar of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Special Intelligence Response Team operatives (IRT) in 2017. It was exactly March, 2017 that the IRT Unit received a case of criminal conspiracy and Advanced Fee Fraud with Mr Lawson Nwachukwu of Apo Mechanic village, Lagos State Line, Abuja as the complainant against Ezenwa. When detectives eventually commenced investigations, they stumbled on many mind-blowing discoveries, which left them speechless. For long, tracking and locating Ezenwa was like hunting for a ghost. It took months to trace Ezenwa to Kuje Maximum Prisons as he was allegedly running his operations and carrying out his fraudulent activities right from inside the prison.

It was in that prison that Ezenwa, also known as His Royal Majesty, Engineer Jedidiah Ezenwa Attah, allegedly duped several people, using fake bank alerts Determined to ensure more victims didn’t fall into his trap, police authorities went public with his activities and methods of operations. Irked, Ezenwa hired a lawyer, threatening to sue four media houses that covered the story for a sum of N1billion each if the story was not retracted. While his lawyer was waiting and hoping for the retraction, Ezenwa again, allegedly committed another crime. When the media was alerted by police, Ezenwa hired another lawyer, this time a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who is also asking for a retraction of the story as well as apology for his client.

In a letter, the lawyer, J K Gadzama, wrote: “Our client, though in custody for about six years now, for reason his lawyers are working relentlessly to unravel, has not been adjudged by any court as criminal.” Ezenwa, who was said to have become a guest at Kuje Prison after he allegedly defrauded someone and later jumped bail following his arrest, appears to be having a ball in the prison. What with prison warders allegedly allowing him leave prison accompanied by warders anytime while they pose as his guards! Little surprise his alleged criminal activities couldn’t be stopped by incarceration.

Modus Operandi Lawson Nwachukwu said a man came to his shop to purchase some spare parts for Mercedes Benz G Wagon Jeep worth N1, 950,000 on March 21, 2017. After confirming the availability of the spare parts, the man called someone he claimed is his boss who then asked Nwachukwu to send his account details so that he would transfer the money for the spare parts to him. Eager to do business, Nwachukwu immediately sent his Diamond Bank account number and received an alert of N1, 800,000 from a First Bank Account few minutes later.

He released the spare parts but a day later, the transaction was reversed and Nwachukwu immediately informed the man about the development through the phone. The man bid him not to worry, that such happened due to the need to credit the complete N1, 950,000. It was to be the last time they would talk and Nwachukwu never got the money for his spare parts.

Nwachukwu said he quickly reported the matter to the police when he noticed that the same man was negotiating with another spare parts dealer around and investigations would later uncover the man sending the fake bank alerts as Ezenwa, an inmate in Kuje Prison. Kyari, who, together with his teams of detectives, had been tracking and attempting to unearth all the alleged nefarious activities of Ezenwa, said: “IRT operatives went to prison and confirmed that he is there. The operatives have gone to court for a warrant to move him out from prison, in order to interrogate him. Nobody knows how he generates fake bank alerts, but we shall find out.

We need to know if some bankers are working with him. Ezenwa has masterminded many frauds, leading to the financial ruins of many Nigerians.” A police source said: “The customers would receive a bank alert, indicating that the accounts had truly been credited. However, when the customers go to the bank to confirm, the money wouldn’t be there.” The police source continued: “These fraudsters carry out these fraudulent activities mostly on Friday evenings.

They know banks don’t work on Saturdays and Sundays. There would have been interval of two days before a customer goes to check his bank balance. By the time the discovery is made, the customer had already handed the goods over to them.” On Ezenwa, the police further revealed: “The leader of the gang is in prison and uses a smart phone. The phone is connected to the internet and browses through online retail sites like OLX, JIJI and Jumia, where he connects with people who want to sell their valuables, especially cars.

He communicates with them via WhatsApp. “When he is buying vehicles, which are usually very expensive ones, he would ensure that he deals directly with the real owners. He would send members of his syndicate to verify the condition of the car. When he is sure of what he wants, he would swindle the dealer, using fake bank alerts. His members would disappear with the car.” According to the police, Ezenwa has different fraud cases pending in different courts. Some of these he is not even aware of yet, involve his accomplices. These accomplices were alleged to have fingered Ezenwa in other fraud cases are said to cut across different states in Nigeria.

The case that caused his remand in Kuje Prison is one being handled by another unit of the police, not the IRT which is eagerly waiting for him to be through with pending cases before they re-arrest and re-arraign him for the cases they have been investigating him for. Until IRT operatives recently smashed the syndicate, his wife didn’t know he was in prison. When police stormed his home in Abuja to impound some stolen cars, the woman told them that there must have been a mistake somewhere. So confident was the woman that she told the IRT men her husband was in Italy, from where he sends money to her often calls her with an international number.

The police explained: “One of his brothers, Emma, is the person that used to go and pick whatever Ezenwa had bought via internet. He also used to assist Ezenwa to check out what items to buy. Emma will go to him in prison to tell him about the items and Ezenwa would generate the bank alerts. “This time around, they went and bought car spare parts worth N1.6m. They used the fake alert to dupe the dealer. Again, Ezenwa sent a mechanic to buy another set of spare parts and the IRT team was alerted while the mechanic was arrested.

“The mechanic took IRT team to Ezenwa’s house where some cars were recovered. He used to send money to his wife from prison; his sister and brothers knew he was in prison, but his wife didn’t. We got his pictures from his wife and took them to police station. Some policemen who saw his pictures screamed, saying he is a well-known fraudster currently in prison.” Unveiling Ezenwa along with his location The discovery and smashing of Ezenwa’s syndicate started after IRT got wind of his criminal activities, following series of petitions.

The IRT team was instructed by the Inspector General of Police, Mr Abubakar Idris, to go after Ezenwa and put an end to his alleged criminal activities. Investigations led operatives of IRT to Ezenwa’s house in Abuja, where a G Wagon, Hummer Jeep, Honda Odyssey and a Honda End of Discussion (Honda Accord 2005) were discovered.

A victim, Mohammed Salanke Dahiru, a car dealer in Abuja, said Ezenwa swindled him of a Mercedes G Wagon. Salanke said: “On the day he defrauded me, he made away with my vehicle. It was worth N7million. He sent a man to my car stand; the man priced the car and took copious pictures which were sent to Ezenwa. My sales boy, Obinna, was the person that handled the transaction. When they agreed to our price, they took my account number. They insisted on transferring the money to my Diamond Bank account number. I gave it to them. An hour later, I received an alert. I called them to come and collect the car. “This was on a Friday; on Monday, when I went to the bank to check my account, I discovered the money was not there. On that fateful Friday that I received the alert, it had my previous balance in it.

The total money was balanced. I wondered how he was able to get access to my account. This incident happened in November 2016. I have been looking for the car since then. Earlier in the year, members of his syndicate also attempted to defraud another person and were arrested.” Speaking further with our correspondent, Salanke said that he was shocked that a former commissioner of police, now a practicing lawyer, is taking up the case of Ezenwa.

According to the police, Ezenwa wouldn’t have been able to continue in his fraudulent activities, right from prison; if not that prison warders were aiding him. How criminals generate fake bank alerts Following an increase in the number of cases of Nigerians being duped through fake bank alerts, Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) in the country are stepping up measures to check the activities of fraudsters who engage in this act, findings by Saturday Telegraph revealed.

A top bank official who did not want to be named said the industry had been recording a steady increase in the number of cases of bank customers losing their hard-earned money through the supply of goods to fraudsters who tricked such customers by sending a fake credit alert to their mobile phones. A

ccording to the bank official, as a way of checking the practice, DMBs have finalised plans to change the format of their alerts in such a way that these alerts will contain security features that will be impossible for fraudsters to copy. The official explained that the current format of bank alerts could be easily customized by fraudsters do this using bulk SMS.

“It is very easy these days for anyone who wants to send a fake bank alert to do this by closely studying the format that a particular bank sends its alerts. Once the fraudsters is familiar with the format, he can just do it by using Google to search how to go about sending bank alerts to a victim’s phone. So what we always advise our customers to do is to contact their account officers for confirmation if they receive any credit alert from someone they are not familiar with,” the banker said. Offering further insight into how criminals generate fake bank alerts, an official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission noted that there are different cases of cybercrimes. According to him, using fake bank alerts to defraud

 

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NURTW deaths in motor parks

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The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) appears to function as a mixture of transport workers union and street gang. They are the lords of the motor parks, popularly known by many as “agberos”. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, highlights the influence of the union, power tussle, romance with the powers that be and how it became synonymous with violence

 

 

The orgy of violence and needless killings in Lagos State a few months back only brought to the fore what the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) has become in recent times. The killings followed the bloody clash by factions of NURTW at Idumota, Lagos Island. At the end of the “war”, no fewer than 10 persons laid dead with many others sustaining varying degrees of injury. Properties worth millions of naira were also said to have been destroyed.

The clash, Saturday Telegraph gathered, was between the Isale-Eko faction and Onola-Agarawu-Itafaji boys as the struggle for power continued in the district. Streets affected by the clash were Onala, Isale-gangan, Aro Lawyer, Jankara, Dosumu, Adeniji, Princess, Agarawu, Itafaji and other suburbs. About 12 persons were reportedly injured just as five cars were burnt by the warring factions. The fight, which started at 4am, was just one in a series of clashes by the NURTW that has hit the area in recent times with rising casualty figures.

The area had literally sat on a keg of gunpowder, as it explodes regularly, and most times uncontrolled. Trouble started, according to an eyewitness,when one of the warring factions, mostly made up of youths, stormed Isale-Gangan Street and set two cars ablaze. In the ensuing melee, a personal assistant to one of the NURTW chairmen in Idumota area of Lagos Island was reportedly killed.

He was identified simply as ‘Arnold Swagger’, an aide to Kunle Azeez, popularly known as Kunle Poly. Sources said the killers trailed the car belonging to Kunle Poly to Idumota, Lagos, at some minutes past 1am and opened fire on the occupants. While the main target escaped, Arnold Swagger was not that lucky, as he was hit by bullets.

He reportedly died on the spot. Before the Island massacre, Mushin and Oshodi areas of the city had equally recorded heavy casualties, from warring factions as well as even innocent residents of the areas.

The Oshodi crisis led to the death of one Rasaq Bello. He was, until his death in the bloody clash between factions, one of the leaders of Motorcycle Operators’ Association of Lagos State (MOALS) in Oshodi. The executives of NURTW appear to live above the law.

These top hierarchies of NURTW are so influential they could almost do anything and get away with it. One of such executives who live larger than life style in Lagos State is MC Oluomo. He is so powerful that he was sought after and interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC’s) Louis Theroux, when he visited Nigeria in August, 2016.

Theroux was led around the city by MC Oluomo’s late aide, Mamok, who was gunned down at a barber’s shop later in the year. In the said interview, Theroux was stunned by the influence MC Oluomo and his deputy Kokonsaria, wield and how much money they made already from being leaders of NURTW. Kokonsaria bragged that he controls more boys than MC Oluomo yet his loyalty to his is unalloyed.

The journalist was allowed access to MC Oluomo’s mansion in Oshodi, Lagos, where the former led him around. Kokonsaria, Oluomo’s second-incommand also has a storey building in Oshodi but seldom stays there owing to incessant attacks by touts otherwise known as ‘area boys’.

The BBC journalist was equally amazed by the confession of one of the sectional heads of the area boys, who boasted that he collects money from store and kiosk owners by force and resort to slapping them if they resist payment. The area boy, who did not disclose his identity, said that his boys police the area against any robbery or cult attacks.

He said he was a combatant and had mastery of the use of cutlass, knife and bottles for self-defence when a fight breaks out. He, however, stated that he was tired of fighting and needed real job. Before Mamok died, he had confessed that MC Oluomo was responsible for selling the NURTW tickets to members on contract basis weekly, which he said they issued to both drivers and riders. “What does MC do with the money?” Theroux asked.

He gets the money to ensure they don’t suffer police harassment,” Mamok had responded, arrogantly. However, the killings on the Island elicited so much tension. Following the crisis, the state government ordered the immediate suspension of all union activities in that zone indefinitely.

The state’s Commissioner of Police, Imohimi Edgal, who disclosed this shortly after the Security Council Meeting held at the Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja, and chaired by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, said the decision was to forestall any further breakdown of law and order and ensure that the peace in the areas is not hampered.

Edgal, while urging members of the NURTW on Lagos Island in particular to comply with the directive, said that government would not hesitate to totally proscribe all union activities if members continue to disturb the peace in the area. He said: “In view of the crisis rocking the NURTW chapter of the Lagos Island and the insecurity it is creating on the Island, the Security Council meeting today chaired by the state Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, has ordered that union activities be suspended on the Island until further notice.

“We are also using the opportunity to call on NURTW leadership in the state that nobody or group of persons, organisations would be allowed to tamper with the peaceful security situation in Lagos State and that the government would not hesitate to proscribe completely all union activities in the state if their members do not obey the laws of the land and ensure that their activities do not amount to breaching the peace.” Also, the internal crisis in the Oyo State council of the NURTW was brought to the front burner when a member identified as Olumide Oyelowo, and his wife, Yetunde, were killed by unidentified gunmen. The couple was reportedly shot dead at their residence at Alalubosa, Molade area at Alakia Brewery in Ibadan, the state capital, about 2am. Sources said Yetunde was shot dead after the armed men killed her husband because she identified one of the assailants and screamed his name.

The reinstated chairman of the union, Alhaji Lateef Akinsola (Tokyo) and the former acting chairman, Alhaji Lateef Salako (Eleweomo), accused each other of masterminding the killings. The deceased was said to be a known member of Salako’s faction but was being suspected by his colleagues to be sympathetic to the Akinsola’s group. Salako was later to be killed in an unclear circumstance. Akinsola, while exonerating himself from the killing, claimed he was not involved in the crisis within the union in the state.

He told newsmen in Ibadan that the speculation that he was behind the clash between members of NURTW and Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) was false. “I am the legal chairman of NURTW in the state. How can I instigate a crisis against it? I have court judgements from the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal that affirmed me as the chairman.”

There was, however, a political angle to the seeming uncontrollable crisis, which climaxed with Salako and two others paying with their lives. The trouble in the Peoples Democratic Party in Oyo State had erupted during the local government congress of the party.

Though, the attack that consumed Salako was said to have been initiated by members of the NURTW loyal to him. The allegation was that he led other hoodlums to disrupt the local government congress of the party because they felt the results in that local government might not favour their candidate. Yet, another account, had pointed to the direction of a prominent senator, who was said to have masterminded the mayhem. In another twist, an octogenarian, Chief James Awoniyi, who was the chairman of NURTW in Oyo State, between 1983 and 1993, had reportedly said that the crisis in the union started the day his former deputy, Akinsola, forcefully took power from him in 1993. “Tokyo was too ambitious.

He said I should leave the office. I was fortunate not to be killed on that day. He came to me in the office with thugs and hoodlums,” Awoniyi claimed. The fragile peace within Oyo State didn’t last for long as it ruptured when members of Road Transport Employers of Nigeria and National Union of Road Transport Workers engaged in a bloody clash over daily fees charged by the drivers’ union. According to sources, dangerous weapons were used by the two warring sides.

At Monatan, several gunshots were said to have been fired, which forced traders in the ever busy market to flee for safety. The source said: “I was at the market when fight broke out. We thought it was between two motor park workers but within five minutes, it spread, and dangerous weapons were used in the fight. Where we hid, we heard several gun shots.” Before normalcy returned to the troubled areas, many people had sustained serious injuries on both sides.

Yet, what played out in Lagos and Ibadan, were not isolated cases. It happens often in other parts of the country as NURTW has remained synonymous with crises that often lead to deaths of members and passersby. Meanwhile, it has, somehow, become an accepted norm to see full grown able-bodied men collecting money by force in and around motor parks under the guise of NURTW. This, most times, causes problems.Sometimes, the agberos, as they are fondly called would delay the movement of vehicles.

They call such levies in the South- West owo union (union due), owo load (loading fee), owo olopa (police money), owo task force (task force money), owo aaro (morning, afternoon and evening money), owo agbero (tout fee), owo council (LG council fee) and sometimes traffic officers’ fee) from even operators of individually owned public vehicles (taxis, buses, danfos) and motor bikes (Okada and NAPEP tricycles).

All the fees are collected in most of the major cities in Nigeria, sometimes under different names, especially the police fee is not debatable. Although the police have at different times denied that their members collect any fee, the reality is that the police collect fees at most bus stops, particularly in Lagos.

The OPS Messa, RRS, and other police units visit all motorcycle and motor parks at intervals to collect the fees every morning, afternoon and evening on a daily basis. Any park whose members that refuse to respond quickly would be maltreated and branded as illegal parks, while members would be arrested and sometimes tagged armed robbers. The act usually gives room for increment in transport fare.

Incidentally, the transport workers do not benefit in any form from this revenue. Saturday Telegraph gathered that the top hierarchy uses various fetish means to climb to and sustain themselves in power.

Many a times, the lure of office will cause disaffection among members, who will want the pecks associated with the exalted positions. This often leads to break down in transport and orderliness. The battle for supremacy and control of motor parks had often led to chaos within the ranks of the union leaders. In some instances, the leaders will engage in a gun battle at motor parks over the collection of fees and control of parks.

This frequently leads to heavy casualties. Incidentally, politicians use them while campaigning for elections and other ungodly vices they commit all in the name of leadership. But why would anybody kill or be killed because of leadership of a mere union? Many would do anything possible, according to an official of NURTW, Ketu branch, who does not want his name in print. The benefits of been in the leadership cadre are so many to be ignored, he said.

In fact, most union members, according to him, look forward to becoming a leader in any branch. He said: “Once you are the chairman, for instance, you have become untouchable. It confers on you the privilege to dine and wine with the high and mighty in the society, especially among politicians. When the politicians need thugs to help them achieve their political aims, they contact the leaders, who they pay heavily to recruit from their members.

So, they make stupendous money from such ventures. “Again, more than half of all the levies collected from the parks go to their pockets. It’s an insignificant amount that they reserve for the running of the unions. If you happen to operate at the national or even state levels, of course you will be meeting with the likes of governors or President and other important personalities in the country.

“They also own buses and anytime any of their buses arrive at the park, they will pick passengers first and if it happens that more than two come in at the same time, they will be allowed to pick before any other member. In fact, they live larger than life and mingle with the mighty in the society. And of course every member would want to enjoy such privilege at one time or the order. But you know they do this with the help of “African insurance” which they cannot do without.

“Yet, these offices come with high risk. They can be killed easily by others who are also desperate to occupy such seats. But again, it’s normal, because most of them would have done that to their predecessors too. So, it’s a karma kind of a thing. To be an agbero, you must be prepared to live a life that is defined by diabolism.”

The politicians often turn to state’s chapters of the NURTW as a primary source of political thugs. The unions have several thousand members and are meant to represent the collective bargaining interests of drivers of commercial passenger vehicles.

There are considerable evidences that NURTW has long been used as a tool of political violence by some politicians and others. Some longtime members complain also that the unions have been largely captured by violent “touts” who loiter about the motor parks harassing drivers and passengers alike.

This may be the reason violence and insecurity usually becomes the norm in the run-up to elections. The typical commercial driver in the metropolis loathes the union workers and sees them as mere pests who serve no other purpose than to reap where they did sow. But the union officials barely cares less, as they regards the commercial drivers as cheats. On a typical day, the hapless drivers are usually left with no other option than to cede to the whims and caprices of the bottle totting union workers who are known for their combative demeanours. In spite of how bizarre the monetary charges often seem, many of these drivers do have what it takes to challenge the authorities.

They are made to unwillingly accept this unlawful arrangement as a lot which just has to be borne in order to survive. “You would sincerely feel sorry for these drivers going by the arduous nature of their jobs.

They work under the sun, struggling to lure passengers into their vehicles and you end up finding these nuisances drawing scribbles on the car just to obtain N50 in the process. I feel upset because this has been going on since I was a teen,” one angry commuter said. To some people, the NURTW can best be defined as a bunch of illiterate thugs and extortionists. Yet, the NURTW national website stated: “The National Union of Road Transport Worker (NURTW) is an organisation that represents employees’ interests to management on such issues as wages, work hours, and working conditions.” Again, according to it, NURTW was formed to “protect, defend and promote the rights, well-being and the interests of all workers in the union against discrimination and unfair labour practices.”

But, the notorious and demeaning indiscipline and rowdiness in the parks is a direct result of the unruliness and lawlessness of members many people claim to be a bunch of overrated thuggish illiterates parading themselves as “union people”.

They jump into the road, stopping their “members” – taxi drivers and the commercial motorcyclists, Okada” extorting money from them. They often fight for control of the government-built motor parks and taxi-stands, and nobody knows what the forcefully generated money is used for by this organisation. Yet, their members, the real road transport workers seem not to benefit in any form from this massive revenue.

There is also an allegation that successive politicians, especially in most of the southern states are complicit in the use of these thugs while campaigning for elections and other unreasonable vices they commit, all in the “do-ordie” battle to get to power.

The governors use them; the senators and members of the House of Representatives use them; the members of the states’ House of Assembly use them; local government chairmen use them and even ward councillors use these road transport workers as thugs and enforcers to intimidate opponents.

They are equally used, in some instances, to disrupt political rallies, frighten electorate at polling booths on election days, rig elections by outright hijacking of ballot boxes, and generally fomenting trouble during elections. The “agberos” could also aptly be described as the “foot-soldiers” of the top bosses of the union.

The NURTW has, at various times, claimed that it derived its functions and actions from its registration and an Act of Parliament during President Shehu Shagari’s-led government in the Second Republic.

But the question is: does the Act stipulate the gangsterism and brigandage members of the union often manifest in carrying out their business? Governments across the country are not unaware of the infamous activities of agberos. In some instances, some state governments have had to proscribe the various bodies they represent. There are equally those who believe that it may be impossible for any democratic government to proscribe or condemn the unions’ activities, because, according to these opinions, all the political parties enjoy their patronage, as well as seek their support to win elections.

It is a known fact that the partisanship of the law enforcement agencies has always been a serious issue in tackling the menace of agberos in the Nigerian society, and it has, indeed, been alleged that the leadership of the police, as well as the politicians in and out of government, are the leading sponsors of this menace in the country.

There is obviously government’s lack of political will as being responsible for the persistent unacceptable acts of violence by the groups. Activities of the various security agencies in the states have also become a clog in the wheel of progress for commercial transportation in the country.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Emmanuel Nwaghodoh, while reacting to the activities of NURTW, said that it is important that government at various levels take firm steps to curb the lawlessness of this union in the country. “They need to evolve tough policies in order to ensure that no group or individual in the society continues to act above the law.

“The police and other security agencies must stop their unholy relationship with the lawless agberos so as to be able to hunt down, arrest and bring them to face the law if involved in anti-social activities. Nobody, no matter how highly placed or connected, should be allowed to go scot-free after inflicting pains on other members of the society in carrying out their legitimate business,” he further said.

 

Additional report from Lanre Odukoya

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AGRIC-ISAWO ROAD CONSTRUCTION: ANGUISH AS LIVELIHOODS DISAPPEAR IN RUBBLE

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For most Lagos residents, demolition has somewhat become a way of life. If it is not as a result of paving new roads, it is just about tractors knocking down “illegal” shops or markets. However the continuous changing face of the mega city comes with some consequences for the masses. In this report, MOSUNMOLA ADEYINKA and EMMANUELLA LEKWAUWA, highlight the sacrifice of those who bear the brunt of the efforts to lift the “Centre of Excellence”

 

 

Since assumption of office in May 2015, Governor AKinwunmi Ambode, has preoccupied himself with the slogan, ‘Itesiwaju Eko’; that literally translates to moving Lagos forward. But for most residents of the mega city, this forward movement is tortuously linked to the tearing down of the old, and sometimes new, for upward advancement.

However, most of those affected are the ones engaged in small and medium businesses, which ordinarily should galvanise the economic growth of the state. In Nigeria, it is said that this group of people and businesses contribute over 64 per cent of employment and 90 per cent of the industrial sector in terms of the number of firms or enterprises. Not too long ago, the bulldozers were sighted at Isawo and Igbogbo communities in Ikorodu, pulling down offices, shops and residential buildings.

The residents watched helplessly as their houses and belongings were reduced to rubble by heavy-duty machines. The demolition, which was commissioned by the state government, was, as usual meant to give the road a face lift. But every development, they say, comes with a cost.

This may be the reason tears freely rolled down the cheeks of hitherto strong men and women, as caterpillars moved through the community, destroying every structure on their path. Isawo, in particular, became a shadow of itself after the exercise. Yet, the demolition was to give way to a six-lane express road.

Adewale Samson, a trader and father of three, stood on a heap of rubble when Saturday Telegraph visited. He looked at the planks, pallets, remains of pots, bits of cardboard, threads of clothing and chunks of concrete, which were indistinguishable from every other pile in a field of debris stretching far into the distance.

“This is where I called home before this wicked demolition took place,” Samson said, looking down at the pile, as a neighbour searched relentlessly for anything he could salvage from the mess. “I had to withdraw my three kids from school in the meantime due to my present predicament,” he added.

Samson used to sell kitchen utensils in one of his shops along Agric road, Ikorodu, before the destruction. His major challenge is how to get another shop in another good site. Even at that, getting the fund to secure such a shop remained a herculean task. Yet, Samson’s case is not an isolated one.

There are many others who are also lamenting what they described as a calamity that befell them. To some of them it will take a lifetime to recover from the shock that is if they will ever recover from it.One of such victims is Tunde Ojo. He used to reside in a two bedroom flat in Agric-Isawo Road. He shared his pathetic story, describing how his apartment was demolished.

The apartment happens to be the only house that his elder brother, Kunle, built. The house had to be sacrificed for road expansion two years after the construction. “It all started when I returned from my place of work where I served as sales personnel in a company located at Isolo. The company produces pave stones as well as sales bulletproof doors.

My elder brother happened to be the landlord of my apartment. He had traveled to Kaduna State due to the nature of his job and was not aware of any notification from the state government. “But fear gripped me when it was been rumored at the market square around Agric Bus-Stop where I went to get some food items that some buildings were going to be demolished owing to the fact that the initial measured lane wasn’t sufficient. My fear was confirmed when I got home that same day and was informed by one of my neighbours that some government of-expand the road.

“Confused and depressed, I ran straight to the office the next day earlier than expected to see if I could talk to one of the managers in my place of work concerning the issue and to seek advice. But luck did not smile on me as I was informed by the sales manager that all the rooms within the company’s premises had been leased.

“Returning from office I discovered that my apartment had been reduced to rubble. Right now I sleep from one house to another in search of refuge. And as I speak to you now, I’m still looking for where to squat in the meantime. I can say that I was caught unawares,” he narrated with tears rolling down his cheeks. Some of the affected victims said that they were given just a short notice ahead of the demolition, without any promise of compensation.

Despite the development the road will bring to the area, the people of Isawo are not happy with the demolition. Some even claimed that they were not informed about the demolitions and they were surprised to see bulldozers moving in on their property.

A young man, who refused to be identified, told one of our reporters that his only shop was destroyed, which has now rendered him almost useless. “I was not aware that such was going to take place. I just came in that morning and could not find my shop. What pained me is the fact that all my goods were destroyed. I wasn’t able to retrieve anything.”

However, there are those, who admitted being in the know of the planned demolition, but that they did not know that there buildings would be affected. “Many of us didn’t know it will affect our houses and shops,” said a woman who lost her only house to the fury of the state bulldozer. Another, a tenant in one of the broken house, said that it was the timing of the demolition that did not go down well with him.

“Yes, we were told, but at least they should have given us an exact date. We were expecting them to come at a more convenient time, after we would have moved our belongings to a safe place. Most of us were not ready at the time they came. You can see, pointing to plane rubble. That used to be my shop,” he said.

Nasirudeen Kasali, whose Mosque was among the demolished buildings, said though he was informed that his worship centre would give way for the road expansion prior to the demolition but that he still found it painful because it was not an easy task building it.

“The Mosque came to be through voluntary donations by those who believed in the project.” The Agric-Isawo Road before the current expansion had become a nightmare for residents, especially during the rainy season, when the only available means of transport was commercial motorcycle known mainly as Okada. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had noted that the road, aside opening up the area for residential and commercial activities.

This, according to him, will, on the long run, improve public safety through reduction in travel time, vehicle maintenance and transportation cost leading finally to an overall better standard of living.

The Commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Co-operatives, Rotimi Ogunleye, also said that the road will serve as a link to Ijede, Gberigbe and Imota where the state government has established a rice mill turning out 32 million metric tons daily and an industrial park.

The road, he also noted, was commissioned far back in 1973 by the Federal Government as an expressway, leading to the Lagos-Ibadan express road. Unfortunately for some people, their houses, worship places and business centres are on the pathway of the new road.

In spite of the flood of criticisms, many who spoke to our correspondents were happy about the road project. To them, it will not ease movement but would eventually open up the area for development. “I salute the governor’s courage on this; he is, indeed, touching the lives of the masses.

There is no way, however, that developments of this magnitude would occur without some people paying the great price; that is the prize of development. “But in the end many would benefit from it. So, I commend his efforts thus far. Lagos landscape is truly changing for the better.

We have suffered too much on this road. Every night, I get home very late. Is that how a human being should live? I am sure by the time they finish the road, the holdup will reduce.” Meanwhile, the state government has acknowledged that some buildings were removed without compensation but that it has asked all those affected to reach the appropriate authorities.

The Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Abiola Anifowoshe, said: “I urged all affected property owners to submit the following documents for the ease of processing the payment of compensation by the state government. The documents include: Certified registered title documents of properties within the said right of way, approved planning permit for the affected buildings, and other relevant documents.” Anifowoshe, said government had in recent time held stakeholders’ meetings with owners of properties that had to give way for the construction of the affected areas and had given assurance of adequate compensation.

He said: “Before we remove any structure in Lagos State, the state government would first hold stakeholders’ meeting with the affected property owners within their domain to obtain their buy-in and commitment towards the projects. “Government has held meetings in all these locations and during these meetings, it allayed stakeholders’ fears and assured them that the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode would not remove any structure without following due process.”

Anifowoshe said that officials of the ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development had marked all identified structures within the proposed right of way in these locations and had served all affected structures with necessary notices.

He added: “I urge all affected property owners to submit the following documents for the ease of processing the payment of compensation by the state government. The documents in clude and I repeat: Certified Registered Title Documents of Properties within the said right of way, Approved Planning Permit for the affected buildings, and other relevant documents.” The commissioner said the infrastructural upgrade and expansion of the major and adjoining roads was in fulfilment of the promise by the governor to transform the state into a safe, functional and efficient commercial hub in Africa.

“We use this opportunity to appeal to all affected property owners to cooperate with the Lagos State government for the socio- economic development of their areas and Lagos State as a whole,” he said. Amid complaints trailing the state’s urban development agenda, the government said it has paid about N8 billion compensation to individuals and groups whose properties were affected by key projects and development in the state in the last oneyear through its Land Bureau Unit.

Special Adviser to the governor on Urban Development, Mrs. Yetunde Onabule, had, in a recent seminar on, “Urban Tinkers Campus-The City We Need” denied that government forcefully evict people without taking into consideration their welfare. According to her, compensation were paid promptly by the government on any land acquired by the government for public interest with presentation of all necessary documents by affected persons, group or organisation.

Onabule said that the government would consistently advocate for the titling of all lands in the state and urged the people to obtain governor’s consent on subsequent transactions, regularise and register their titles with appropriate authority.

In his reaction to the liveable index number, which the state was ranked, Secretary to the State Government, Tunji Bello, who represented the governor, said the state government is delighted to be one of the 74 Urban Thinkers Campuses worldwide.

He said the development confers on the state the privilege of being one of the global centres providing a platform for stakeholders in sustainable urbanisation to exchange ideas, forge partnerships and develop solution to the challenges of urbanisation in contemporary modern cities “As a mega and fast development city, Lagos State is strategically positioned to play a leading role in propelling development on the continent. Not only is Lagos the economic capital of Nigeria, it is the fifth largest economy and fastest growing city in Africa with population of over 22 million people.

The huge economic opportunity available in Lagos State makes it a major destination for prosperity seekers which translates into thousands of people migrating into the state on daily basis,” he said. Anifowoshe, however, lamented that the major challenge facing Lagos is the massive influx of people into the state.

“This trend combined with the fact that one-third of the world’s population reside in slums, emphasizes the urgent need for high quality urban design and planning with effective implementation,” he stated.

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