With the gusto the Lagos State government demonstrated in tackling the menace of miscreants in a state that prides itself as a Centre of Excellence and state of aquatic splendour, many had expected that the hoodlums would have been totally dislodged by now and the threats their activities pose to the transformation agenda of the state government halted.
But that is not the case; they have continued to wax stronger, besieging every nook and cranny of the state, operating and acting as occasion serves them irrespective of the incalculable damage to the state and its residents. As the urchins position themselves in virtually major roads in the state, observers have said the avowed objective of making Lagos State the preferred destination for tourism, leisure and business in Africa as well as promoting sustainable tourism development through an enabling environment for both domestic and international tourists are being threatened.
Worst hit is the Coastal Road and surrounding areas around the Okunde Bluewater Hospitality and Tourism Scheme. Not a few Lagosians are wondering why the present administration appears to be helpless in tackling the menace. They are of the view that a situation whereby the unscrupulous elements strategically position themselves and confidently demand money from vehicle owners and pedestrians in the Lagos metropolis remain an eyesore the government must remedy.
Anslem Kehinde, a Lagos resident told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the activities on the coastal roads in the state could truncate the agenda of the government and investors in the axis.
He said, “They do not operate on coastal roads. At any given opportunity, these hoodlums would hijack any skirmishes between different tribes, religions, parties, or interest groups to cause chaos. They are always busy causing riots in order to loot shops and steal from innocent people.
“These thugs have made some areas in Lagos to be labelled as notorious and unsafe to pass at night at times. They are very proud of their trade and would shamelessly harass anybody for money.
“They are also the people involved in open defecation, polluting the environment. The government must pay special attention to this problem and checkmate the rising threats of these menaces. They are gradually turning some parts of the state to a jungle.’’
It is no longer news that Lagos State, with a land mass of 3,345 sq km, is the smallest state in the country. Ironically, despite being the smallest state in the country, Lagos has the highest population at over 20 million inhabitants. For that reason the Lekki-Epe Expressway reputed to be one of the fastest growing corridors in the state is a beehive of activities.
Thus, successive governments in the state have given priority attention to the axis with regards to the provision of infrastructure in the axis to ease the stress on the road and make life better for road users and residents of the axis.
To this end, the government decided to construct an alternative route, the Lekki-Epe Coastal Road, which has been in the development plan of the state since the days of the military under the administration of Col. Raji Rasaki. But the project could not take off immediately due to circumstances beyond the control of that administration.
Unfortunately, moves by the current administration to actualise the dream are being sabotaged by encroachers, as the squatters have turned the area into a den for drug trafficking, prostitution, even as many other vices blossom in the axis.
To nip the problem in the bud, the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Enforcement Unit (Task Force) had issued a three-day removal notice to all owners of makeshift structures, shanties, kiosks and vehicles at Maroko and on Lekki Coastal Road, Lekki in July 2021.
The taskforce chairman, CSP Shola Jejeloye, led his team to issue the removal notices. He said the order became necessary for the construction of the Lekki Coastal Road, which serves as an alternative route to the Lekki-Epe Expressway.
The former spokesman for the taskforce, Femi Moliki, said the road leading to Lekki Free Zone is dotted by illegal structures, shanties, abandoned vehicles, containers and trading activities, noting vehemently that all illegal structures would be demolished within three days!
According to Jejeloye, the order was for all the mechanics, block makers, bamboo and wood sellers, shanties and other illegal occupiers, to move or be removed within a few days.
“The stretch of the road has been taken over by mechanics, block makers, bamboo and wood sellers, shanties and other illegal occupiers, which will impede effective road construction,” Jejeloye said.
Leaving no stone unturned, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu had in 2020 said the setbacks would be cleared and maintained, pending when the Lagos State government would commence work on the Coastal Highway.
In August, the government demolished shanties and illegal structures on Lekki coastal road. The then Head, Public Affairs of the unit, Femi Moliki, said the task force is prepared to monitor and prevent future encroachments and illegal occupation of any part of Lekki coastal road.
“We have enlightened the occupants on the strategic nature of the road where they had built their shanties. Immediately it was cleared in 2019, they mobilised themselves and extended their occupation of the road.
“They have turned it into hideouts for criminals. They sell drugs, some of which were seized during our assessment of the area, while traffic robbers and other dangerous criminals also dwell here. These cannot be allowed to thrive in Lekki. The essence of the demolition is to monitor the place and safeguard it so that criminals don’t return there again,’’ he said.
Still battling with the problem, the Taskforce in August arrested 30 people for rebuilding shanties destroyed by the agency on the road.
Moliki said, “The 30 persons were arrested Tuesday, when a team led by Chairman, Lagos State Taskforce, CSP Shola Jejeloye, inspected the stretch of road, which his agency spent two days to clear for motorists to use in order to decongest Lekki–Epe Expressway.
“The trespassers, who had re–grouped and re–built shanties removed by the officers of the agency on the road, were shocked when officers of the agency besieged Marwa Ghetto this morning. CSP Jejeloye, who expressed shock at the level of shanties in the area, stated that the government would arraign the illegal occupants to serve as a deterrent to others.
“Jejeloye said the government has been very lenient with them. We were here days before notices were served for them to understand the need to move away from this road. Days after that, I was here to serve them a 3 – day removal notice. We came on the fifth day and we still allowed them to move their belongings before we removed all the shanties.
“We explained and explained again that this Marwa Ghetto they have built all their shanty is standing on a strategic route that serves as an alternative route to Lekki – Epe Expressway. It also leads to the Lekki Free Trade Zone.
“Here we are again. They have regrouped and rebuilt shanties on it. It is like daring the Government. We would make a scapegoat of these 30 people we have arrested and clear the shanties again.”
To the chagrin of many residents, days after, the encroachers are back. This time around the hoodlums besiege visitors to the private beaches at Landmark and Lekki Leisure Centre.
An operator of one of the entertainment centres in the Hospitality and Tourist Zone who spoke on condition of anonymity said their activities remain their greatest challenge in the business.
He said, “These area boys have made things difficult for investors who invested millions of dollars in the hope that the area would turn into the entertainment Mecca that Lagos State officials had promised them. At least if you take a look at the area is not different from what you have in developed parts of the world. But there are regulations, there are laws, things are not done anyhow. But here these hoodlums seemed untouchable.’’
It was also gathered from residents of Blue Water Apartments, an upmarket eighteen-storey apartment block built by El Alan Construction, a leading construction company, that the area boys invaded the neighbourhood.
A resident said, “The hoodlums have turned this Coastal Road to a very dangerous zone. They waylay and rape women, extorts money from people developing property on the axis. Unfortunately the government seemed helpless despite the glaring danger they posed to the residents. It is our hope that the government will do the needful as soon as possible to profile the residents and flush out the unscrupulous elements.’’
There is a congruence of opinion among residents of the state that this unsolicited development appears to be a reflection of the inability of governments across the country to secure lives and property of citizens. The thinking is that Lagos State officials seem powerless to take decisive action against these illegal squatters despite repeated threats to evict them. This is even so when there are insinuations that some of the miscreants have tight political connections with powerful persons in high places.