It was tears and sorrow as shop owners wailed uncontrollably and looked on helplessly when the bulldozers owned by the Lagos State government, descended on a block of shops on Rumens Road, Ikoyi, and brought down the buildings in a twinkle of an eye, without proper eviction notice served the occupiers.
It was gathered that the action was taken after the landlord of the building failed to pay the sum of N40 million naira to the coffers of the state government and failed to tell the tenants.
The owners of the businesses were thrown into shock when the demolition team invaded the place as early as 9am on Thursday, September 1, 2016, and without giving them the chance to pack their things, brought out the building, while the mobile police team that went with the squad harassed and beat up anyone that tried to get an explanation.
When Pulse team visited the place, the shop owners, including a woman who said she had just paid her rent two days earlier, were still lamenting the action of the government as they were busy counting their losses which is reportedly in the region of millions of Naira.
Pulse spoke to two of the shop owners, Ada Osakwe, the owner of Nuli Juices, an outfit popular for its smoothies, cold pressed juices, quinoa oatmeal, Naan Paninis and pumpkin soup, as well as Nike Majekodunmi, the proprietor of Nuts About Cake, who said she had just renewed her rent some weeks back after the landlord had threatened to shut down her shop.
First to speak was Osakwe.
What actually happened to warrant the destruction of your shop?
"I own one of the shops, called the Nuli Juice Lounge, that was demolished by agents of the Lagos State government on Thursday, September 1.
At 9am on that Thursday, I got a call one of my staff where they told me that people who claimed that they were from the state government as well as armed policemen had entered the shop and they were telling all of them to get out, pack their things out, because they were coming for a demolition job.
They said the people had bulldozers, so I got up and ran out to the place, making phone calls to people I know who could give me a sense of what was happening. When I got to Rumens Road, I realized that it was cordoned off, with armed police officers manning the entrance.
I got out of my car and walked to the place. The road was filled with menacing looking policemen and there was the bulldozer.
I went to a gentleman who was dressed in a civilian clothing and I asked him what was going on and he said he was from the Lagos State government and that they were mandated to demolish the shops.
I told him I was a tenant in the shop and tried to find out what we did that would warrant the demolition without any notice. I told him I had just moved in and have been in operation in just six weeks. We opened our shop to the public on July 16.
I told him that I had paid my LASSAA fee for my sign, paid for my food safety and all that but he said the action was not about the tenants, that it was the landlord that flouted the laws.
I was shocked and asked him why the issue with the landlord would lead to their demolishing my property with my things inside.
He told me it had to do with paperwork, that the landlord did not get the right permit. This is what was said, I don't know how true that is; I am only telling you what I was told.
I told the man that we are just tenants and it was not our fault that the landlord did not pay for the permit. I even begged them to give us time to find out what was going on since they did not give us any notice."
Did they show you any demolition notice to that effect?
"No, they did not show me anything at all. I even asked them to show me documents and demolition notice that they should demolish the place but they could not show me anything.
It was practically an invasion and they were beating our staff, telling people to lie on the muddy floor because it was raining. I was trying to take pictures and film the scene but one policeman held me and ordered me to stop taking pictures.
I told them I was taking pictures of my shop they were demolishing but they told me the shop did not belong to me but to the government."
Did you get across to the landlord to find out what was going on?
"I did and he told me he too was shocked at the action of the government because he was not given any notice that they were coming to demolish the place. As tenants, I know we were legitimate owners of the shop because we had paid and gotten receipt for the payment.
There was even a woman who paid her rent the day before the demolition. I paid my legal fees two days before they came. I am really shocked at the action of the government because we pay taxes to the same government and that store alone had eight young people as staff which we paid.
Imagine such happening to some in his first month on the job. People were in tears; my staff were crying bitterly; and this is a state that says it wants to cater for its people.
This is a country in recession and such a thing is happening to people trying to earn a living honestly, people trying to make something in the midst of all of this.
You did not even seal up the shop and allow us get our things out. They could have parked their bulldozer and tell us we are sealing up this shop, tell your customers to get out, we are coming back in three hours. That would have given us time to get our things out.
They were breaking the building even when people were still running inside trying to salvage their things, meaning they were even ready to murder people on top of what they were doing."
Were you able to salvage your property?
"We only managed to take out some things. We were even lucky because our staff resume at 7am but there were people who could not salvage anything. My staff were able to rip off things, a shop I just opened.
I know how much I invested in the business. It is unfortunate that we have a government that treats us as barbarians. That was exactly what happened because we were treated like animals; we were lost and had nobody to talk to.
They stormed the place, beat up our people and tortured others, arrested some of them and when we begged for them to be released, they said they would be taken to Alausa.
All this happening in our so called democracy. I couldn't speak. I was dumbfounded."
Have you been able to get across to anyone in the government for an explanation on the action?
Yes, I tried several times and all we got was that they were investigating and they will get to the bottom of it.
Does it mean they did not know who sent the demolition team?
"Yes, they claimed they do not know."
So what is the way forward for you? Are planning any legal action against the government?
"The way forward? I am trying to keep people in work I have a business to run. Right now, my staff have relocated to my home and they are working out of the kitchen.
People have been so generous, showing me great love and support all over the world. People have donated money and some have even promised to cover the salaries of staff for this month as I find my footing.
The response of Nigerians have been wonderful. The outpouring of love has been tremendous. The government needs to know that small businesses need to be supported instead of hounding us out of business.
We are paying taxes to the government and they need support us. That is what they promised when they were campaigning. These are the things we expect from them."
Speaking on phone to Pulse, Nike Majekodunmi also had tales of woes to tell.
"I was at home when my staff called that the government people had come with their bulldozers to demolish the shops. I could not go to the shop early because I just had a baby seven weeks ago.
By the time I got there, they had begun the demolition job and when I tried to find out the reason, they told me it had to do with a permit the landlord had not obtained. I was shocked because the landlord had been on my neck to renew my rent, which I just paid a few weeks back.
In fact, I was not in the country when he told me he would lock up my shop if I could not pay, so when I came back, I had to pay up, only for this demolition to destroy almost everything I invested there.
Imagine what would have happened if my staff had not managed to salvage some things they could manage to remove while items like air conditioners, lightings, fittings, POPs, partitions and others that could not be moved were destroyed. I left my baby in the rain and tried to beg them to give us a little time to get our things out but they refused.
One of my staff was arrested and thrown into their bus and when my accountant went to beg on his behalf, they told him to give them some money. Of course, he refused and he was also thrown into the bus, with a threat that they would be locked up at Alausa.
I am still trying to take stock of the situation to know the way forward because since it happened, I have been confused.
This is not the best way to treat people trying to create jobs for others."