No plan’ to seize fire victims’ land- Lagos denies

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Victims of the Jankara Market fire in Lagos have accused agents of the state government of attempts to seize their land.

They spoke on Wednesday before the Panel of Enquiry sitting on Lagos Island.

A fire occurred in the market last December when fireworks stored in a building at No. 45, Ojo-Giwa Street, exploded.

Some of the victims alleged that the Lagos State Urban Renewal Authority (LASURA) and Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) were trying to frustrate the panel.

But LASURA General Manager Kehinde Benedict denied attempts to seize the victims’ land.

He said the state was only proposing to redesign the area to comply with the original plan.

Benedict said: “We are not forcing them to release their land to us. We want to plan with them to improve their economic base and improve the aesthetics of the area.”

The victims alleged that the agencies met with them after the tribunal was inaugurated.

Their lawyer, Olawale Ajiya, tendered copies of letters from the agencies to attend meetings at the Old Secretariat, Ikeja.

The letters, dated March 12 and March 27, directed the victims to come to the meeting with photocopies of documents of the affected property.

In their testimonies, some of the victims alleged that the agencies urged them to give their land to the government.

Ajiya said: “When a tribunal set up by the state government and headed by a retired judge is presiding over a matter and the matter has not been concluded, why should government officials representing various ministries, including the Ministry of Justice, be meeting with the victims in a private place and threatening them to part with their land? It is a serious matter.

“This is an insult to the tribunal. What the state agencies are doing is to prejudice the outcome of the tribunal. They are also wasting the state’s resources.

“If the government does not need the tribunal, why ask the victims to appear before it? We have minutes of the meetings where our clients were told to submit their land. The agency said the land owners would not be allowed to rebuild their land individually and would have to go through a recommended developer.”

Ajiya urged Governor Babatunde Fashola to investigate the matter and assure the victims that they would not be dispossessed or restricted in the use of their land.

Benedict said no land would be seized.

Speaking with The Nation, he said: “The state government is not asking them to forfeit their property. If you go to the site, you will see that each plot is on a small piece of land.

“I have photocopies of the Daily Times of 1961, where it was reported that the colonial master then in charge of Lagos Colony wanted to redesign the place. The government acquired the entire area for redevelopment as early as 1951.

“Nobody wants a disaster to happen, but since it has happened, this is an opportunity for us to plan with the owners and give them back nothing less than their original number of square metres.

“We have held consultative meetings with them. Why continue to build on what we wanted to do away with since 1951? We are not acquiring anything and are not forcing them to release their land to us.

“Now that the place is burnt, nobody is occupying it. This is an opportunity to survey the area and demolish the burnt buildings, which have been tested and found to be structurally defective. We do not want any building to collapse on anybody.

“The government and each family will decide on what to build there. This is an opportunity to build commercial ventures, redesign the area, improve roads and put facilities in place. It is a win-win situation.”

Fashola inaugurated the tribunal on February 18 to find out the immediate and remote causes of the fire and recommend how to avoid a recurrence.

The panel is headed by Justice Sunday Ishola (rtd.). A Chief State Counsel, Mrs. Olubunmi Fagbayi, is the secretary.

Members include a Special Adviser in the Lagos State Office of Infrastructure and Asset Management, Mr. Olokunola Wasiu and Founding Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Section on Legal Practice (SLP) Mr. Richard Ahonaruogho.


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