I thought of suicide after my house was demolished – 84-year-old Retiree

A retired civil servant, Yusuff Fasanya, 84, tells ABDULLATEEF FOWEWE how a company working for the Lagos State Government demolished his house without giving him quit notice or reaching any agreement, and refused to compensate or rebuild the house

What job were you doing before retirement?

I am Yusuff Fasanya from Omu Road, Ketu Epe, Lagos State. I am a retired civil servant; currently I am 84 years old. I used to work in Abuja under the Ministry of Agriculture, and I retired as a senior driver mechanic. Unfortunately, my house was demolished by a company working for the Lagos State Government.

Could you please provide more information about the circumstances of your house being demolished?

I bought the land in 1976 and gradually built the house using my salary. After completing it, I have lived there peacefully with my family since my retirement. However, in April 2023, the community regent along with some individuals, approached me and offered N1m to vacate the property. They claimed that the amount would be sufficient for me to move out of the 12-room apartment with three shops, and other buildings in the backyard, which I had built with my hard-earned money. However, I rejected the absurd offer. Strangely, the following day, while having a meal, some police officers arrived to invite me to their station, stating that the Divisional Police Officer wanted to see me. After arriving at the police station, I encountered the regent and the individual who wanted to become the community king, along with others waiting outside the station. The police officers immediately escorted me to the office of the DPO where they presented the regent statements; The DPO then asked for my statement, which was composed with the assistance of a station officer I trusted as I could not write or read. Although, I was unaware of the exact content he wrote for me, I had faith that he would not write anything detrimental to my case. However, on the third day, I witnessed an excavator demolishing my house from the backyard without any prior agreement or warning. Upon seeing this, I approached the police officers who came with them to inquire about the situation, and they told me that they intended to utilise the property and requested me to state my desired compensation. I provided them with an estimate of N14m, including the cost of removing certain materials from the structure. Subsequently, they asked for my bank account details, which I provided. However, I have not seen or heard anything from them to date.

What was the response of the community members?

Some people rushed to support and sympathise with me, but the police officers present there used tear gas to disperse them. They caused destruction, including to all my properties. I only managed to leave with two clothes, one of which I was wearing.

Were there any legal proceedings?

Yes, I have engaged the services of a lawyer. On one occasion, those individuals claimed to have compensated the people who sold the land to me. This claim was amusing to me, considering I possess all the necessary documents proving my ownership of the land. As soon as I heard about it, I hurried to inform my lawyer.

Furthermore, I filed a report through my lawyer, along with all the relevant documents to the state, the Governor’s Office, the government house, the Commissioner of Agriculture, and the company itself. I recently received a letter from the Commissioner of Agriculture stating that they will be looking into compensation. However, the letter was acknowledged by the Commissioner of Agriculture after a courteous argument with them, where they urged us not to escalate the matter. However, my lawyer immediately informed them that if they did not provide us with the desired outcome, we would have no choice but to escalate the situation. It is illogical for them to assert that they have already compensated the individuals who sold me the land, especially when I possess all the necessary documents proving that I am still the rightful owner of the property. Meanwhile, in a document issued by the Lagos State High Court regarding the land I purchased in 1976, it was mentioned that if anything like this occurred, I would receive compensation or have my house rebuilt. However, they failed to take any action.

What steps have you taken to support yourself after retiring?

Prior to the demolition of my house, I earned income from rental payments every two months and I used to sell water in front of my house to people. Additionally, I received a pension salary. However, after my house was demolished, I have been facing severe hardship. I struggle to afford meals and often rely on financial support from my children and friends. Life has been challenging for me ever since, and I hope to find justice.

How were you initially informed about the plans for demolition?

Initially, they offered me N1m, which I declined. Later, the police invited me, but we did not discuss anything related to the demolition. We simply provided a statement. However, on the third day, I witnessed the excavator demolishing my house without my approval or any prior notice. I remained there, watching as they razed everything to the ground. Interestingly, the excavator driver was not happy about their actions, but he was threatened with being fired if he refused to comply.

What was the reaction of your family to this situation?

On that day, everyone in my family was in tears, including my wife who operated a mini-market in one of the shops there; she cried to the extent that she was crawling like a baby. Nevertheless, my wife and our four children are currently residing in my wife’s father’s house.

Have you and your family been staying together since then?

No. I only resided with them for two months, until they informed me that I was too old to continue living with my in-laws; that was when I moved out to stay at a friend’s abode before my family provided me with where I am living currently.

How has this incident affected you and your family emotionally and financially?

No one in my family is experiencing positive emotions due to this ordeal. My wife is emotionally shattered, and I have even reached a state of depression, contemplating suicide, if not my lawyer who caught me and provided me with counselling support. Can you imagine a landlord who is resorting to sleeping around because he has nowhere else to stay? I was pondering about my prospects at this stage in life. There are no job opportunities for someone of my age, and starting a business requires huge money that I didn’t have. I felt incredibly hopeless during that time, but then, I thought about God and found some positive hope. There was no way you could witness the incident that day and not feel pity for me. They destroyed everything, including all of my belongings. I am only alive because of God’s protection. We were only able to salvage a small portion of my wife’s goods from the store. In the meantime, I asked those individuals to pay a certain amount and I will pack my properties and exit immediately, but they refused to comply with my request.

Do you have any property insurance that could potentially cover such situations?

Not at all. I cannot afford the cost of insurance. If I could afford it, the house would have been insured a long time ago, as I had plans for it. I possess all other documents including the survey plan.

How has the response from the local community been towards your situation?

The leaders of the community have turned against me. The regent, on behalf of the company, was the one that first offered me N1m. Most of the top members of the community were pleased with what happened to me and none of them even called to offer sympathy. However, the company initially purchased the property next to mine, but it seems that they require more space, I suggested that they fence my house to utilise my compound as well, but they rejected the offer then.

What is the current state of the land, and have any constructions been made on it?

I haven’t been to that area in a long time, so I am unable to describe its condition. However, I am aware that they are still working on the land. Moreover, I have heard that they plan on using my land as a warehouse.

What kind of support have you received from acquaintances and those in your neighbourhood?

In truth, I do not have many friends. However, the majority of my adult children are women and they have not found better job opportunities. Despite this, they are managing to survive, so I cannot burden them with additional pressure. Nonetheless, some kind-hearted individuals occasionally send me money as a result of the good deeds I have done for them. My extended family has also assisted me by providing shelter, although I wish they were able to offer more support, unfortunately, they are struggling to make ends meet and I understand their circumstances. Meanwhile, with the small amount of money I receive, including my pension salary, I primarily allocate it towards my health expenses due to my eye problem. However, I have no plans for now because I have not yet devised any strategies as I am currently devoid of financial resources and I am experiencing significant hardships, particularly in finding sufficient food to eat. Furthermore, given my age and weakening physical abilities, I am unable to pursue demanding employment opportunities. Despite my eye problem, I am still an elderly man, lacking the strength to pursue a demanding job. I am currently experiencing confusion and hardship in my life. Nevertheless, I humbly request that the government intervene to secure the justice and rightful compensation I deserve. Furthermore, my financial constraints prevent me from purchasing additional land. I kindly urge the government to address the issue of illegal property claims in Lagos State.