Church eviction: Our story by, M.K.O. Garden residents

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Church eviction: Our story by, M.K.O. Garden residents

When the news that the residents’ association of the M.K.O. Abiola Gardens Estate, Alausa area of Ikeja, Lagos had prevented members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Agape Assembly, from holding their Sunday service a day before broke out on January 7, it raised several concerns.

According to the church, the executive of the M.K.O. Abiola Gardens Estate used chains and padlocks to lock the gate and the main entrance to the church to prevent members from gaining entry.

They deposited truckloads of sand and granite in strategic locations on the premises of the church’s land to prevent vehicles from gaining entry.

They said this followed efforts by the executive to get the church to relocate from the estate hall.

According to the pastor in charge of the church, Church eviction: Our story by, M.K.O. Garden residents about 200 members were stranded because no one could come into the church.

He traced the history of the church’s occupation of the property to 1999 and that the Lagos State Property Development Corporation (LSDPC) even allocated a plot of land to the church.

It was alleged that the estate executive frustrated the efforts to take possession of the land and even used their influence to prevent the church from taking possession.

It was also claimed that the executive, after giving the church two years to put a new structure on the land that the government gave them, appropriated the land to themselves.

They then pushed for the church to quit the estate’s hall and even refused to collect the rent.

Cheap blackmail

But the residents’ association disputed the church’s claims. It accused the Agape Assembly of attempting to convert the estate’s hall to its own.

Its executive wrote a letter to RCCG General Overseer, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, stating its side of the story.

The letter was signed by the association’s Chairman, Board of Trustees Major Oyin Adedeji (rtd) and President Executive Committee, Mrs Tokunbo Shittu.

In the letter entitled “Position of M.K.O. Garden Residents’ Association on the Community Hall Occupied by RCCG Agape Assembly”, it said the matter had been brewing since February 28, 2015.

Agape Assembly attempting to monopolise Estate’s hall, say residents

The letter reads in part: “The Agape Assembly has been intent to convert our Estate Community Hall to their permanent use and monopolise our common hall to the exclusive use of their church contrary to the resolution of the residents’ association of the estate, headed by its Board of Trustees.

“All efforts to resolve the matter amicably and all concessions made by the residents’ association of our estate have proved futile due to the recalcitrance of the Agape Assembly for example, more than two years quit notice, intervention by the Divisional Police Officer, Alausa Police Station, Alausa, lkeja, several meetings, and so on.”

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It said as Elders and Board of Trustees for the Association, they watched with “great pain and utmost concern how RCCG, (Agape Assembly), over the years, used the hall for religious activities and, of recent, embarked on various schemes and or manipulations in refusing to relinquish our Community Hall back to us after extensive period of kind considerations for them to use the place at a token.”

They noted that the hall “is the only Community Hall for the estate; where supposedly our various other activities should be taking place.”

‘Muslims not behind move to evict the Agape Assembly’

The Executive of the estate further explained that it was worried about a dangerous and religious twist to “this unfortunate and unnecessary situation” allegedly introduced by the Agape Assembly.

It alleged that the parish claimed in a letter to the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) in the Lagos State Ministry of Internal Affairs that the “peaceful Muslim Community” in the Estate were the ones attempting to push them out of the Hall.

They said: “There is no truth whatsoever in this mischievous claim. In actual sense, the RCCG, (Agape Assembly) does not comprise the Christian community in the Estate. We have Baptists, MFM, Deeper life, Anglican, Presbyterian, Daystar and Celestial, among others and among the Muslim Ansa-ud-deen, Amadiya, NASFAT and others.

“A stitch in time saves nine; hence our passionate call on you at this time. ”True” state of affairs, by residents

Residents of the estate stated what they described as the true state of affairs.

They said: “M.K.O. Garden, (formerly referred to as Marwa Garden) was completed in 1998 and residents with diverse ethnic and religious affiliations have lived peacefully together since 1999. And we still very much do.

“Religion has never been a source of friction within the association and among residents/members. We co-habit very well and ours should be among the best, if any other at all.”

Community hall

“The residents’ association applied for the purchase of the community hall for the use of the close to 2, 000 residents comprising various religious and ethnic groups on September 14, 2006. The hall was offered to us on January 10, 2008, while we accepted and paid for it on February 22, 2008 and was issued an official receipt dated February 26, 2008. (Receipts attached as Appendix B)

“Prior to the purchase of the Hall, the Israel Assembly of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) was known to the estate as LSDPC tenant, but when the Estate bought over the property in 2008, it became M.K.O Garden’s property. The Estate magnanimously allowed the church to remain in the building: with the understanding that the facility remains a community hall for the use of the entire members of the Estate. It was also agreed that on the expiration of the tenancy of RCCG Israel Assembly, the Estate would regain total control of the facility.

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“However, contrary to the mutual agreement between the Estate and the church, Israel Assembly moved to its permanent site right behind the Estate on Otunba Jobifele Way, and surreptitiously passed the usage of the Hall to a sister Parish (Agape Assembly).

“For the period of January 31, 2010 to January 30, 2015, the Estate, in the interest of peace, left the Parish to continue using the Hall till the expiration of its tenancy on January 30, 2015.”

The building consists of a large hall, three offices, a smaller hall and conveniences.

Demolition notice

The Association said on March 2, 2016, the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development served them a demolition notice “for us to vacate the erstwhile Administrative office of the Estate (Adebayo House) due to massive structural defects which was also known to the Executive of the Estate as far back as 2011 led by Hon. B.O. Senbanjo.”

It said all entreaties to the Church to vacate the community hall and offices were frustrated.

It said Agape Assembly once reported the Estate Association to the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) Alausa Police Station who advised both parties to meet and resolve the matter amicably.

“In view of this, a meeting was held on March 9, 2016 where both parties agreed.

“After this, series of meetings have been held in an attempt to resolve the issue on their tenancy arrangement, but the church has been uncompromising which they admitted to by their letter of apology dated May 9, 2016,” it said.

It explained that consequent upon the agreement of the meeting held on March 21, 2016, a notice of non-renewal of tenancy was issued on January 24, 2017, followed by the quit notice on August 15, 2017.

‘No basis for religious sentiments’

It added: “It therefore comes to us as a great surprise for the church to start whipping up religious sentiments about a non-existent war between Christians and Moslems.

“This, to us, was quite shocking and repulsive. We view this turn around as a clandestine plan by some unscrupulous individuals within the church to foment trouble and cause disaffection among a community that has lived peacefully since inception.”

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It fingered “a prominent individual” for “consistently” stoking “the fires of discord within our community and kept the church from doing the right thing”.

It likened this as “a betrayal of the trust and the confidence.”

“It is therefore not surprising that the same character is now at the centre of peddling untruths about our very peaceful estate and this we considered quite dangerous and must be quickly nipped in the bud.

‘Peaceful estate’

It said it wished to put on record that “our lovely and peaceful estate inhabits distinguished citizens of the state and nation at large; which encompasses elder statesmen, distinguished Senators, Honourable members both at Federal and State levels, Ex-Commissioners, Captains of Industry, many VIPs, Senior Citizens, Civil Servants, Distinguished Men and Women of enviable characters; and of course very dynamic youths and promising future leaders.

“We would, therefore, no more keep quiet and watch our estate dragged in the mud and ridiculed in return for our openness, love and utmost generosity.

“There has never been a religious crisis in our estate and would never be. But be it emphasised that what we have on hand is simply a case of a difficult and seemingly manipulative “Tenant” who is seeking ways and means to convert her Landlord’s asset and our commonwealth to itself and desperately too. We consider this as unfair, unacceptable and cannot stand.”

It reiterated that claims of the existence of a religious conflict in the Estate to the Lagos State Governor is “nothing but cheap blackmail and an attempt to deny other different religions in the estate and all other residents of the use of the Community Hall, which rightfully belongs to everybody in the estate.”

We’ve moved on, says Agape Assembly

But responding to the residents’ letter, Pastor Olabode said the church had relocated and moved on from the crisis.

He said: “We are not saying it’s not their community hall, it is their community hall, but there are legal ways of ejecting a tenant. You go to court and get a judgment first. They didn’t go to court they just did self-help.

“The problem is still there. They disrupted our activities, but we’ve moved on. If you don’t move on, it’s like you are looking in your rear mirror. The rear mirror tells you what is behind you. But it is the windshield you should look at, that is your front. If you keep looking in your rear mirror, you are going to have an accident.”