Thousands of Lagosians have been rendered homeless after the Lagos state government demolished their makeshift apartments at the Otodo-Gbame community area in Lekki.
Last week Friday, about 4700 residents of the area were awoken by the sound of bulldozers and men of the Nigerian police firing tear gas and live bullets as their houses were being destroyed in flagrant violation of a court order.
A court injunction in January which barred the Lagos state government from evicting the residents of the waterfronts allowed some of the people who had their houses destroyed in November return to the community to rebuild their houses amidst attacks from private actors. The joy of a new makeshift house however lasted only two months before the Lagos state government destroyed the structures on Friday. What is more surprising is the fact that the Lagos state until the early hours of March 17th gave no prior notice to the residents.
This would be the second time in five months that the community will be bulldozed by the government. In November 2016, about 30 000 people were evicted from the same Otodo-Gbame community after their houses were torched by men reported to be sent by the Lagos government.
Meanwhile, the Lagos state government has defended its actions in destroying the homes of members of the Otodo-Gbame community. In a statement, the government said the action was taken to ensure the waterways and the Lagos environment is free “from environmentally injurious and unsanitary habitation.”
The action of the government not only violates the rights of the people, it reeks chronic insensitivity to the plight of the average Lagosians who cannot afford the luxurious lifestyle of the Lagos being built for the rich.
The November 2016 demolition
“Police came again after midnight with caterpillar [bulldozer] and started breaking everywhere, putting fire on people’s houses. They are seriously beating our people and threatening to shoot unless we leave. All of us are on top of water now, there is nowhere to go.’’ – Tina Udokpo (a resident of Otodo Gbame, Lagos)
Thousands of rural dwellers on Tuesday 14th November 2016 took an endurance trek to the office of the Lagos state government at Ikeja, Lagos to protest the alleged “organised” demolition of their houses and properties in the Otodo Gbame community area, Lekki by men of the Nigerian police force. The protesters alleged that the police came upon them in the early hours of Thursday, November 9, 2016, torching their homes and destroying every other structure in sight; leaving the people to escape with no other thing but their lives. The protesters also alleged that three people lost their lives in the attack by the police.
The Lagos state government, earlier in October, had directed occupants of shanties along the waterside to vacate the structure, saying that the structures serve as hideouts for kidnappers, drug dealers and other criminals. The government reportedly gave them a seven-day ultimatum to vacate the area. The government thus resorted to the midnight raid upon the area after the given ultimate had elapsed. This comes in the wake of a similar demolition of structures at Jakande by officials of the Lagos state government. In the same fashion, earlier in the year, shops with goods worth millions of naira were destroyed in Oshodi, as well as in Ikoyi, with the owners given no opportunity to save any of their goods. Nothing best describes this than sheer insensitivity on the part of the government to the plight of the average Lagosian.
Such insensitivity to the plight of average citizens is least expected of a democratic government that is elected to serve and protect these same people. Nobody, not even the residents of the waterfronts, would choose to live in such areas if they had better options or means to seek a better shelter. The residents of Otodo-Gbame would not be sharing apartments with dangerous animals in an environment where diseases are easily brooded if they had better options. If indeed the government had earlier asked them to vacate the areas, it is only logical to ask for the alternatives given them. Were they given any alternative? Was it just all-command like a military decree? Where was the government expecting them to move: to the streets to be arrested by Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) officials? to relocate under bridges to continue their lives, or to move to another area to recreate these slums? Was the government expecting them to leave the creeks, where though there be no security they felt secured, to become destitute, and by extension prey for the various anti-criminal agencies of government in the city?
The effort of the government in making Lagos a proper 21st century city is quite apparent and appreciated. But, we must ask, is there a place for the poor in this new Lagos? These people are not poor by choice, but by circumstances, and it is harder now than ever for them to survive, let alone attempt to climb up the socioeconomic ladder. Is there a place for the poor in the new Lagos? A place where they feel safe, secured and their rights are not trampled upon? A place where their todays will not be taken from them without an assurance of a better tomorrow? Is there a place for the poor in the new Lagos? A place where the pure water seller on the road can call a home?
“I don’t know where to take him; I was born here and have lived all my life in this place.” – Andrew Awule (Resident)
In a saner clime, demolition or reconstructive exercises are not done without provision of alternatives. What one expects the Lagos state government to have done, as advised by the Lagos State House of Assembly, is to have engaged these people and put before them a plan for proper relocation. Asking these people to leave an area, the same area some had lived all their lives, without a plan or a place prepared for them for relocation is treating them inhumanely. Asking the peasants who are only trying to live a normal life to vacate their houses—where they have contentedly endured diseases and darkness—should be a way for the government to make their lives better. It should be a way for the government to transform these people, to make them seek a better path to life. Especially in a clime where the supposed future being built is largely for the rich, this should serve as a way for the government to make these people have a feel of belonging to the society. But the government has resorted to treating its own people as criminals, torching their houses, wooden chairs and makeshift beds that were made from some of these people’s life savings. Even if criminals live among these people, as alleged by the government, is torching their houses the next thing for the government? What about the criminals in Lekki? What about the kidnappers in Victoria Island? Does the fact that some criminals live in an area make all of the residents criminals?
“This is the only place I know, but they have destroyed everything, I have to hide my family in one corner for now’’ – Mr Amosu (Resident)
This is not a move against the developmental plans and activities of the government but a call for sensitivity to the plight of the ordinary people, as well as a roadmap of development with alternatives for marked victims. It is worthy of note for the Governor of Lagos state and the members of his team that a future established or planned to be established on the blood and tears of the ordinary people is not worth building.