Demolition of Waterways Shanties: Don’t render us homeless, residents cry

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*It’s For Security, Safety of Lagosians, Says Govt

For days last month, some residents of shanties along the Lagos waterways protested at the State House, Ikeja, Lagos State, demanding a reversal of the 7-day ultimatum given them by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, to quit their residences, as well as, an opportunity to dialogue with the government on issues around the eviction order.

The protesters comprising women, men and children, arrived the entrance of the State House with public address systems. At regular intervals, after addresses by their leaders, they broke into solidarity songs in diverse languages and danced.

After the governor failed to address them, the shanty residents blocked the entrance to the State House. Two days after, they also blocked the entrance to the state House of Assembly.

They left about a week after their occupation of the place, following an assurance by the state Assembly that their issue would be looked into. Their departure was, however, temporary as they returned two weeks ago, when one of the communities, Otodo Gbame was razed down.

While the government fingered the communal clash between the Yoruba and Egun groups in the community, as what led to the burning down of the shanties, some members of the community begged to differ, insisting that the inferno was the handiwork of the government.

One of the protesters, Prophet Moses Oyinbo, who said he retired from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), claimed he used all his retirement benefits to put up a house along Isefun Road, Ayobo, but the building was demolished in 2008, by the Babatunde Raji Fashola-led administration. His search for a cheap alternative, forced him to Bariga Egun, one of the shanties penciled for demolition by the incumbent administration.

Samuel Akinrolabu, who spoke on behalf of the affected communities, said residents of the areas marked for demolition belonged to a group called, the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, which he said comprises 40 communities, with over 300, 000 inhabitants.

Akinrolabu, who is from Orisunmibare community, with a population of about 4, 065 residents, said contrary to the state government’s claim, “We cooperate among ourselves and with our neighbouring communities to promote security and tackle common challenges. We are also cooperating with two of our neighbouring communities to improve drainage in our area. We have donated community land to build a community toilet, with support from the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation.

“We have registered community development associations (CDAs) that work with the local government, and we have eight community savings groups in Orisunmibare and neighbouring communities that are helping residents save for their future, and for community development. Orisunmibare and its close neighbours have seven trained community paralegals providing free legal aid to our communities; helping to report criminal matters to the police, and mediate in disputes,” the spokesman said.

He added that residents of the affected communities would be terribly hit by the planned eviction, as their present abode is where they have lived all their lives, and where their livelihood is.

“We would be homeless, separated from family and community, impoverished, and without the traditional way of life,” he said.

He disagreed with government’s assertion that criminals use these communities as hideouts, insisting that there were also petty crimes committed there from time-to-time, just like any other part of Lagos, but the communities do their best to improve security through local measures.

Speaker of the state Assembly, Mudasiru Obasa, while addressing them promised that their complaints would be looked into, saying it is the duty of government to ensure that nobody suffers.

“We did not know about this before, but we will tell the governor to reconsider the demolition. The government would not do anything without considering the interest of the people.

“We have been organising meetings to know what the people want. We want you to go home now without fighting. We will do our job as arbiters and look at the way forward. Let us do the right thing and we will take a positive step towards that,” he said.

Co-founder, Justice and Environment Initiative, Megan Chapman, though not a resident of one of the communities, accompanied them on the protest.

Commenting on the development, she said government must not only rethink the order for the residents to vacate soon, but must make effort to relocate affected persons or else they would go on to create new shanties.

“The purported notice announced through the media is wholly inadequate. Such notices must provide specific information about the legal basis for eviction, or demolition and must provide affected individuals the opportunity to meet the agency in question to appeal against decisions taken against them or their property.

“They must provide sufficient time for people to respond and to make alternative arrangements should they not succeed in engaging the agency.”

According to her, “Should the government have reasons to proceed with the eviction, it must first consult with all the persons affected, identify which of them has no possibility of finding alternative shelter and would be rendered homeless.

“Any such persons must be provided with alternative shelter before any demolition could occur. All affected persons must be compensated for all losses they suffer. If the government fails to do all this, any eviction constitutes a forced eviction, which is a gross rights violation,” Chapman said.

After days of protest, the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, said there was no plan to relocate the shanty dwellers because they are illegal occupants.

But is that a good reason not to relocate them? Chapman said no, because the government has an obligation to respect and not violate the right to adequate shelter of all citizens.

“Carrying out an eviction without all the above safeguards, especially the provision of alternative shelter for those who would be rendered homeless, means the government’s action constitutes a forced eviction.”

Chapman admitted that resettling the affected communities might be costly for the state government, the reason the federation and her organisation are proposing alternatives to eviction that would be less costly to the government, and a more effective way of achieving its objectives.

“For instance, the government can give adequate information about the physical planning violations they are concerned about and give residents sufficient time and a simple process to remedy such violations. Such solutions are a win-win.

“Communities could even be willing to negotiate land-sharing arrangements whereby, as part of the regularisation and upgrading processes, portions of land in the community could be made available to the government to support necessary social infrastructure, such as schools or police stations.”

One other reason for the eviction is security. The four major kidnap cases recorded in the state recently were executed using the waterways.

Chapman said that security concerns are never a justification for demolition, or eviction, as laws allowing such, are the newer anti-kidnapping laws in force in some South East and South South states, where a convicted kidnappers’ home could be demolished as part of the penalty.

She added that if government cannot provide a better alternative, the shanty dwellers should be left where they are, as the communities are doing their best to improve themselves, through individual and collective efforts.

Are there lessons that could be learnt from other climes, where such shanties and slums exist, and how such countries managed them, Chapman said there are so many positive examples of government-supported, community-led on site slum upgrading from around the world.

“Most of these countries; like Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, are places where their governments have tried demolition for decades and finally realised that demolition does not actually get rid of slums. Those governments have recognised that they need to partner with the urban poor, help them secure their tenure, and come up with realistic, community-led plans for incremental or gradual formalisation and upgrading.

But Ayorinde maintains that the state government, has zero tolerance for shanties and illegal structures, noting that some residents of the state have developed the habit of fragrantly disobeying constituted authorities, despite warnings from state agencies.

While disagreeing that the seven-day ultimatum given by the governor for occupants of the shanties to vacate was too short, he, however, informed that the order was put on hold to discuss the issue after days of protest by the affected persons and groups.

He said state government’s decision was premised on its policy of a cleaner environment and restoration of the state’s master plan, through the removal of all environmental infractions and nuisances across the state.

He noted that the state’s Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law 2010, prohibited erecting structures within the right of ways and setbacks of drainage channels, centre-line of over-head electricity wires, and also states in very clear terms specified distance to be observed between a property line and a public utility.

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