Although forced evictions of people from slum settlements on the Lagos waterfront to give room for transformation and proper development  is not new in the state, the one which happened on March 17, 2017 in Otodo Gbame community in which lives and properties were destroyed and a huge population, displaced has left a lot more…

Although forced evictions of people from slum settlements on the Lagos waterfront to give room for transformation and proper development  is not new in the state, the one which happened on March 17, 2017 in Otodo Gbame community in which lives and properties were destroyed and a huge population, displaced has left a lot more to be remembered. GEORGE OKOJIE takes a look at the contending issues in the eviction.

When about 300,000 people were rendered homeless in Maroko, a shanty town on Victoria Island in Lagos State after their houses were demolished by the military junta sometime in 1989 people residents felt lessons from that eviction will not be easily forgotten by the state government, the evictees and residents.
About three decades later, the Oko Baba- a slum on the waterfront of Lagos- relocation saga, said to have been implemented by the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State in order to permanently solve the frequent state of emergencies and pains the residents are subjected to anytime disasters occur in the community, happened.
As the Lagos State Government and Oko Baba waterfront community in Lekki phase 1, Eti-Osa Local Government with about 4,698 residents now displaced got entangled in war of attrition and legal tussle, echoes of the Otodo Gbame eviction has rented the air again in the state with rippling effects.
Members of the community said the trouble stated for them when security operatives invaded the area and began firing assault rifles and tear gas cannisters indiscriminately, injuring about seven persons in the process.
It was an ordeal the residents will forever live with. Edukpo Tina, a young woman in Otodo Gbame narratives to our correspondent that the officials of the state government officials accompanied by policemen stormed the community at about 12:00 am and unleashed mayhem on the unsuspecting residents.
According to her, “Police came again after midnight with caterpillar (bulldozer) and started knocking down everywhere, putting fire on peoples’ houses. They were 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.”
According to the Baale of the community, Chief Hunpe Dansu, they were not aware of government intention because there was an earlier court injunction, halting any demolition in the community.
He noted that during his conversation with the security personnel deployed to the community, he was informed that the brief they received earlier wasn’t for the Otodo Gbame community.
Dansu alleged that the security personnel disclosed that some government officials tipped their commandants and mischievously directed that they extend the eviction  enforcement to the community.
The traditional ruler lamented that the residents were teargased by the policemen deployed to enforce the state government order.
According to him, “the security men came in speed boats and about two Black Maria to arrest anyone who kicked against their action. We were forced to escape through the water when we discovered that our plea fell on their deaf ears.”
Agemo Emmanuel another resident said, “We want the government to restore our residences because governor Governor Ambode is claiming that he is not aware of the eviction and the atrocities that are going on. Thugs would come and kill our children and relatives. Last week Saturday, they killed my uncle, on Sunday again around 5am they shot a boy in the community called Daniel, he was about 17-years-old. They even brought a marine police with gun boat into the water, harassing us and shooting. His corpse is in the mortuary.”
As the crisis exacerbates and claims more lives, co-founder of Justice Empowerment Initiatives, Megan Chapman said all efforts to prevent further loss of life proved abortive, saying, “that was why we have approached the issue legally.”
Chapman disclosed that only about 150 structures were left in the community after the first demolition, last month, saying, the residents now have nowhere to go.
Rising in defence of the Lagos State government, its Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde said the “No responsible government fold its arms and watch the continuous breach of environmental and urban planning laws of the state, which could pose serious danger to public health and safety of residents.”
Ayorinde said the government would neither be stampeded nor blackmailedinto abdicating its constitutional responsibilities to guard against a potential health and environmental hazard in the area by condoning what amounts to a breach of environmental and urban planning laws.
Clarifying its position on why illegal shanties and unwholesome habitation were cleared around Ilado and seafront areas beside Freedom Road, in Lekki, Lagos, Ayorinde said the Environment Ministry’s action was carried out in order to forestall an environmental disaster and another round of deadly skirmishes that led to the razing of the Otodo Gbame Community in November 2016.
The commissioner denied flouting any court judgment as severally alleged by the residents of Otodo Gbame, insisting that the state government owes a duty to the larger population of the state to ensure that public health and safety is maintained.
Ayorinde pointed out that Otodo Gbame Community is one of the 39 claimant communities that had commenced action to enforce their fundamental rights pursuant to Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 before Justice Onigbanjo of Lagos Division of the High Court of Lagos State in suit No. LD/4232MFHR/2016..AKAKPO & 38 ORS vs. AG L/S & 3 ORS.
He added that the trial judge did not deliver judgment on the matter but rather referred the parties to Multi-Door Court House for mediation.
Ayorinde said, “The leave granted to enforce their rights was tantamount to an order of status quo ante bellum on the parties, which amongst other things, required that the claimants do not take any action within the area after it was destroyed by fire.
“The undisputed fact is that Otodo Gbame was engulfed by fire that razed down the entire community in November 2016, which rendered the area uninhabitable.”
According to the commissioner, since the claimants had submitted the case for adjudication, it would be unacceptable for them to return to the area or to erect shanties and perpetuate unsanitary and environmentally dangerous conditions, hence, the need for the government to maintain order and public safety.
He maintained that the state government was mindful of the welfare of the affected citizens and had indeed expressed its concerns and willingness to explore an amicable resolution in so far that the demands of the claimants are reasonable and lawful.
According to him, the Lagos State Government swiftly responded through its fire services and emergency rescue operations as well as the police to assist the residents and nearby locations when the entire community was razed down in November 2016 as a result of inter-ethnic clashes that took place in the community.
Ayorinde stated that the state government had no interest in the area other than to ensure that the delicate ecosystem of the waterfront remains safe, clean and secure.
He added the state government appreciates the understanding of the general public and assures of its unflinching commitment to the development of the state as an ideal megacity that is sensitive to the needs of the public as well as open and continuous dialogue.
A coalition of civil society groups led by Megan Chapman of the Justice and Empowerment Initiatives has rather picked holes in governments claims and argued that Justice Onigbanjo delivered a landmark ruling in the case brought by waterfront residents, including those from Otodo Gbame relying on the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009.
Chapman on behalf of the groups said, “His lordship found that demolitions on short notice without provision of alternative shelter constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of the right to dignity enshrined in Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
“Rather than entering final judgment, Justice Onigbanjo then ordered the parties to attempt mediation through the Lagos State Multi-Door Courthouse and ordered them to maintain the status quo – refraining from any evictions – during the pendency of the mediation and the suit.
“It was just a week after the waterfront communities, including Otodo Gbame, were sitting in a mediation session with the government to try to discuss alternatives to eviction that the government came into Otodo Gbame to begin demolishing once again on 17 March 2017.
“We condemn such impunity and brazen disregard for the rule of law, which is incongruous with a democratic society and Lagos’s aspiration to be a centre of excellence and a world-class megacity. Lagos is a megacity by virtue of its population and it will only be a world-class megacity if it refocuses its energies on serving the needs of the people, especially the poor and vulnerable.
“We are shocked by the state government’s attempts to justify the forced eviction of nearly 4,700 people based on protection of the environment and to deny that it was violating a court order. The purpose of preserving the environment is for the wellbeing of mankind and, therefore, environmental protection measures must also respect and protect fundamental human rights.”
Although they have continued to stage protests on daily basis in the state, their fate appears sealed, as a Lagos High Court sitting in Igbosere recently dismissed a contempt application filed against Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and three others by some displaced residents of Lagos waterfront settlements for allegedly disobeying a valid order of the court.
Justice Onigbanjo, in a ruling on the application, held that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the contempt application against the governor judging by Constitutional provision which conferred immunity on him.
Thirty-three residents of Otodo Gbame area of Ilado in Lekki area of Lagos state had filed the contempt application against Ambode, the state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem; commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Wasiu Anifowoshe; and the state’s commissioner of police, Fatai Owoseni for allegedly flouting a ruling which ordered parties to maintain status quo.
They claimed that they filed the suit on behalf of themselves and other residents of settlements including Otodo Gbame, Tomaro, Otumara, Orisunmibare, Oko Agbon, Itun Atan, Sogunro, the Ikorodu communities of Ofin, Bayeku and Olufunke Majidun and the Bariga communities of Ago Egun and Ebute-Ilaje.
The claimants through their counsel, Friday Oteiku had claimed that the respondents breached an order of November 7 and 16, 2016, “restraining them from demolishing any of the applicants’ homes, business premises, properties or community facilities in waterfront communities across Lagos State, inhabited by the applicants or evicting the applicants therefrom.”

Source:Nigerian News from Leadership News