… We demolished the area to forestall environmental disaster –State Govt
It was perhaps the most brutal and bloodiest land grab since the sacking of Maroko in the 1990s. For years the inhabitant of Otodo-Gbame, a small fishing community overlooking the Lagos Lagoon just outside Lekki Phase 1, have been threatened with eviction by the powerful Elegushi royal family. But the residents, mostly Egun fishermen, who claimed to have lived on the land for over hundred years have been able to resist the land grab by the Elegushis, who say the land belongs to their ancestors.
The tension between the Elegushis and the community escalated after the governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, on October 9, 2016 vowed to demolish waterfront communities in the state. The governor claimed the communities were being used by kidnappers and other criminals in the state as hideouts.
“Most of the issues we have with kidnapping are perpetrated by illegal settlers by the waterfront. All shanties along the waterfront of the state must go because the safety of Lagosians is paramount in this administration,” Ambode said.
“We will not allow a few set of people who come into Lagos illegally, then stay on our waterfronts and use it as an opportunity to kidnap our people,” he added.
Inhabitants of these communities, under the aegis of the Incorporated Trustees of Community Legal Support Initiative went to court to stop the governor from evicting them from their homes.
Agemo Abacha, an inhabitant of Ago Egun, one of the communities earmarked for demolition, in an affidavit backing the suit, said that since the governor made the announcement, a handful of communities have already been demolished.
“Since this announcement, my community and dozens of other waterfront communities across the state have been thrown into chaos,” Abacha said. “We are living in apprehension of demolition and eviction any day.”
Abacha said members of the communities under the umbrella of the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation wrote to Governor Ambode to retract the order, two days after it was made. He explained that the inhabitants of waterfront communities are law abiding citizens and not criminals.
“That we understand from what we have heard in the news that Governor Ambode is trying to justify the demolition of communities like ours based on the need to fight crime in Lagos State. But, the residents of our communities are hard-working, law-abiding citizens who have nowhere else to go.
“We welcome law enforcement activities and we cooperate with the police. Evicting hundreds of thousands of people and destroying our homes and legitimate livelihoods will not prevent crime or make the city safer,” Abacha wrote.
On November 8, the court sided with the inhabitants of the communities and gave an order stopping the government from further demolition of the communities.
But less than 24 hours after the court ruling, gangs of thugs loyal to the Elegushi family, moved in on Otodo Gbame, attacking residents, who were still sleeping, and setting fire to their homes, which were mostly bamboo houses on stilts.
Residents called the police from the nearby Ilasan police station, but to their dismay, when the policemen arrived, they joined the hoodlums in the attack – pulling down and setting fire to their houses.
The community said eleven people were killed, and seven others are still missing to this day. Some of the dead were children who were roused from their sleep by the flames consuming their houses only to drown inside the Lagoon.
Stephen Emmanuel, a commercial bus driver, talked about how two of his children, Maryam and Samuel drowned in the Lagoon while trying to escape from the attacking thugs.
“I was at work when they called me on the telephone that there was trouble in the community,” Emmanuel said. “My two children were trying to escape from the fire and jumped into the river. That was how they drowned. We recovered their corpses the following day.”
After the attack, the people protested and camped outside the governor’s office in Alausa asking the state to respect the order stopping it from evicting them from their communities.
The government initially denied that it had anything to do with the attacks, saying it was a clash between the community and the Elegushi family.
Flouting a court order
Five months later, on March 10, 2017, tired of pretending that it was not responsible for the attacks, and in a blatant disregard of the subsisting court order, the Lagos State government finally pulled down the community rendering thousands homeless.
On the day, officials of the state’s environmental task force, accompanied by armed policemen in armoured vehicles and a helicopter, invaded the Otodo Gbame community, with bulldozers tearing down houses and shooting at anyone who tried to resist. At least one person was shot and killed, and several others were injured.
Megan Chapman, co-director of Justice Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a community-based legal and empowerment organisation, said the demolition was shocking as the her organisation had just commenced a court ordered mediation between the community and the state government.
“We started the mediation process the week before, and it was still on-going,” Chapman said. “We were supposed to report to the court at the beginning of next month (April).
“The court also ordered that the parties should maintain the status quo until the end of the mediation and the subsequent judgement of the court.
That demolition incident, and the subsequent attack were in direct violation of the court order.”
Amnesty International, in a statement released minutes after the demolition, said it was in violation of not only of the order of a Nigerian court but also violated international human rights laws.
“The Lagos state government must stop using ‘security threats’ as an excuse to carry out forced evictions, which are prohibited under international human rights law,” Amnesty’s statement said. “We are extremely concerned that despite an existing court order prohibiting the demolition of Otodo Gbame, Lagos state government continues to forcibly evict, assault, and endanger the lives of its residents.”
The rights group called on the government to urgently provide alternative housing for those affected by the demolition.
The appeal fell on deaf ears.
In a statement released eleven days after the forceful evictions, the state explained that it demolished the community to forestall and an environmental disaster.
Describing the Otodo-Gbame and other waterfront communities as “illegal shanties and unwholesome habitation” the state’s Commissioner of Information, Steve Ayorinde, said the demolition was necessary to maintain public health and safety.
Ms Chapman believes that the state government was merely giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. According to her, before the demolition, the waterfront communities were already working with the government to improve sanitation.
The Dubai Delusion
Ms. Chapman said the forceful eviction of residents of Otodo-Gbame and other waterfront communities is a part of the pursuit of the state government’s policy to build a new Dubai in the city. She described the policy as “the Dubai delusion.”
Six months after inhabitants of Otodo-Gbame were sacked from the community, the Elugushi royal family with the help of the Lagos state government has divided the land into two highbrow luxury estates.
The smaller of the two developments is called Periwinkle. According to an online video posted by Asist-2-Sell Ltd., a a real estate firm, the project is named The Periwinkle “because of the lagoon sand burrow is full of periwinkle shells.”
The property promises to offer buyers “a generous Lagoon view, whistling winds, a range of visiting birds and natural surroundings”.
Periwinkle comprises of 100 plots of between of 500 square metres and 2000 square metres. People willing to own properties there will have to cough up between ₦45 million and ₦200 million each for a piece of land.
Just beside Periwinkle, is another 150 hectares new super-luxury only similar in grandeur with the Eko Atlantic City off Victoria Island called Imperial International Business City. The project is financed by Channeldrill Resources Limited, that describes itself as an infrastructure and city developer company. Thirty percent of the proposed city will be residential, another 30 percent has been earmarked as the Business District, while 10 percent of the project will be used for commercial purposes. They remaining part of the proposed city will be used for leisure, entertainment and infrastructure, which includes recreation and green parks.
According to Channeldrill, Imperial City, which it described as an “exclusive Island” will cost ₦44 billion to complete.
A close look at the timeline of the project clearly revealed why the state government and the Elegushi family were desperate to evict the inhabitants of Otodo-Gbame. The Lagos State government gave the approval for the development of the property in 2016, while inhabitants of Otodo-Gbame while in court.
Ms. Chapman said people of the communities were not considered before the approval.
“The state government gave approval for the development a year before the actual demolition without looking at the people who were living there,” she said.
“They knew that about Otodo-Gbame community because there been had series of meetings between Otodo-Gbame and the state government.
“As at that time the sand-filling was affecting fishing, so the community staged a protest and wrote to the government about it.
“The government said they were trying to look at the issue. So, they were very much aware of Otodo-Gbame before they approved the project.”
Chapman said the government were aware of the human impact of the new developments but chose to ignore it.
“It is part of the government plan to create the new Dubai. It is the Dubai delusion because what they are trying to do is build a city where the urban poor are treated like people who don’t exist, while the government is prioritising elite luxury estate development.
“We don’t even have that much demand on mortgage because we have a lot of vacancies where these new upscale estates are coming up.
“They are trying to create a different city in which you only have wealthy people. They are trying to make it as difficult as possible for poor people to live in the city,” she said.