A Nation Possessed by Spirit of Forced Eviction

September 17, 2022
Maroko Spirit of Forced Eviction

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

If there is any occurrence that further supports the belief that in Nigeria’s public leadership corridors, once a direction is chosen, instead of examining the process meticulously and setting the right course; one that will allow us to overcome storm and reach safety before we can progress and achieve our goals, many of our leaders obstinately persist with the execution of such plans regardless of the need for a minor or major shift in circumstance, it is the recent insistence by officials of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) that the ongoing demolition of illegal structures in Kuje Area Council was designed to curb insecurity.

The explanation was given when they appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Area Councils to respond to a petition by victims of the demolition.

Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) Coordinator, Umar Shaibu, said the exercise was undertaken by the administration to quickly respond to identified threats to national security, peace and order.

While the declaration by the FCTA looks good in principle, it more than anything else shows a bunch that is not ready to study history, study the actions of their predecessors, to see how they conducted themselves in order to discover that the evictions option is not the solution to insecurity but can only aggravate the situation as it renders victims homeless, destitute, and vulnerable to violence, theft and rape.

There is glaring evidence that supports the above assertion.

It will be recalled that demolition/forced eviction gained entrance into the nation’s leadership lexicon in July 1990 when Raji Rasaki in his capacity as Military Governor of Lagos State for yet to be identified reasons destroyed Maroko. Over 300,000 people that inhabited Maroko then were reportedly affected.

About nine years after the Maroko experience, democracy came on board. But contrary to that expectation, even the dawn of democracy in May 1999 did not bring a shift in paradigm as successive democratically elected governors beginning with Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu (May 1999 to 2007, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), 2007 to 2015, Akinwunmi Ambode (2015 to 2019) and presently Mr Babajide Sanwolu, stuck to the practice.

But the more the government forcefully evicts residents, the more it leads to the further proliferation of more slums and blighted communities in the state.

In another instance, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, in the name of restoration of the Abuja master plan, going by reports, demolished no fewer than 200 buildings in the FCT and thousands in the satellite towns, which left many families stranded and unable to regain their balance till date.

Sounding impenitent over his tenure, the former minister said in his 627-page book titled Accidental Civil Servant, “For me restoring order in the chaos that we found in many aspects of living in Abuja at the time, was simply consistent with my personal philosophy in life, a preference for rules and orderliness- a burden that I needed to discharge personally so I could sleep well at night.

“It was without question worth giving four years of my life pursuing. Therefore, I have no regrets for attempting to do what we did. We did what we believed was right at the time.”

But the question that begs an answer from El Rufai is; since after that wanton demolition and thoughtless disruption of peoples’ means of livelihood, has the Abuja master plan truly been restored? If yes, why is the present administration still pushing for demolition and forced eviction? Is that not a sign that demolition/forced eviction is only a prescription that only addresses the effect of an ailment while leaving the root cause to thrive?

Broadly speaking, the above sad account is a symbol of governments that are unmindful of or consciously decided to flagrantly ignore the global framework on physical planning of liveable neighbourhoods, slum upgrades and urban regeneration.

To buttress this claim, let’s cast a glance at how a similar slum challenge was creatively handled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, without displacement or eviction of the original occupants.

Instead of removing the favelas, a people initially considered/described as illegal occupants, many of the government’s policies were made to focus more on improving the infrastructure of the people/the area. The Inter-American Development Bank, for example, funded a $180 million “slum to neighbourhood” project in 1995, which sought to integrate existing favelas into the fabric of the city through infrastructure upgrading and service development.

The project involved 253,000 residents in 73 favela neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro. When a favela was selected, a master plan for upgrades was drafted and community organizations were contacted and asked to provide their input. When the final plan was approved, incentive plans were implemented for hiring construction companies that employed local community workers.

From Brazil to Spain and South Africa, the story and experience are the same.

Comparatively, when one juxtaposes the above accounts as recorded in Brazil with that of Abuja and the July 1990 Maroko’s experience, there exists a gully of difference.

Essentially, aside from the imperative of drawing useful lessons from Brazil’s experience, why the above examples are important is that here in Nigeria, each time the government wants to achieve this heinous objective (forced eviction/demolition), they tag the targeted community as a highly populated urban residential area consisting decrepit housing units in a situation of deteriorated or incomplete infrastructures.

Relevant government agencies are in the habit of pushing this argument as if infrastructural provision is the responsibility of the masses.

For me, the truth is that for us to stop dislocating families through forced eviction that interrupts citizens’ means of livelihood, and in its place, engineer sustainable development in ways that protect the present and the rights of the future generations, and most particularly help enthrone an organized and liveable environment for the citizens of the state, I think that what Nigerian governments are doing in the name of urban renewal/upgrade/regeneration is not the best way of turning ‘Slum to Neighbourhood’

If not, why must a state wait for its citizens to build in unapproved places before moving in with their bulldozers for demolition/eviction? Why do public office officers in the country find it difficult to nip illegal constructions/unapproved buildings in the bud, but convenient to demolish after construction? Which one is easier and more cost-effective; taking proactive steps that prevent Nigerians from building in unauthorized places, or deploying the state’s resources to effect demolition of structures built in the full glare of the government? Most importantly and strategically, as a government, which one is the noblest and most dignifying option; being reactive or proactive?

While answers to the above questions are awaited, this piece thinks in the interim that there is a spirit behind this penchant for forced eviction by public office holders in the country.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). He can be reached via [email protected]/08032725374

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