Forced Evictions and Lagos State Government

August 8, 2023
oworonshoki demolition Forced Evictions

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

It was in the news recently that residents of the Oworonshoki area in Lagos State on Wednesday, August 2, 2023, protested the ongoing demolition in their area by the Lagos State Task Force, which has seen many residents lose their belongings and homes, left several women and children homeless, and forced many to seek shelter in churches and uncompleted buildings in other areas.

During the protest, which was held at the state House of Assembly complex in Alausa, Ikeja, protesters were seen with placards with inscriptions such as “Say no to land grabbers and wrong demolition”, “Please help us in Oworonshoki “ and “We plead to the government to come to our rescue.”

Even the Lagos State House of Assembly has, a while ago, in a face-saving effort, ordered the State Environmental and Special Offences Enforcement Unit known as Taskforce to stop the demolition and, in its place, set up a five-member ad-hoc committee to investigate the matter and report to the House in two weeks, there are, however, reasons that ring apprehension as to the frequency of this potentially deadly ‘culture’ of demolition/forced eviction in the state and qualify as a reality to worry about, the choice of forced eviction by the state government in its efforts to engineer the development of the state.

Aside from lacking in conventional approaches that infuse human rights principles of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination towards the attainment of equity and justice in such a ‘developmental initiative’, most troubling is the awareness that the present demolition is coming barely two years after a similar thoughtless demolition/forced eviction in July 2021, at the same Oworonshoki was reportedly carried out by the same state government.

Expressly, this piece does not think that what the state government is doing presently in the name of urban renewal/upgrade or regeneration is the best way of turning ‘Slum to Neighbourhood’.

Tragically ‘interesting’ is the awareness that the state has chronically become reputed for achieving urban-related upgrades, renewal and developmental programmes more from a reactionary perspective as against proactive design of effective policies anchored on international best practices.

Take, as an illustration, demolition/forced eviction gained entrance into the state 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.

According to reports, Maroko was a sub-city within Lagos. It was peaceful and very popular. The places now called Oniru Royal Estate, some parts of Victoria Island and Lekki Phase 1, were formerly known as Maroko, and it was inhabited by mainly low-income earners. Over 300,000 people inhabited Maroko then. Maroko prided itself on over 150 streets and houses owned by 10,000 landlords. The people were happy people.

Nine years after the Maroko experience, democracy came on board. At each electioneering, intending governors present baskets of manifestos with the promise to make Lagos a more human-friendly, liveable state as the loudest. But contrary to that expectation, documented experience reveals that between 2003 and 2020, demolition/forced evictions of citizens without alternative accommodation characterized every administration in the state.

Beginning with Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu (May 1999 to 2007, now President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), 2007 to 2015. From Akinwunmi Ambode (2015 to 2019) and presently Mr Babajide Sanwolu, there was no shift in paradigm as they all stuck to the practice.

The most painful aspect of the narrative is that to achieve this heinous objective; the government has a way of tagging the targeted community as a highly populated urban residential area consisting mostly of closely packed, decrepit housing units in a situation of deteriorated or incomplete infrastructure, inhabited primarily by impoverished persons.

Under the above description/excuse, the following Lagos communities have, between 2003 and 2015, partly or wholly fallen under the bulldozers of the Lagos State Government; Makoko community, Yaba, Ijora East and Ijora Badiya, PURA-NPA Bar Beach, Ikota Housing Estate, Ogudu Ori-Oke, Mosafejo in Oshodi, Agric-Owutu communities, Ageologo-Mile 12, and some communities along Mile 2 Okokomaiko to mention but a few.

As if that was not enough trouble for the poor Lagosians, in 2016, Mr Ambode vowed to evacuate all waterfront shantytowns — a population totalling about 300,000, according to the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Association.

A few months later, 30,000 people lost their homes when one of the slums, Otodo Gbame, a poor fishing community close to the upmarket southeastern district of Lekki, was razed.

During the reported demolition of the Makoko community on July 17, 2012, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stated that a letter from the Lagos state government was served on residents the previous week, giving them 72 hours to vacate their properties.

The Lagos state authorities further noted in that Letter that the illegal constructions in Makoko constituted an “environmental nuisance, security risk and an impediment to the economic and gainful utilisation of the waterfront” and undermined the “megacity status” of Lagos.

Adding to the woes of the evictees is the government’s ‘love’ for disobeying court directives and non-fulfilment of their promises to resettle those evicted.

As another example, it was reported in the media that at the Supreme Court, Abuja, in the year 2002, the Lagos state government, through the then Lagos State Commissioner for Justice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the immediate past Vice President of Nigeria, accepted responsibility for demolishing Maroko community and promised the evictees 1,000 housing units every year, till the whole former house-owners of Maroko are fully resettled.

He admitted that though the government acquired Maroko town in 1972, it again relinquished the acquisition in 1977, thereby confirming that Maroko was not under government acquisition when it was demolished in 1990. But regrettably, to this day, nothing has been done by the state government or its agents to remedy the situation or fulfil the promise made.

The above sad account is an emblem of governments that are unmindful of or deliberately decided to ignore the clarification by the United Nations Independent Expert on the Right to Development, which among other remarks, noted that for a programme to be tagged development, it must require a particular process that allows the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, and all fundamental freedoms, by expanding the capabilities and choices of the individual.

In a similar vein, the international convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Ratified by Nigeria in 1993) is one document that probably did more than anything else to capture the gully of disappointments and many sins of successive administrations in the state against the evictees.

It recognized that globally, forced eviction is a brazen violation of the right to life, the right to a fair hearing, the right to dignity of the human person, the right to a private and family life, and the rights to property guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the African charter of Human and peoples’ Right (Ratification and Enforcement Act 1990). Similarly, the United Nations Human Rights Commission Resolutions 1993/77 and 2004/28 affirm that when forced evictions are carried out, they violate a range of internationally recognised human rights.

These include the Human rights to adequate housing, security of the person, security of the home, health, food, water, work/livelihood, education, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, freedom of movement, information, and participation and self-expression.

While it has been reported repeatedly that clearance operations should take place only when conservation arrangements and rehabilitation are not feasible, relocation measures stand made, UN Resolution 2004/28 recognized the provisions on forced evictions contained in the Habitat Agenda of 1996 and recommended that, “All Governments must ensure that any eviction that is otherwise deemed lawful is carried out in a manner that does not violate any of the human rights of those evicted.”

It will be highly rewarding if the state government internalizes these provisions and develops processes or processes that allow the realization of economic and social development of the state in a way that protects the rights of the people.

Broadly speaking, from the above accounts, it is evident that the practice of forced eviction by state actors remains a sad account of or a symbol of, governments that have consciously decided to flagrantly ignore the global framework on physical planning of liveable neighbourhoods, slum upgrade and urban regeneration.

To further buttress this claim, let’s cast a glance at how a ‘famous’ 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 July 1990 Maroko’s experience, there exists a gully of difference.

Essentially, aside from the imperative of drawing useful lessons from Brazil’s experience, this piece would also appreciate the Lagos state government explaining whose responsibility it is to provide infrastructures; government or the people/residents?

For me, providing an answer(s) to the above question will redefine as well as address the government’s relationships with the people on issues of physical planning and urban re-generation, usher in eviction-free co-existence while sending new lessons to other states in the country and of course the federal government reputed for practices of forced evictions.

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) for Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA) in Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected]/08032725374

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