Rural Development and Lagos Unending Demolition Commentary

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

This piece stemmed from two perspectives. The first has to do with the Lagos State Government’s recent declaration that it would not be selective in the application of law in the ongoing demolition of illegal structures at Lekki Phase II and its environs.

The Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Tokunbo Wahab, who was reportedly besieged by pleading occupants and owners of the fully built structures constructed on the drainage setbacks and already marked for demolition, said that the state government was committed to ensuring that justice and fairness were served to all equally, noting that stopping the demolition exercise would amount to double standards.

The second and of course very vital to the present discourse is a recent reaction to the ongoing widespread demolition in Lagos state by Comrade Agbodemu Ishola Musbau, Convener, Rural and Urban Development Initiative (RUDI), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organization.

He accused the Lagos State Government, South West, Nigeria, of implementing urban and physical planning policies that directly or indirectly lack conventional planning approaches that infuse human rights principles of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination towards the attainment of equity and justice in their rural and urban development initiatives.

While noting that despite the right not to be forcefully evicted being an element of the human right to adequate housing, the practice of such involuntary removal of persons from their homes or land persists in the state; adding that the government has a way of tagging the targeted community as 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.

Agbedemu further argued that the Lagos State Ministry of Housing was established in 1999. With a mission to provide good quality and affordable homes for the teeming population of Lagos state and the vision of a model city with a high quality of life for the citizenry through adequate provision of shelter which is a basic human need”, but lamented that since creation, the ministry of housing has not demonstrated full capacity to resolving housing crisis of the Lagosians.

He further noted that rather than evolving strategies of improving housing conditions for low-income earners, the ministry with his counterpart Ministry of Environment has played prominent roles in depleting housing stock through bulldozers by forceful evictions and demolition without compensation or any form of substantial resettlement plan.

Before now, we realized that we were living in a poor community in Ebute-meta, Lagos State. It is not because we are poor but because the government did not fulfil the expectations of teeming residents. Why I am saying that we are not poor is that in most of the communities, we find ourselves in, we are the ones who put up the building based on our income and our capacity. If there is government participation and collaboration, those buildings will be up to standard.

But despite all these efforts, the government will still come and tell us that the community is not habitable and that they will evict us. That is what even made some people with assets not build it up to the standard because the government can come at any time to eject them. Globally, it is the responsibility of the government to provide shelter for its citizens. But in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole, such is not obtainable.

He stressed that not everybody can live in Ikoyi, Banana Island, and other places they have taken a whole lot of naira to build, he boasted that ‘slum dwellers in Lagos have the money to build according to specification if the government is ready to supervise. Yes, we can do it; it’s just that the state government is not ready.

The threat of forced eviction by the state governments in the state, he emphasized, has existed right from the era of Tinubu’s administration till today. But what the state government fails to understand is that the more they push people through forced eviction, the more they create more slums. It’s just like a snail and its shell. A snail can never leave its shell. That is just the thing. Human beings and shelter are like twins.

If the government is not thinking in that direction, then something is wrong. If they claim they practice democracy, the government must come down from their heights to see what people are going through. They should calm down, especially when not all of us have the money to live in sophisticated buildings in Ikoyi, Victoria Island and other choice areas. They should look down and plan for the poor in governance, he concluded.

For me, no matter what the true situation may be, there are silent points that Lagos state governments must not fail to remember when implementing urban renewal and physical development policies of the state.

First and fundamental, according to the United Nations Independent Expert on the Rights to Development, 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. Even as this piece centres on the non-infusion of human rights principles, 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 right 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; Human rights to security of the person, and security of the home; Human right to health; Human rights to food; Human right to water; Human right to work/livelihood; Human rights to education; Human rights to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; Human rights to freedom of movement; Human rights to information; and, Human rights to participation and self-expression.

While it has 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, recognised 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.

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

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