It’s become such a regular occurrence, especially in Lagos where Nigeria’s choicest and most expensive properties are that it does not matter what type of government the country is under – military or civilian – poor people who live in slums that happen to be good locations will get removed to make way for land grab.
Today, power has decided to render another mass violent eviction of urban poor who just happened to be “waterside” residents: the description given to people along Yoruba part of the coastal area of Southern Nigeria, peoples that live not only in Lagos but in Ogun and Ondo States. In present times, the greed of the rich has been limited only by economic viability. The waterside areas of Ondo and Ogun States – for now – are being peacefully enjoyed by descendants of those who have made waterfront living for generations but the way the current situation is finally resolved would be important in determining government versus community relationships in land acquisition in the future.
Should government use its power to seize huge chunks of land without notice, and often despite court rulings and with violent use of force against those at the bottom of the heap economically?
Over a quarter century ago in July 1990, the Nigerian military government sent armed men to drive out residents of then slum, Maroko from their homes with huge land-moving equipment in the dead of night and height of the rainy season. In the best of weather and times, Lagos and its sprawling suburbs, is not a nice place for poor people, and the rainy season is very tough on most with the exception of the rich. In Maroko and other such settlements, dwellings are often constructed of poor materials, including roofing materials, doors and window coverings made from tin roofing sheets scavenged from discarded heaps and plastic sheets. Lack of good roads make such areas not just impassable but most are often cut off to vehicles during entire rainy seasons.
Despite such setbacks, the poor residents who could see from not far from them the glittering life just minutes from them at Ikoyi and Victoria Island had their homes – no matter how poor – to return to at the end of each day from the mostly-menial salaried work or petty trading they had as forms of earning livelihood.
Colonel Raji Rasaki, the Lagos State military governor acting for Nigeria’s military “president”, Ibrahim Babangida, announced that the settlement lay “below sea level and sand-filling was needed for infrastructural development”. Rasaki carried out his military brief mercilessly: soldiers reportedly kicked in doors, blew out roofs and even captured women and girls for God-knew-what as in a real war while many of the 300,00 residents loss their lives. Some of the dead reportedly fell into wells and drowned as they tried to escape from the Armageddon that arrived the dead of night.
Maroko residents also had their places of worship, schools, small businesses and clinics within their community destroyed but as most Nigerians know, acting in the interest of the wealthy class rather than to forestall environmental degradation, was the real goal.
Today, the old Maroko, that residents and the world were informed was “unfit for human habitation” can be seen on the Lekki Expressway filled with expensive real estate – residential and commercial.
Check out Amnesty International’s Homes demolished, Hopes dashed … through one of the links at the bottom of this story.
Many NGOs and humanitarian organizations challenged the government about the inhuman and violent eviction of hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihood and ways of life were destroyed, and among whose children many had their education interrupted or completely stopped without notice, and worse, with government not compensating the residents – ALL WITHOUT CONSULTATION, LEGAL NOTICE OR DUE PROCESS OF LAW. Nigerian government was even taken to court.
Nigerian government’s reputation as an immoral country where the basic rights of its citizens are violently trampled on remains stained because despite its being taken before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Maroko case about the continental Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights violation, it is unlikely people in power cares nor am I aware if the government ever paid any compensation.
The Maroko land grab has been written on so widely as to form the inspiration for writer, Chris Abani’s 2004 novel, Graceland, the sad tale of Elvis, a teenage product of Maroko slum whose life of poverty and violence – like that of most in Maroko and most slums of Nigeria, but especially Lagos – reflects the country’s corruption and violence that often lurks around the corner for many, poor and even rich, alike.
Twenty six years ago, the government purportedly wanted to improve the environmental physical situation at Maroko which it claimed was uninhabitable because it lay “below sea level and sand-filling was needed for infrastructural development”. Great idea, but the government turned around and had it developed by the rich. Those evicted are still asking for justice because the court case was still on this Year of our Lord 2016 those relocated from Maroko did not have much-better stories to tell for long as the structures to which they were relocated, though still slums, was also choice real estate, and was not long before the people were to face another eviction.
While Maroko perhaps represents the most talked-about because of the sheer number of people displaced and the brutality with which the eviction was carried out, right in Lagos have been Makoko – no spelling mistake with a ‘k’ as third letter – and other communities.
Right now, another community, Oto-Ilogbo with 15,000 around Ebute-Meta, Lagos is enjoying a reprieve of a court order which granted the community’s prayer that the Lagos state government must halt the planned razing of homes in the community. How long this will stand in a country where governors and presidents often flout courts’ rulings remains unknown; it may be a matter of time that the present Lagos governor or a successor decides the star-crossed poor residents of Oto-Ilogbo in Ebute-Meta area would have to go – WHERE TO, would be their business, if the past is any guide.
All over Nigeria, sad tales of forcible violent removal of poor people with nowhere to goand no compensations abound: Abuja and Port Hacourt are prime examples.
NOW, the people of Otodo Gbame on the Lagos Lagoon waterfront are next. Although the Lagos government has ascribed the destruction of homes that happened in the community this month to clashes between two ethnic groups within the community – a claim the community has reportedly denied – it is Maroko, Makoko … all over again as a community of 30,000 – 10 percent of the Maroko 1990 population involved in the violent suppression and eviction – seems to be the next in what has become a long history of violently displacing people only to make way for the super-rich to move and build befitting waterfront mansions.
While none should decry a state that wants to modernize and upgrade its crown jewel to be a modern world-class city, adequate notice must be given to the people, and removing them must involve providing suitable replacements. Considering land being a very scarce resource, people can be relocated outside the capital where land is cheaper.
It would be rare to find a single Nigerian outside the group that benefits from these heartless, greedy and selfish acts who would believe the Lagos State Government (LASG) story. That the police merely moved in to restore peace between feuding ethnic groups to Otodo Gbame, that state-owned bulldozers were reportedly present as well as policemen who reportedly shot into the air at the demolition before an event that left seven people dead speak volumes.
Why did LASG bulldozers need to be deployed to the scene of an ethnic clash; why did police need to shoot live ammunition into the air, and why – as in the case of Maroko – did “law-enforcement” agents move into a community in the wee hours of the morning?
These all happened despite reported a “court order issued three days earlier suspending a planned demolition of communities along creeks and waterways in the state”, according to premiumtimesng.com.
HOMES DEMOLISHED, HOPE SHATTERED: FORCED EVICTIONS IN NIGERIA
FOR PHOTOGRAPHS: Through the Waterfront Eviction link – Second above – go to the bottom of –
THE NIGERIAN SLUM/INFORMAL SETTLEMENT FEDERATION, Dated October 20, 2016. Go to the bottom of the write-up and click the first link in the box. Above the graphic PROTEST DAY 1 …, click BACK TO ALBUM LIST to see photos from some evictions.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2016. 12:33 a.m. [GMT]