All over the world, shanties in cities is a natural concomitant of urbanisation. In world’s most populous cities such as Bombay, Hong Kong, London and Singapore, the problem of shanties is a recurring decimal which governments in these countries have battled to solve for ages. The cause varies from rural urban migration, illegal immigrants syndrome in capitals like London and Washington DC, to poverty and insufficient and unaffordable accommodation. Coupled with this is the fact that the urban population in the world is rising generally.
Lagos, a mega city with an estimated population of 22 million inhabitants is not an exception in the menace of shanties and this has been on for ages. The only exception is that Lagos shanties are becoming that of horror where illegal migrants like kidnappers and militants have made their comfort zones, from where they make use of the waterways to ferry their victims to another location.
Recently, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode ordered that all shanties in Ilubirin and along all creeks, waterways and under high tension cables be demolished while the illegal occupants should be evicted. This may sound harsh in the face of the present economic situation, but the fact remains that the action is necessary in order to protect lives and property of about 22 million Lagosians. Building of illegal structures under high tension cables is without doubt, an accident waiting to happen which no responsible government would condone.
The history of the Ilubinrin shanties especially, reveals that the present illegal occupants moved in and erected illegal structures by cashing in on the time lag created by the redesigning of the Ilubinrin housing project, which was started by former Governor Bola Tinubu about ten years ago with the reclamation of the lagoon while the fishermen who were there at that time were resettled at Badore.
The housing units, which was initially expected to accommodate 1,254 housing units started in 2013, while the scheme was reviewed and redesigned by the administration of Governor Ambode to accommodate 1,500 families and make the place a live, work and play environment, with the partnership of a private investor. However, the illegal settlers moved into Illubirin waterfront during the process of redesigning the scheme and erected shanties. It is also noteworthy that all quit notices to the illegal occupants have been ignored up till the time that the illegal structures were demolished.
It is not in doubt that shanties all over the world have always provided a safe haven for all sorts of criminals. In Lagos, shanties, especially those along the coastal areas have become the base of kidnappers as witnessed in Arepo, though in Ogun State, the kidnappers who are suspected militants operated in Lagos and even kidnapped a traditional rule, Oba Goriola Oseni, the Oniba of Iba. It took the aerial bombardment of the Arepo shanties by the Nigerian Airforce to reduce the once operational base of the kidnappers to rubbles and this has restored relative peace in the area.
The recent case of kidnap of students and teachers of Lagos Senior and Junior Model College, Igbonla-Epe in their school, once again brought to the fore the dangers inherent in allowing these shanties to fester in the state. Before the Epe kidnapping incident, in March 2016, three female students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary, Ikorodu Lagos, were also abducted and were only rescued six days after, through the prompt intervention of the Lagos State Government.
With the above incidents, the Governor could hardly be faulted for ordering the demolition of all shanties along creeks and waterways. Apart from the security of lives and property of millions of Lagosians which is the primary responsibility of any government, the move would enhance the government’s pursuit of its policy on cleaner environment and restoration of master plans through the removal of all environmental infractions and nuisances across the state. No investor would bring his money to a city where his life, that of his family and property are not safe.
While the plight of the urban poor most of who migrated to the city to have a better live must be considered as many of us including Governor Ambode are from humble backgrounds, this does not mean that government should fail in its duty to educate the people on the need to refrain from constructing any structure on river banks, because the safety of about 22 million residents of the State cannot be allowed to be jeopardised by few.
Just like any other city in the world, the concentration of economic development in a city like Lagos has largely accounted for population boom in very short periods of time which has severely stretched the coping capacity of city governments. One of the most visible outcomes of rapid urbanisation is therefore Urban Slum Formation. The most pragmatic solution to this is that the Lagos state government taking a cue from other developing nations with city slums, is focussing on the effective link established between planned economic development, urban growth and housing. This is why Governor Ambode’ s assurance to Lagosians that a lot of houses would be rolled out in the next few months is a cheering news. It is equally heart-warming that the private investor will move into the Ilubinrin housing project site with an investment of a whopping $500m anytime from now.
Boxer and politician, Manny Pacquiao, built over 1,000 houses for poor Philippinos in his home town. I know we may not have another Pacquiao in Nigeria even though we have many religious organisations richer than many state governments, but let such individuals and organisations compliment the effort of government by assisting the poor to have access to decent but affordable accommodation.
It is high time the Lagos state government demolished all shanties of horror, which has become the abode of kidnappers of our school children while reviewing the law against kidnapping to make it a capital punishment as obtained in other states in Nigeria.
Akintunde, a development economist, wrote from Lagos.