Nowhere to go: Lagos Otodo Gbame evictees decry loss of shelter

As Lagos is facing security challenges in all front, ranging from armed robbery, militancy, kidnapping and other related vices, including environmental abuses, official reaction to stem the tide seems not to go down well with some sections in the city, especially, those who occupy waterfront areas.

To officials, as Lagos is growing in population on daily basis, the city and its suburbs is under serious threat, in view of accommodation challenges, that warranted residents, both Nigerians and foreigners alike, who have nowhere to place their heads usually converting any available space to their place of abode.

It’s not uncommon to see ramshackle buildings dotted these waterfronts, river and canals banks, including underused public buildings such as the National Theatre in Iganmu, Old Federal Secretariat, Ikoyi, among others, that were converted into accommodation by these sets of people.

“These makeshift structures and shanties are considered ‘illegal structure’, at least from physical planning definition and have become normal place of abode for the homeless, destitute and criminals of all hues.

“All over the world, governments are always draw their searchlights on such dwelling places”, said Mr Raheem Ajani, a retired Town Planner in Lagos State, who urged professional display in the execution of urban redevelopment programmes embarked upon by the state.

It was in its efforts to reeve up its urban renewal programme that informed the demolition of what officials classified as shanties and illegal structure in Ikoyi and Victoria Island axis, recently, including Ilubirin, where scores of dwellers were displaced.

Mostly affected was a community earlier known as “Ebute-Ikate”, but later christened “Otodo-Gbame”, when ‘illegal migrants came to the community;  a name some associated to Togo or Benin Republic origin.

According to government officials, the demolition exercise was embarked upon based of security reports and several petitions by the various residents’ associations and groups to the Lagos Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, over alleged atrocities being perpetrated by criminals who lives among the occupants of the settlement.

However, expressing reservation over the generalisation that Otodo-Gbame community, that harboured hundreds of inhabitants was a haven for criminal elements, displaced residents have made an appeal to the Federal government to assist them in rebuilding their destroyed community, argued that criminal activities are present everywhere.

When the  Nigerian Tribune visited the site yesterday, few people were there loitering around.

One of the young men who spoke on the situation noted that if there are allegation of criminal activities, the onus lies on the security agents to fish out criminals in Otodo-Gbame, instead of total demolition”, said Boyo Isaacson, who said he was a fisherman, doing his legitimate work before the demolition.

Another elderly man who gave his name simply as “Thomas”, described the demolition as “flagrant disobedience of a court order”, adding that the evictees had commenced contempt proceeding against the Lagos State government over the demolition; a copy of court order he said would be made available if Nigerian Tribune reporter can come back next Monday.

At the time of the eviction, another CSO,  Co-director of Justice Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a community-based legal and empowerment organisation, Megan Chapman, told reporters that their lawyers will file the papers the following day, since the demolition took place at a weekend.

According to Chapman, about 4,698 people were affected by the demolition carried out by Lagos State task force, police and officials from the Ministry of Environment without any prior notice.

“Good enough, Lagos State government, either heeding the warning by the group, or in continuation of its urban renewal programmes, two days after the warning, carried out the demolition of shanties and illegal structures, both in the V.I and Ikoyi.

“Beyond Eti-Osa, other areas that government and security agents need to bear their search light include the abandoned public places such as the National Theatre, Old Secretariat, Ikoyi, including the suburbs, where there is concentration of able-body young men, who are from Northern part of the country.

“One curious thing is that these young men do not speak either English or pidgin, while some who speak Hausa are said not to be of northern Nigerian origin, but probably, from Niger or other places.

“But fact remains that they cohabiting with hausa’s, in the markets and the Sabos and they come to Lagos in droves on monthly, if not weekly basis, without any means of accommodation, employment, or sustenance.

“But most difficult to understood is that within few weeks,  many of them will be mixing freely in the neighbourhoods without anybody asking questions”, said Comrade Tajudeen Osho, who is also an environmentalist.

This security concern became more worrisome, if a warning, purportedly emanated from the directorate of security service (DSS), as it appeared on social media last Monday, was anything to go by, that Boko Haram fighters and their Symphatisers have arrived, or planning to storm Nigeria, and that their destinations are to be Lagos, Rivers and Kwara States respectively.

However, the Lagos State government on Tuesday clarified its position on why illegal shanties and unwholesome habitation were cleared around Ilado and seafront areas beside Freedom Road, in Lekki, Lagos.

The Government said the Environment Ministry’s action was carried out in order to forestall an environmental disaster and another round of deadly skirmishes that led to the razing of the Otodo Gbame community in November 2016.

In a statement signed by the State’s Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, said the action was informed by the overriding public interest to ensure that the waterfront area is free from environmentally injurious and unsanitary habitation few months after it was consumed by fire and rendered uninhabitable.

The Government also denied flouting any court judgment as incorrectly alleged, insisting that it owes a duty to the larger population of the State to ensure that public health and safety is maintained.

According to the statement, “the Otodo Gbame community is one of the 39 claimant communities that had commenced action to enforce their fundamental rights pursuant to Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 before Onigbanjo. J of Lagos Division of the High Court of Lagos State in Suit No. LD/4232MFHR/2016..AKAKPO & 38 ORS vs. AG L/S & 3 ORS.

“Besides, the trial judge did not deliver judgment on the matter but rather referred the parties to Multi Door House for mediation.

“The leave granted to enforce their rights was tantamount to an order of status quo ante bellum on the parties, which amongst other things required that the claimants do not take any action within the area after it was destroyed by fire.

“The undisputed fact is that Otodo Gbame was engulfed by fire that razed down the entire community in November 2016, which rendered the area uninhabitable’.

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