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Otodo-Gbame demolition: Many questions begging for answers

The last has definitely not been heard about issues that led to the demolition of over 500 houses in Otodo-Gbame Community in Lekki area of Lagos State, especially with residents estimated at around 30,000 rendered homeless.

While thousands of the hapless residents of the water community are demanding for justice, the Lagos State government has distanced itself from demolition exercise, while the United Nations (UN) is asking questions that demand answers.

It will be recalled that last week, the Lagos State government’s seat of power, The State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja, was brought to a standstill when scores of residents, including children, youths and the elderly, as well as nursing mothers stormed the Lagos State Government House and the State House of Assembly, both in Alausa, to protest the demolition of their houses by security agents and hoodlums believed to have the backings of certain ‘powerful’ people in the state, including one of the commissioners in the Akinwunmi Ambode-led government.

Following the outrage that greeted the demolition exercise, which is believed to have ultimately led to the death of no fewer than seven people, the UN has since waded into the unpleasant development demanding answers to what is believed in some quarters to be one of the lowest scores of the present administration in the state in the past 18 months.

Tribune Property recalls that on Thursday, last week, the United Nations Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, demanded an explanation from both the Lagos and Nigerian government over the forced eviction last week of inhabitants of Otodo Gbame, a waterfront slum community on the edge of the Lagos lagoon.

According to the Justice and Empowerment Initiative, a non-governmental organization that had worked extensively with the community people, almost 30,000 people were rendered homeless.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing is a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context.

“It has been brought to my attention that the evictions may have involved the extreme use of force and fire by the Nigerian police force and Lagos State Government, leaving individuals and families scrambling in the middle of the night to find safety and shelter,” Ms. Farha had said, insisting that the mass displacement and reports of deaths were “deeply disturbing.”

More worrisome to the UN, according to Ms. Farha, is the fact that the methods used in the demolition were at variance with international human rights law.

She had also questioned whether the community was given adequate notice or alternative accommodation, as required by international law.

“What makes these evictions particularly concerning is that they were carried out in blatant disregard of a court order and have completely ignored international human rights guidelines on forced evictions,” the UN Special Rapporteur said.

Needless to say, the Lagos State Government had dissociated itself from the whole demolition exercise, when the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde said in a statement that the government did not authorize the burning down of the community.

The Commissioner said while the Otodo Gbame shanties clearly fell within the prime waterfront areas where Lagos State Government would prefer to have better development befitting of a prime area in a mega city, it was mindful of the fundamental rights of the various residents living in the area.

According to Mr. Ayorinde, while government was not unaware of the legal tussle over the areas and the rights of citizens to stage peaceful protests, relevant agencies of government had since been deployed to provide succour and lessen the pains of the displaced people.

But the whole development begs the question: who truly authorised the demolition of over 500 houses, which was done in such an inhuman fashion that security agents were said to have joined hoodlums in pouring petrol in houses that still had people’s property in them, and setting them on fire?

Residents of the community have alleged that the demolition was part of a grand plan by some “powerful” people in the state to acquire land in the community with a view to converting it into personal properties that would be sold for millions of naira in years to come, just like what happened in Maroko, Lekki, years back.

It is not an usual thing for the government of any country to take over certain properties or parts of a community for over-riding public interest, or simply to create an avenue for the government to make more money, such as what happened in Maroko.

It will be recalled that Lekki which has emerged as one of the most expensive places not just in Lagos State, but in Nigeria as a whole, once played host to Maroko, one of the most popular slums in Lagos over two decades ago. The government of Lagos State at the time, had, in a surprising move, mapped out Maroko for other plans, and despite public outrage that greeted the move then, the government soon began to carry out massive demolition of Maroko slum. Massive sand dredging exercise soon followed, and in a few years, the ‘new Lekki’ was born out of the slum of Maroko, where a piece of land was sold for several millions of naira for the super rich in the country.

Though, as earlier explained, the Lagos State government has denied having anything to do with the demolition in Otodo-Gbame, but in the past, the government is also known to have taken over lowly-rated markets and kee-clamps in the past only to set up ultramodern markets that could only be occupied by the rich only in their place.

Bearing all these in mind, the fear and alarm raised by residents of Otodo-Gbame of the grand plot by some ‘powers’ to take over their community cannot just be treated with kid gloves, and while the government maintains its innocence in the whole development, it is noteworthy to restate the need for everyone, to truly know who ordered the demolition of Otodo-Gbame Community.