Tuesday 18 April 2017

Environment activists fault Lagos on actions against waterfront communities

Environment activities under the aegis of  Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation (Federation) and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) have faulted the action of the Lagos State government on waterfront communities, saying that the violent forced eviction of Otodo Gbame a couple of weeks ago is condemnable, moreso as it was carried out in brazen disregard of a subsisting court order.

In the early morning of April 9, 2017, residents of Otodo Gbame – an ancestral, predominantly Egun, fishing settlement in Lekki – woke up to policemen beaming torchlight into their homes, telling them to get out.

As residents scrambled to rescue children and belongings, policemen began shooting teargas and live bullets to chase residents out of their homes and into wooden boats on the Lagos Lagoon. Soon, policemen began setting homes on fire using kerosene.

When JEI reached the community around 8:30am, staff witnessed at least 60 policemen and three Black Maria mobile detention units marked Lagos State Task Force. The commanding officers said the operation was led by the Lagos State Task Force on orders from state government.

“Uniformed Task Force officials were seen carrying jerry cans of kerosene, splashing it on houses, and setting them on fire. A commanding officer was heard shouting, “the whole place must burn down!” Policemen indiscriminately shot teargas and live bullets towards the Lagos Lagoon where residents huddled in wooden canoes watching their homes burn down”, said Megan Chapman,  JEI’s  co-founder  and  co-director.

 Chapman noted that  a certain Daniel Aya was shot in the neck as he attempted to rescue his family’s belongings. He was carried into a wooden canoe as he bled profusely and taken to a motorboat so he could be taken through the lagoon to hospital, but  he died a few minutes after departing the community.

He added that a 16-year-old boy named Monday Idowu was also shot in the chest, but was taken through the Lagoon to Lagos Island General Hospital on time to receive treatment. Three other men were also shot and suffered serious injuries.  

It will be recalled that the threat to the Lagos waterfront communities began when the state government announced to the media in October last year  its intention to “start demolishing all shanties on waterfronts across the state within 7 days.

Chapman recalled that based on mapping and profiling done by the Federation in informal settlements across Lagos, at least 40 communities and over 300,000 residents fell under this threat of planned eviction.

“After attempts to engage the state government were rebuffed and one community, Ilubirin, was demolished on  October 15,  residents of 14 waterfront communities felt they had no choice but to approach the Lagos State High Court to protect their fundamental rights. They commenced suit against the state governor, the attorney general, the commissioner for physical planning and urban development, and the commissioner of police”, he disclosed.

On November 7, 2016, Justice S. A. Onigbanjo of the  State High Court granted an injunction restraining the state government and the police from proceeding with any demolition of the waterfronts. Despite this order, Otodo Gbame community was demolished and over 30,000 residents forcibly evicted.

Three days after the latest and most violent forced eviction of Otodo Gbame, on April 12 this year,   Justice Onigbanjo delivered his ruling on the contempt proceeding. His Lordship found that the uncontroverted affidavit evidence pointed to the responsibility of the state government for ordering the demolitions in brazen disregard of the orders of the court, actions that he found undermining the principles of constitutional democracy and rule of law.

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