Nigerian authorities urged to end forceful eviction of waterfront communities

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A section of Otodo-Gbame littered with demolition debris © Deji Akinpelu

Lagos state authorities in southern Nigeria have been evicting more than 30,000 residents from the Otodo-Gbame community on the outskirts of the city citing environmental concerns as well as security against “militants” as the reason for the demolitions.

The first evictions began in November 2016 where in addition to the stranded thousands, 11 people died. They continued till April 2017 even with the Lagos State High Court order in January to stop the forceful evictions. The court ordered a mediation process between the state government and the community instead. This should have been the end. Right? Wrong! The evictions continued.

Amnesty International in a new report titled “The Human Cost of a Megacity: Forced Evictions of the Urban Poor in Lagos” released on Tuesday has detailed the repeated forced evictions of the Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin communities carried out since March 2017 without any consultation, adequate notice, compensation or alternative housing being offered to those affected.

The report, which was carried out over a 19-month period, based its findings on 18 field investigations by researchers.

According to the report, some evictees drowned as they fled police gunfire, while at least one was shot dead.

“These ruthless forced evictions are just the most recent examples of a practice that has been going on in Nigeria for over a decade in complete defiance of international law,” said Osai Ojigho, Amnesty International Nigeria’s Country Director.

“Evictions must stop”

Amnesty International now says these violent, unlawful campaign of demolitions and forced evictions of waterfront communities in Lagos State must stop.

Ojigbo said “for the residents of these deprived communities, many of whom rely on their daily fish catch to make a living, the waterfront represents home, work and survival. Forced evictions mean they lose everything – their livelihoods, their possessions and in some cases their lives.

“The Lagos state authorities must halt these attacks on poor communities who are being punished for the state’s urban planning failures. The instability and uncertainty created by forced evictions is making their lives a misery as they are left completely destitute,” Ojigbo added.

In their research, they spoke to 97 evicted people all of whom told a similar story of being made homeless and losing almost all their possessions.

The report talks of how the authorities have set houses on fire, shot live ammunition and teargas at residents and then sent bulldozers in to destroy their homes.

Those under attack

The evictions of the Ilubirin and Otodo-Gbame communities who live at the waterfronts were done without genuine consultation with affected residents. These two communities make up the largest informal fishing settlements in Lagos.

Pastor Ashegbon amid the ruins: ‘Our pleas fell on deaf ears.’
Picture by Andrew Esiebo for The Guardian

“The children were still sleeping inside when the demolishers started tearing their house apart,” 48-year-old Pastor Ashegbon, an evictee from Otodo Gbame, told the Guardian in May.” The baale [local leader] and I went out to inquire what they wanted inside our neighbourhood. They told us that they have come to demolish our homes, and when we asked why, they said it was an order from the government. We tried pleading with them and they told us to wait for their boss; when the man arrived he ordered them to continue with the demolitions.”

Pastor Mallon Agbejoye.
Picture by Andrew Esiebo for The Guardian

“We sleep in these piles of ruins. When it gets dark we make tents of mosquito nets and sleep inside them with our children. We are stranded with our family with no money and no shelter. Accommodation inside the city is expensive and we cannot afford it,” 70-year-old Pastor Mallon Agbejoye, another evictee said.

Omolayo Ikumola
Picture by Andrew Esiebo for The Guardian

“I have just come back from burying my husband and it wasn’t even a week before this demolition took place,”Omolayo Ikumola, a 45-year-old widow told the Guardian.” Before my children were in school, I had a small business through which I sustained my family and me. But now we don’t have any other means of livelihood.”

Panic that had struck the residents sent them in all directions of their neighbourhood. Eyewitnesses reported seeing drowned bodies in the nearby lagoon as they ran from gunfire.

“After a couple of days we started seeing the bodies floating. I saw three – a man with a backpack and a pregnant woman with a baby on her back. The community youths brought the bodies from the water. The relatives of the pregnant woman and child came to take their bodies,” an evictee Celestine Ahinsu told Amnesty International.

Government response

Lagos government has consistently denied their involvement in the evictions.

October 9, 2016, the Lagos Governor stated that waterfront demolitions are intended to stem a rise in kidnappings in the state, alleging that irregular structures serve as hideouts for criminals.

In November 2016, they blamed the evictions on a communal clash that resulted in fires which razed down the community.

In March 2017, the government said its actions that month were taken to protect environmental health.

In April 2017, they defended the evictions in a series of tweets describing the Otodo Gbame slum as illegal.

 

The State Ministry of Justice said the government forcibly evicted thousands of Otodo-Gbame residents because it had reason to believe that “militants are hiding amongst the people in the Otodo-Gbame and are perfecting plans to attack the Lekki and Victoria Island environs using the settlement as a base”.

“While the state may need to address security and environmental concerns, destroying people’s homes and forcibly evicting thousands who live along the Lagos waterfronts is a completely disproportionate response and is not the answer. Forced evictions are totally prohibited under international law and never justified,” said Osai Ojigho.

Residents salvage objects from houses demolished by government officials in Otodo Gbame waterfront in Lagos. Photograph: Sunday Alamba/AP

“Slums like Otodo Gbame, have popped up with residents typically unable to avoid high rent costs in main parts of the city. But while they have lived unperturbed for years, previously undesirable waterfront slums are now seen as lucrative real estate opportunities,” an article on The Quartz notes.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and other international and regional human rights treaties, which Nigeria is a party to reckon that a country should ensure its citizens have the right to adequate housing, together with other economic and social rights, and to prevent and refrain from carrying out forced evictions.

The report by Amnesty International highlights how in at least three occasions between 9 November 2016 and 9 April 2017, the residents of Otodo-Gbame were attacked by armed men who they identified as being from the neighbouring Ikate Elegushi community. 15 people sustained varying degrees of injuries, while one person died during these attacks. Among other incidences highlighting the plight of the communities living at the waterfronts.

The findings were shared with the Lagos state authorities but there has been no response. There have also been meetings with government officials which seem to have yielded no fruits.

Need for investigations and safeguards

“The Lagos government must set up a panel of inquiry to investigate the forced evictions and attacks at Ilubirin and Otodo-Gbame. All those responsible for criminal acts – including officers of the state – must be brought to justice through fair trials,” said Osai Ojigho.

The evictions in the Ilubirin and Otodo-Gbame communities have been termed as illegal and that they occurred without genuine consultation with affected residents, adequate prior notice, provision of compensation or alternative housing. As a result, many of those evicted are homeless and have lost their livelihoods.

“There must be a moratorium on mass evictions until the Lagos state government has regulations in place that ensure evictions comply with international standards.

“Finally, the authorities must urgently launch an investigation into the whereabouts of all those reported missing following the Ilubirin and Otodo-Gbame forced evictions,” Osai Ojigho added.