By Monsuru Olowoopejo
London-based non-governmental organisation, Amnesty International, AI, has said the eviction exercise by the Lagos State Government in waterfront communities claimed no fewer than 11 lives, with about 17 residents still missing.
AI added that the exercise carried out by the state government between November 2016 and April 2017, led to the displacement of over 30,000 residents of Otodo-Gbame in Lekki.
The organisation disclosed that about 300,000 residents of waterfront communities are under threat of further forced evictions in the state.
AI claimed that the evictions were carried out in direct violation of court orders issued within the period, stressing that the residents were evicted while they showed Police a copy of the court order that was supposed to prevent government from demolishing their homes.
In the report entitled The Human Cost of a Megacity: Forced Evictions of the Urban Poor in Lagos, released by AI yesterday, it argued that the evictions of the Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin communities were allegedly done without consultation, adequate notice, compensation or alternative houses offered to displaced residents.
During first eviction exercise, the organisation alleged that Police officers and unidentified armed men chased out residents with gunfire and tear-gas, setting homes on fire as bulldozers demolished them.
It noted that in panic, the residents left their property amid the chaos, adding that during their interview of 97 evicted residents, they claimed that some residents drowned in the nearby lagoon, while scampering for safety.
The organisation disclosed that no fewer than nine persons allegedly drowned during the first eviction and another 15 still remain unaccounted for.
Of the 4,700 residents, who remained in Otodo-Gbame after the eviction, some slept in canoes or out in the open, covering themselves with plastic sheets when it rained.
Meanwhile, 823 residents of the nearby Ilubirin community were forcibly evicted within the same period of the Otodo-Gbame eviction embarked upon by the government.
After being given just 12 days’ notice of eviction, AI claimed that Lagos State government officials and dozens of Police officers chased residents out of their homes, and demolished all the structures in the community using fire and wood cutting tools.
The report stated that the victims subsequently returned to the area and rebuilt their structures, but these were demolished six months later with just two days’ oral notice and no consultation.
It’s a biased report, govt responds
However, responding, the state government, in a statement by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, described the report as biased, inaccurate and exaggerated.
The state government argued that Otodo-Gbame has always been a private land and subject of a law suit, which has been decided in favour of the owners.
The statement read: “Lagos State Government insists that Otodo-Gbame was used as a temporary fishing outpost. The fishermen had their permanent homes in Badagry, Cotonou (Benin Republic) and Lome (Togo).
“Indeed, many of such people have returned to their homes since the unfortunate fire incident of November 2016. The rest should be encouraged to do likewise rather than spur them on to play the victim, fight legal owners of the land or to demonise government.
‘Our duty as govt’
“Lagos State Government has no interest in the land whatsoever since it is a private property. The interest of the state is to rid the prime waterways of shanties and illegal structures, particularly when security intelligence has shown clearly that they are either safe havens or gateways for robbers, kidnappers and militants.
“Lagos State Government sees a correlation in the reduction of kidnappings through the waterways and creeks of Lagos Island, Ikorodu, Epe, Ojo and the removal of illegal shanties from our prime waterfront areas.
“The position of Lagos State Government has been consistent. While government is demonstrably compassionate to the plight of the less-privileged and the urban poor and has continued to engage them in useful talks in line with international conventions and treaties, we urge Amnesty International UK to appreciate the fact that government was elected to protect the general public and promote livable environment.”