Nigeria: Destitution and Pains of Eviction

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Nigeria: Destitution and Pains of Eviction
By: Francis Suberu, National Mirror
07 August 2012

Makoko, a slum area of Lagos State is in every way marginalised and without sign of government presence. Densely populated, the inhabitants lifestyle suggests that the place was already an abandoned turf, as the structures look more like prehistoric and ancient monuments employed in the service of deities. On a visit to the place, the first contact was with a 25 year old man who introduced himself as Mr. Joseph Ajayi, and claims to be born and bred in the slums.

Ajayi however, volunteered to be a tour guide through the complex warrens that go for streets in the slum. The affected area of the Makoko/Iwaya waterfront, according to an eviction notice issued by the Lagos State government was made available to National Mirror by the community leader, Mr Ewajane Osowo.

Speaking, Osowo lamented the high -handedness and shabby treatment meted to inhabitants of the area, as he expressed shock that people who have been settlers in the area for more than 100 years should be asked to evacuate their homes within 72 hours and with no alternative accommodation made available to them.

On the evacuation notice, government claimed that the people failed to heed several warnings earlier issued against an unwholesome erection of illegal structures and shanties around the waterfront.

The notice claimed that the shanties built along the coastline constitute environmental nuisance, security risks, and impediments to economic and gainful utilisation of the waterfront such as navigation, entertainment and recreation.

The community leader, claimed that Makoko is both main land and a lagoon ,but the government had appropriated the area for business and industrial activities and it intends to sell to rich land speculators who in turn will sell them to the very rich people to the detriment of the poor and helpless who are now homeless.

A tour of Makoko, revealed that majority of the children there looked malnourished and unkempt, making one to wonder whether irrespective of claims, they are happy in such desolate place.

According Ajayi, he has lived all his life in Makoko, and is not happy the way the government has destroyed their homes, pleading that an alternative accommodation should be made available to them to ease their present plight.

At Makoko, one comes face to face with a people living with nature, as the water is not only putrid but the scale of human faeces makes the air and odour overpowering and pungent. Another displaced resident, Tobi Seun, recalled how they dug borehole through the brackish waters to get potable water. She said they usually buy sachet water for drinking, while that from the borehole is used for bathing, washing their clothes ,cooking and in extreme cases drinking when they run short of money to buy sachet water.

She added that she is not happy with the way the governor of Lagos State destroyed their houses within short notice and making them refugees in the state.

Another community leader said the reason government gave for the demolition was that the community is very close to the power grid and the Third Mainland Bridge, and in the event of an accident, many people would become victims to electrocution. For those houses that are still standing, the government has vowed to demolish them. But for now what has saved them is the massive protest we undertook to the governor’s office at Alausa and the intervention of the United Nations, World Bank and even President Jonathan who have called on the Lagos State Government to tarry in their demolition exercise.

For now, the state government plans is to get a court order in this regard which will empower them to carry on with the exercise. Before now, it did not get any court order to demolish our houses in Makoko. Rather those officials, who supervised the demolition exercise, claimed it was done on the strength of a letter from the Environment Ministry. Another traditional leader in Makoko , said it is not done anywhere there is rule of law, that anyone or government would forcibly evict a people without due process and court order in a very short period of time. It is immoral to ask people to leave like their homes, especially ones they have lived over long periods of time. Most of the victims have been forced to relocate to their villages or stay with their relatives, while others are now around sleeping under the bridges or inside their boats, or sharing accommodation with neighbors whose houses have temporary been spared demolition.

According to many of those who spoke, they claimed that the pre dawn demolition exercise was carried out with team of soldiers, police and other uniformed paramilitaries of the government who manhandled many of the inhabitants who protested over the brutal ways they were treated.

The Police Public Relations Officer, Ngozi Braide, a DSP said that last week, the Commissioner of Police visited the area, to condole with the people of Makoko, as she revealed that he assured them that justice would be done in the matter

“We were not there; we did not know what really happened, so the only way out is to allow justice to take place, since lives were lost during the demolition exercises”.

“The police are responsible for protecting lives and property, and not to take them. Given the ugly situation, we will leave no stone unturned until justice is done”, the traditional leader insisted. “The police man who shot and killed one of the inhabitants has been arrested and detained at the state CID Panti, while investigations are on to ascertain the circumstances of the death as we assure the people of Makoko that justice must be done”.

Original article

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