Residents of Otodo-Gbame, a fishing settlement outside Lekki, Lagos, on Friday, March 17, raised alarm over an ongoing demolition of houses and destruction of properties despite a subsisting court injunction stopping the forceful eviction of residents.
According to a claim by the inhabitants of the area, about 8.30 a.m. on Friday, three backhoes accompanied by anti-terror police officers and officials of the Lagos State environmental task force arrived the community and started pulling down houses and other structures.
They alleged that they were shocked by the demolition as they had not been served notice of demolition by the state government.
This would make it the second time in five months that houses in the community will be pulled down.
On November 9, 2016, a gang of boys linked to the Elegushi family had attacked residents of Otodo-Gbame in the wee hours of the morning and went ahead to set their bamboo houses ablaze.
They called in police officers from nearby Ilasan police station to intervene in the fracas but they were shocked that when the police officers arrived, they soon joined the hoodlums and started pulling down and setting fire to their homes, residents claim.
But curiously, the incident took place one day after the ruling of a Lagos State High Court stopping Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who had vowed to demolish all illegal waterfront communities in the state, from carrying on with his threat. The demolition was halted following a well-reported protest by residents at the office of the Lagos governor.
Nevertheless, just four months after they came back to piece together what was left of their lives and belongings, resident say officials of the state’s Ministry of Environment task force entered the community and started demolishing the rebuilt parts of the town.
Speaking on the issue, Megan Chapman, co-director of Justice Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a community-based legal and empowerment organisation, which represents the residents of Otodo-Gbame, said at least 4,598 people will be affected by today’s demolition.
“I’m here now. I can tell you who is on-ground is Lagos State task force, police, officials from the Ministry of Environment, Lagos State, those are ones that put on the navy blue with red uniforms and also, military wearing red beret. They are the ones on ground and demolishing the houses,” she said.
Ms. Chapman said the officials on ground claimed that the state government was personally overseeing the demolition in a helicopter that hovered overhead. “There was absolutely no notice whatsoever. They just showed up this morning,” she added.
She said the action by the state government on Friday was even more alarming as they had just kicked off a court-ordered mediation with the state government last week.
“As you are probably aware there is a case going on right now between 15 waterfront communities including Otodo-Gbame in which JEI is representing the community as counsel. The Lagos State High Court gave an interim ruling on the 26 of January saying that this type of demolition without an opportunity for people to find alternative shelter or without provision of alternative shelter constitute cruel and degrading treatment.
“The court ordered the state government to go into a mediation with us.
“We started the mediation process last week and it is still on-going and we were supposed to report to the court at the beginning of next month. The court also ordered that the parties should maintain the status quo until the ending of the mediation and the subsequent judgment of the court. So this in direct violation of the court order,” she said.
Similarly, human rights group, Amnesty International, has condemned the on-going demolition, adding that it “condemns forced eviction in any form and calls for a halt. The affected community are entitled to Right to Housing. Forced eviction without consultation, relocation or compensation is a violation.”