Following the protest organized by members of waterfront communities in Lagos State against the threat by the Lagos State government to demolish their houses, the state government has come out to clarify its position on the matter.
Steve Ayorinde, Lagos State commissioner for Information and Strategy, at a press briefing on Tuesday attended by Gbolahan Lawal and Babatunde Adejare, commissioner for Housing and Environment respectively, said the decision was aimed at ensuring a cleaner and safer Lagos. Reacting however to concerns raised in some quarters about undue haste relating to the issue, Ayorinde said the people of the waterfront communities had long been carried along by the state government. His clarification came days after officials of the Lagos State government demolished houses in Illubirin, one of the waterfront communities in the state, a move that left residents of other waterfront areas fearing that their community could be next. That necessitated their protest walk to the government House in Alausa on Monday with the aim of registering their grievances. It was the second protest they would be staging within a week but they were unable to meet with the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. However, the Lagos state commissioner of police, Fatai Owoseni, speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa and a top official of the office of civic engagement, Oguntemehin addressed them. According to Megan Chapman, co-founder of Justice and Empowerment Initiative, JEI, an organisation that works closely with the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, comprising of “over 70 slums and informal settlements in Lagos” a seven-day notice was issued to the waterfront communities and all attempts to dialogue with the state government on the way forward failed.
“They(protesting residents) had met the SSA of Civic Engagement the week before during their first protest and he promised to get back to them within 36 hours. Within 36 hours, Ilubirin was demolished. Then, the SSA informed the Federation that he had not yet been able to discuss with the Governor, while the clock on the 7-days’ notice was about to expire. Therefore, the protesters had no choice but to demand to see the person who would actually be able (to) listen and respond to their position. They repeatedly stated their openness to dialogue. However, dialogue only works if it is with those who have the power to engage,” said Chapman. Ayorinde, however, said at the press briefing that the state government had long communicated its intention to the waterfront communities. Even then, he pointed out that many of the houses demolished at Ilubirin did not comply with the state’s urban planning law and were a danger to the society. “The State’s Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law 2010, prohibits erecting structures within the Right of Ways and setbacks of drainage channels, centre-line of overhead electricity wires and also states in very clear terms specified distance to be observed between a Property line and a public utility”, he said, adding “It is quite worrisome that ramshackle structures, sheds, canopies, and shanties, especially along shorelines have turned to the abode of miscreants/street urchins, kidnappers, touts, street traders and hawkers who often vandalize public utilities and attack innocent citizens.” The Lagos spokesman insisted that due process was followed in the demolition and that the state government is committed to enhancing Lagos status.
“You would see that nothing is being done and nothing will be done in Lagos State as far as demolition of illegal structures are concerned without due considerations to the extant laws of the state and without adequately engaging with the communities and the people involved as demonstrated by what the Governor did in Ilubirin to give them more time to move in spite of the repeated warnings and notices that were being served,” he said adding that the greater good for the greater number of people takes precedence. “We would be considerate to the plight of those considered as urban poor, but we will also not allow their situation to jeopardize the safety and security of more than 21 million residents of the state. This is the reason why this is being carried out and this is the reason why the government will not succumb to cheap blackmail.”
To many residents of the waterfront communities, however, the Lagos State government has not addressed the issue of compensation or relocation. They expect an answer to that. Many who spoke to the magazine wonder how a state government could choose to sack people from their homes without making alternative arrangement for them. The relocation threat, they said, had dislocated their lives as many of them, including fishermen, are now unable to go about their work as they are afraid of what could happen next. They said they had lived in the communities for decades and view any attempt at relocating them without compensation a violation of their right to housing.
Animashaun Kayode, who resides in Baiku, one of the riverine communities in the state, said he has lived in the area for 25 years and is at a loss why he should be deprived of a house he worked hard to build. “Where do they want me to go?” he asked no one in particular, during the interview.
Mentol Abel, a student of Reri Senior Secondary School, Oreta, Offin whose family house is also earmarked for demolition, was one of the protesters on Monday. He told the magazine that he was compelled to join older residents of his community and others in protesting the plan because his family has no alternative home. “I was born in Offin and that’s where my parents have lived all these years. When they (government officials) came, they gave us seven days to pack. But where will we go?”
The Nigerian Land Use Act is clear on how lands can be forcefully acquired by the government. While noting that a government may take over a land for an overriding public purpose, it demands that government serves notice of its intention in the official gazette, issues a personal notice to all owners and pays compensation before the acquisition. Many residents of the waterfront communities in the state feel the issue of compensation hasn’t been addressed yet.
“There’s nobody who doesn’t like a good thing. If there’s going to be demolition, there should be alternative homes. If you are taking people’s livelihood from them, you should be able to give them an alternative, not the other way round,” said Bimbo Oshobe, one of the protesting members.
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