The Battle For Land Rights and Agony of  Displaced Lagos Residents 

He squats with his family on a parcel of land where the house in which he once lived was built. Overlooking his new makeshift structure, some metres away, are high rise buildings that are still under construction in what used to be Badia East community, in Apapa-Iganmu Local Council Development Area of Lagos State. Part of the community was first demolished by the Lagos State government in February 2013 when Babatunde Fashola was governor of the state. The government then followed up its action by initiating a housing project under a World Bank assisted programme as part of measures to rebuild slum settlements in the state of which Badia East was identified as one. The buildings are currently being constructed by Ibile Holdings Limited, Lagos State government’s investment company, as posters on the fence of the construction site indicate.

A fenced Plot in Babalola

According to residents of Badia East who lost their homes to the demolition, the new structures are supposed to be for those whose houses were demolished to pave way for the construction but many of them do not believe they will ever get to occupy the buildings when they are completed. On July 31 when the magazine visited Badia East to interact with some residents, none of them responded in the affirmative to questions bothering on whether they look forward to residing in the new buildings. Rather, the question, for some of them, elicited painful memories of how they were brutally ejected from their land on the premise that they would be resettled in a new housing estate . The reason for their pessimism is the treatment they said they have been subjected to ever since their houses were destroyed.

After the 2013 demolition, they said, there had been three more destructions, after Akinwunmi Ambode succeeded Fashola as governor in 2015. According to one respondent, the first demolition under Ambode happened when he marked his first 100 days in office.

Badia East

To the displaced residents,  who by then, and even now, were squatting in open spaces in makeshift structures within the neighbourhood, that was an indication that they were not going to fare any better under the new administration, and that their dream of being resettled or compensated may be hard to realise. Though many victims of the first demolition in Badia East  were compensated after lawyers to the community, the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) and later, Justice & Empowerment Initiatives-Nigeria, JEI petitioned the World Bank, sources told the magazine that the money was hardly enough to rent a flat for a year in many parts of Lagos let alone buy land or build on it.

The magazine learnt that under the Resettlement Action Plan, RAP, large structure owners (8 rooms and above), received N309, 760; medium structure owners (5-7 rooms) got N248,740; small structure owners (1-4 rooms) N171,725 while each of the tenant households received N90,400.

Ongoing Housing Estate in Badia East

Megan Chapman, co-founder of JEI, told the magazine that “the final resettlement action plan had financial assistance for 2,252 displaced households from the 23 February 2013 forced eviction.”

A field research on Badia East  by Natalie Bugalski titled ‘An Evaluation of the Inspection Panel’s Early Solutions Pilot in Lagos, Nigeria’ published in May 2016 states that, of those who received financial compensation under the RAP, “only 7% said they knew in advance how much they would receive, while 93% of respondents said they either did not know in advance the amount they would receive or they received less than they thought they would. None said they agreed to the amount. When asked the question, “Was the compensation enough to put you back to your pre-demolition situation?” almost 95% of persons compensated said no. Meanwhile, none of the survey respondents said they received the skills or job training promised in the RAP: 64% said they did not, while 36% said they did not know.”

Buildings under construction in Ilubirin

Olufemi Anjola Ilawole, one of the victims that are yet to receive compensation, told the magazine that after the 2013 demolition, Fashola visited the community and held a meeting with residents where he assured them that the new housing units would be built in phases and that displaced residents would be resettled in them. “Fashola came and said, when they complete first batch, second batch (victims) will move to first batch before they go to third batch. But only one batch was done before the demolition (by Ambode’s administration),” he said.

Jerry Arabemen,  another resident, said he was part of the audience on the day Fashola visited.

L-R: Ferdinand Simenu, Maurice Fangnon,  Majemu Idowu, Mrs. Malomo, Joachim Omotehinse,

“After the demolition, Fashola came. We were facing each other, standing very close to each other when I asked him about what the future entailed for us, and he said that the demolition would be in phases and that nothing would happen to this area (where the TELL reporter was interviewing him, which had long been demolished by Ambode’s administration). He said we would be moved to the buildings after the first phase is completed.” But that assurance is one the people no longer have faith in as they say there has not been any meaningful dialogue with the state government since then and that efforts by them to engage with government had been rebuffed.

Emmanuel Oladele Ojuri, another victim, told the magazine that the last time the displaced people of Badia East, along with many other victims of demolition in other parts of Lagos, mobilized and visited the Lagos State Government House in Alausa, some of them were beaten up. His statement was corroborated by Majemu Idowu, who said she was among those assaulted.

“Earlier this year, we decided to go on a peaceful rally to Alausa. We were beaten and arrested and put in a black maria. I ran and left my shoes. At a point I could not run, I had to crawl,” she said through an interpreter. Speaking further, Idowu, who said she lost her “own house, husband’s house, and children’s house” to the demolition, said seven members of her household have died since the demolition and that her health has deteriorated as well as a result of the demolition.

Having since lost their homes, many of the displaced residents, including Elizabeth Malomo and Joachim Omotehinse, both of who say they have lived in Badia East since 1973, and have nowhere to go, erected makeshift wooden structures within the land which barely shields them from the weather elements. One after the other,  residents recounted the plight of living in an environment with little or no sanitary facilities, exposed to rain or sun as the case may be and with barely enough to eat. Like many others, Ilawole, from Ondo State, western Nigeria, described the pain he has gone through as “indescribable,” saying that he and others had been shortchanged by a government that’s supposed to ensure their welfare and survival.

In Ilubirin, Lagos Island, a similar situation subsists. Former residents of a waterfront community where a housing estate is currently being constructed, do not think they are in consideration for people who will get to occupy the buildings when they are completed. Information on the project website states that the apartments were designed by SOATA Architects, while the plan and design for the waterfront district was carried out by South Africa based GAPP. The main contractor is Arbico while First Investment Development Company is the development manager. The housing units, planned to be “two and three bedroom apartments” is described by its promoters as “affordable luxury apartments on the lagoon.” But former residents of the land do not think they will have a taste of it.

“The house they are building is not for us. I don’t believe it is for us. They (government) did not talk about that. It’s for others,” replied Peter Simenu, the Baale or traditional head of the displaced residents whose major occupation is fishing.

L-R: Peter Simenu, and Odet.

Like in Badia East,  residents of Ilubirin lost their homes during Fashola’s term when the bulldozers suddenly rolled in and reduced structures there to scraps, leaving the people homeless. While that demolition displaced thousands of them, some others moved closer to the lagoon to erect stilt structures and continue with their life. But on Monday, July 30, this year,  some people, said to be workers at the housing estate, accompanied by policemen came and asked them to vacate the area. Speaking through an interpreter, Mathew Gbenukpo, one of the residents, told the magazine that at about 10.00 that morning, the people came with police and cut the barb wire separating the settlement from the construction site and asked them to pack up and go. “We asked, why? We had just returned from the river. We asked, what happened? We are here, we don’t steal, we don’t cause any harm. They said they don’t want to see anybody, we should move down-down (into the lagoon). We started packing, they scattered everything and left.”

Despite being warned, Gbenukpo said that some of the residents chose not to relocate and that infuriated the men who returned in the night, this time without policemen and threatened to kill anyone that flouted their order.

Ferdinand Simenu, a 16-year-old resident of Ilubirin, said the attackers burnt his family property, including his school uniform. “They burnt some of our fishing net and some property and asked us to leave. They burnt my school uniform and property and I can’t go to school now. All my sisters and brothers clothes, they burnt everything and all of them are moving around, they have nowhere to stay now.”

As a result of the threat, some residents of Ilubirin – young and old – have relocated further into the lagoon to erect stilt structures. The reporter rode on a canoe to assess both the old and new settlements. Many of the residents looked unhappy as they tried to come to terms with their new reality. But it is one they are used to, as many of them seem to have lost count of the number of times they were ejected from their land. “We were living there (where the housing estate is being built) before we were driven. It started during Fashola’s time. They keep coming – not once or twice. They come with task force. Even as we are in this new place now, we are not sure of our fate. They had driven us from here before. During the scuffle from the invasion, somebody died and two children went missing. It happened in the night. We never saw the children to this day,” one of the residents said.

Isaac Abraham, another victim of the demolition, said people of Ilubirin have lived there all their lives and have nowhere else to go. “Starting from our forefathers, we’ve lived here for up to 100 years. I have lived here for 42 years. I have no other place to go to. We are fishermen.”

Not far from Ilubirin  is another waterfront settlement called Ojuolokun. For the residents, life has also not been easy. On August 16, residents of the community were attacked by four policemen said to be attached to the Ilubirin housing estate who claimed to have orders to eject them. The resultant confusion led to the death of a woman, her child and a  ten year old boy who drowned in a bid to escape.

Professor Maurice Fangnon of the Centre for the Defence of Human Right and Democracy in Africa, who has been in the forefront of fighting for the rights of displaced people in Lagos, told the magazine that the body of the woman and two children were recovered from the lagoon three days after the police attack. He said it was the second attack in less than two weeks and that the people can identify the policemen. After the first attack, Fangnon said the Divisional Police Officer of Dolphin, the Area Commander and Police Commissioner in the state were informed about it.

The incident happened 12 days after the reporter visited Ojuolokun. On that day, Odet, a resident of the community who makes a living selling fish, said the people of the area have lived under constant harassment by government officials over the years.

Like many others, Odet said her family used to live at Ilubirin before they were chased away. “I was still young and hadn’t married when they started harassing us. I have been married for 22 years. From Ilubirin to here, it’s been over 20 times we’ve faced harassment.”

She added that the constant harassment from Lagos government officials is the reason the people choose not to build good structures. “If we use money to build better structures, government could come and destroy them, so, from experience, we decided to build it as simple as this (make shift), to minimize losses,” she explained.

In Lekki, what used to be a bustling waterfront community called Babalola, which was demolished last year, is currently being developed but some of the people who lived there told the magazine that they are not among those slated to benefit from whatever new buildings that may arise. So far, the Babalola land that served as home to some estimated 10,000 people, have been marked out and fenced. The company handling the construction is Periwinkle Lifestyles Estate and its office overlooks Babalola.  Some former residents of Babalola, who today are scattered in different parts of Lagos, told the magazine that after their forceful ejection by heavily armed security officials who stormed the community with bulldozers, some people died from frustration while many marriages have crashed as a result of parents not  being able to secure new accommodation or provide for their families. The tales of agony, want and frustration are not much different from what residents of Badia East, Ilubirin and Ojuolokun complained about. Residents of waterfront communities are, however, not the only ones complaining. There are many other buildings that were, since last year, demolished by the Lagos State government in different parts of the state, including Agege, where a flyover project is currently ongoing. Houses and businesses were lost to the demolition, leading to outcry by affected residents. The Lagos State government promised to compensate those whose properties were destroyed. In June, this year, media reports revealed that “over 500 shanties and illegal structures within and outside the Oko-Oba abattoir and Lairage Complex in Agege were demolished by the state government as part of an effort to ensure adequate upgrading and transformation of the complex for improved operations.” When the reporter visited Oko-Oba abattoir in August to assess the situation, a source told the magazine that though the market is owned by the state government, the demolished shops were owned by individuals and that the state government didn’t talk about compensation for anyone. They are not the only ones lamenting.

Of all the places visited by the reporter, only in Badia East, did residents admit knowing people who were compensated. The rest said they were left to their fate. According to Fangnon, more than two million people were forcefully ejected from their homes in Lagos without compensation.

“We have not noticed any single compensation among the over two million people affected by demolitions in  Lagos State. If you go to Ajelogo, Ketu (where the state government also demolished structures in 2009) nobody was compensated. If you go to Ilubirin, nobody was compensated. If you go to Ojuolokun, nobody was compensated; Atitporome (which was demolished in December 2013),  and others, no single person was compensated. They just push them out: go and stay even in the sea,  that is not their concern. They push people from their land under the guise that the state wants to use the place but they turn and give it to private developers.”

One of the private developers is Periwinkle Lifestyles Estate which sources say is a front for a royal family in Lekki  that has been fingered by some residents of Otodo Gbame, another waterfront community that was demolished and set ablaze by agents of Lagos State government  last year, for instigating the assault on their community using their links with the state government. The reporter visited Periwinkle Lifestyles Estate’s office in Lekki Phase 1 on August 14 and met  Victor Enyigwa, the company’s head of sales. But he refused to grant an interview to the reporter on the company’s plans for Babalola but rather said he would arrange for the company’s lawyers to speak to him. He promised to call the reporter before the end of the week but never did. Subsequent phone calls and text messages to his phone were neither picked nor replied.

The magazine also reached out to the Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development and the Ministry of Housing for comments on both the demolished slums and ongoing construction in some of the areas but nothing came out of the efforts. A letter requesting for interview was sent to both ministries. Adebote Kunle, Personal Assistant to the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, later told the magazine that the interview request should be directed to the Ministry of Housing as it is in charge of buildings. When he was reminded that some of the building projects in question are in waterfront areas, he insisted that the ministry can only respond after the Ministry of Housing has reacted. At the Ministry of Housing,  two different officials, one of who was identified as Tope said the reporter will be contacted for the interview and despite reminders, there was no response as at press time.

While the displaced residents lament and question the actions of the state government, Babatunde Oni, an Associate Professor in the department of private and property law, University of Lagos, said while the Land Use Act empowers the governor of a state to revoke and take over land for overriding public purpose, the law requires that the victims be compensated

“Where land has been revoked for overriding public purposes, those who own the land, are supposed to be compensated. Section 29 talks of compensation for unexhausted improvement – not for value of the land. The same section 29 also makes provision for resettlement in lieu of compensation. So when the government takes your land and feels that compensation is not sufficient, it can give you alternative accommodation in lieu of compensation.” He pointed out that the law spells out how the revocation of land should be carried out and that the people have the right to challenge the revocation where they feel the law was breached. “Section 44 of the Land Use Act provides for how the governor can revoke. Notice must be communicated, there must be evidence that the people actually received it and the purpose for which that land is being revoked must be stated. So, a governor is actually empowered to revoke but he must follow the procedure of law. Any revocation that runs contrary to what the land use Act states, would be invalid.”

He added that a governor cannot revoke land under section 28 for overriding public purpose and then convert it to private use. “Where it happens, those involved can challenge government (in court)…except where government, for example,  acquires land and gives it to a private person to build for low-income earners like public servants and they are giving it to them through mortgage at a lower rate. But if you give it to a private developer who develops and is selling the property to rich people, that would not serve the public purpose.”

A Resident Of Ilubirin

The scholar further pointed out that the Land Use Act was originally meant to make land accessible to all citizens especially for agricultural purpose but that the aim has been defeated. “It has failed. It’s not for this (private estates, etc) they are doing. It’s under Land Use Act that you obtain your certificate of occupancy, it’s under Land Use Act that you obtain consent from the governor. All these are very expensive, they are not within the range of what a poor man can afford. Instead of following to the letter, what obtains under the Land Use Act, they are making money out of it, making it more cumbersome for people to even obtain,” he said, adding “It takes years before you can get a certificate of occupancy. These are problems created under the Land Use Act. So I think those who are implementing the law are the problem.”

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Muyiwa Agunbiade, a lecturer in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Lagos also has his reservation about the Land Use Act and wants it reviewed. “On a more serious note, we really need to revisit our landholding system in Nigeria. I have said this repeatedly and any opportunity I have, I say it. Government has no business with land ownership.  Go to any developed country in the world, land is a commodity that’s bought and sold and when you don’t allow people to own land, it’s one of the problems we have in developing countries. The business of government is how to use land, not ownership. Government is supposed to hands-off ownership and concentrate on the use of land,” he said.  While noting that whoever controls the use of land invariably controls ownership,  Agunbiade advised that the best bet to avoid controversies arising from waterfront and slum demolitions is to hands-off ownership and return to post-colonial system of land ownership. “Before the British came, our traditional system was working for us. In my own village, there were no cases of people fighting over land because the elder in the family makes clear who owns which portion. They imposed all these foreign ideas on us when the British came, running parallel with the traditional system and then complicating things.”

On who, between government and slum dwellers should be blamed for slum demolitions, Agunbiade said, “There are claims, but my own perspective is that everybody has right to the city. Just as you and I have right to the city, they (slum dwellers) equally have right to the city, so let government go back to the drawing board and address that, not coming one day and just demolish a place with bulldozers because you want to westernize everywhere.”

He urged Nigerian governments to emulate countries like Malaysia and Singapore where slums were developed in a way that residents didn’t feel shortchanged.

Unless government cedes land ownership to the people,  Agunbiade said slum and controversies arising from their demolition, will continue. “If you don’t sort out land ownership, slum will forever live with us in Nigeria. The way we are going about it, Land Use Act, decree or whatever we call it is a monster. The more it prevails, the more we have problems in this country. Let land go back to the people and let government control its use and plan effectively how it’s used. When that is done, cases like Makoko (a slum in Lagos) won’t arise.”

Perhaps, until the Land Use Act is reviewed, many residents of communities like Ojuolokun will find it difficult to own dream homes. Odet, the fish seller in Ojuolokun, told the magazine that residents of the area have the capacity to build better structures if encouraged to do so. Speaking about the frustration and threat residents of her community face from government agencies, she said: “Because of constant harassment, there’s no going forward, no going backward. If the Lagos State government can allow us to build proper shelter, we are ever ready; If government wants to build for us to pay, we are ready. They say they don’t want to see these types of buildings (in her community), so they should tell us the type of building they want us to build to their own taste.”

*Investigation of this project was carried out with financial support from the International Land Coalition and African Centre for Media Excellence.

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