Lagos: No Longer Home for the Poor?

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Anthony Akaeze
Anthony Akaeze

By Anthony Akaeze

THERE is a sense in which Lagos, Nigeria’s mega city, commercial and industrial epicentre, is losing its appeal as Nigeria’s go to town! Years ago, Anambra State’s moniker, seen on the state’s vehicle number plates, was “home for all.” It’s a tag that says something about diversity, openness and inclusion which some Nigerians outside the state may not agree with, particularly from a business point of view, as Anambra, to this day, is dominated by Ibo indigenes or businesses owned by them; but the phrase, I had thought, fitted Lagos more. Well, not anymore.

Lagos, in recent years, has posed a nightmare for countless number of the lower class comprising jobless, poor and underprivileged people in the state. This class of people far outnumber the upper class and are the majority in the state of approximately 18 million inhabitants. I know this as true having lived and worked as a journalist in Lagos for many years. From my position as a reporter who had covered stories related to slum settlements in the state and also familiar with the state government’s policies aimed at uprooting inhabitants of slum and waterfront settlements, made up of largely the downtrodden, from their lands, it is difficult to link any altruistic motive to the government’s perennial actions, no matter what garb they are dressed in. When government backed agents suddenly storm a riverine community like Otodo Gbame at dawn and sets the structures there on fire in a bid to scare the inhabitants and take possession of the land as seen in 2017, it leaves little doubt that there’s more to the action than a desire to revamp the land. To say that, of all the filthy vicinities in Lagos, the major attractions for past and present Lagos State governments are slums or waterfront settlements inhabited by many struggling people, says something about how respective governments in the state, from the military days of Raji Rasaki whose government annexed the Maroko waterfront settlement and ended up selling to the highest bidder, to Babatunde Fashola whose government destroyed Badia East slum, to  Akinwunmi Ambode who sanctioned the destruction of Otodo Gbame and now Babajide Sanwo-Olu under whose tenure, Tarkwa Bay and Okun Ayo communities were demolished by the Nigerian Navy last week, thereby rendering, like in previous cases, the residents homeless, treat its most vulnerable people. According to a report by The Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation (Federation) and Justice & Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria, JEI, those who carried out the latest demolition were allegedly acting on “orders from above.” The joint report signed by Megan S. Chapman, Mohammed Zanna, Akinrolabu Samuel, Bimbo Oshobe of the Justice & Empowerment Initiatives and Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation respectively, states that “Around 9am on Tuesday, 21 January, 2020, residents of Okun Ayo and Tarkwa Bay communities – two peaceful beachside communities that are home to an estimated 4,500 fishermen, artisans, artists, and business people engaged in local tourism, among others – were shocked when the military personnel from the Nigerian Navy rushed through the community, shooting guns and ordering everyone to pack out within one hour. Several persons reported violence and at least one resident was shot in the leg. Meanwhile, excavators reportedly began working in Okun Ayo community bringing down buildings, with military stationed to stop any entrance to that area.” The report further reveals that “over the following hours and up through nightfall, thousands of residents packed what belongings they could salvage and struggled to find boats to leave the community, which is accessible only by water. All along the beaches and alongside Tarkwa Bay jetty, residents were seen with their belongings stacked high. Hundreds of boats filled with men, women and children waited in the harbor to know where they could move to take refuge. At CMS jetty on Lagos Island, hundreds of families sat with piles of their belongings, no idea where to go next. Many families ended up sleeping under bridges and in open spaces nearby as night fell and they still had no solution.”

The demolition at Okun Ayo and Tarkwa Bay communities happened at a time displaced residents of Otodo Gbame were hoping to get justice from a Court of Appeal that was reviewing their case, after the Lagos State government challenged a 2017 court judgment declaring the destruction of their land illegal and demanding a resettlement of the people.

The demolition, under Sanwo-Olu’s watch, proves that there’s no respite for residents of slum or waterfront communities in Lagos State and that Sanwo-Olu may be keen to finish what his predecessors started. Though the Lagos State government through its commissioner of information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso denied that the state government was behind the latest demolitions, it is difficult to believe him, given past governments actions and double speak on similar incidents. In the case of Otodo Gbame, for instance, in which Ambode’s administration  came under attack from different quarters, the Lagos State government, on one hand claimed that the inhabitants of Otodo Gbame were not Nigerians;  on another hand, it said that the people were involved in a land tussle with the Elegushi royal family which may have led to their misery.  On another occasion, it justified the demolition of Otodo Gbame on the need to upgrade the environment and check criminality in the area.  A lowly neighbourhood in a rich district of Lekki, Otodo Gbame was inhabited mainly by fishermen and low income earners. Ambode administration’s argument on Otodo Gbame threw up posers. Even if residents of the community were involved in a land dispute with the Elegushis, how did Lagos state staff and security officials get involved in the matter? Who recruited and ordered them to raze Otodo Gbame?

Thinking about the demolition of Tarkwa Bay and Okun Ayo, and the response of the Lagos State government through Omotoso, there’s an obvious link with the past. In an interview with the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, Omotoso was reported as saying that most inhabitants of the demolished communities were non Nigerians and that they were involved in pipeline vandalism and theft of petroleum products. But like Maurice Fangnon, a Lagos-based human rights activist pointed out in an interview with me at Igbosere Court when the Otodo Gbame case came up for hearing in 2017, the issue is not about where anyone hailed from but about people’s rights to housing and life that had been violently violated.

Days after the demolition that saw residents of Okun Ayo and Tarkwa Bay losing their homes, the Lagos State government announced a ban of motorcycle and tricycle transportation in the state. The ban will reportedly take effect from February 1. Omotoso again was on hand to defend the policy, arguing that the order is intended to save lives and tackle criminality as there had been accidents and deaths linked to motorcyclists and tricyclists in the state.

“The figures are scary. From 2016 to 2019, there were over 10,000 accidents recorded at the General Hospitals alone. This number excludes unreported cases and those recorded by other hospitals. The total number of deaths from reported cases is over 600 as at date. The rate of crimes aided by Motorcycles (Okada) and Tricycles (Keke) keeps rising. Motorcycles (Okada) and Tricycles (Keke) are also used as getaway means by criminals. Therefore, after consultations with stakeholders, the State Security Council, in compliance with the extant Transport Sector Reform Law 2018, decided to commence enforcement of the law which bans the operation of Motorcycles (Okada) and Tricycles (Keke),” explained Omotoso in a report by PM News.

No one who knows about motorcycle and tricycle operation in Lagos and other Nigerian towns with gaping holes on roads and poor regulatory framework may deny the risks associated with them, but not saying anything (as is clear from the reports I read on the new policy) about what the government intends to do to cushion the effects of the ban on the affected people, says a lot about governance in Nigeria.

As many Nigerians may admit, motorcycle and tricycle serves as a means of employment for many who could not secure white collar jobs. They chose Okada or tricycle as a last resort to sustain a living. So, simply discontinuing their source of livelihood without providing an option is unfair and dangerous.

 

Anthony Akaeze is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and author

– Jan. 30, 2020 @ 19:05 GMT |

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