Describe action as ill-timed, insensitive
By Ada Anioji
Two civil society organizations has described the recent demolition of commercial and residential quarters undertaken in several parts of Lagos State as ‘ill-motivated, insensitive and ill-timed’.
The demolition and mass eviction exercises ordered and executed by the Lagos State Government have targeted mostly small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) as well as informal settlements on Lagos Island including areas around Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki and Ajah.
The communities include Shapata-Chevron side, Small Kuramo, Ikate-Elegushi Waterside, Ikota-Ajah, Ligali Ayorinde among others. While some, especially business premises, have been demolished, the state government has plans to extend the demolition to residential areas hosting tens of thousands of people.
In press statement released in Lagos, the organisations namely, Spaces for Change and the Centre for Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection (CEE-HOPE), said: ’The manner in which the demolitions were carried out is very concerning. Most of the affected residents have received less than two weeks’ notice to leave. Such extremely short notices are coming at a time when inflation rate towers at 16.5% and the economy is in recession, crippling social and economic activities, while triggering massive job losses. Publication of notices in newspaper and/or the television is insufficient notice as most of those targeted with demolitions may not have access to this medium.’
‘It is also common place for landlords to demand an upward of one to two years rent in advance, with additional legal and agency fees, thereby putting rental accommodation at a cost majority of the urban poor cannot afford. Not only that, the executive order to leave is coming at a time when schools across the State just resumed for a new academic session. The disruption of children’s education is imminent should they lose their homes,’ the statement further read.
According to Betty Abah, Executive Director of CEE-HOPE, ‘it is appalling to note the wars that are being deliberately waged against the urban poor under Governor Ambode’s administration. It is a huge disappointment because many voted him in as governor of Lagos State based on the sensational promises of inclusive development. The demolitions in Badia East and other communities across Lagos since the governor’s assumption of office in 2015, the recent ban on street trading; and now these forced evictions and demolitions in Oshodi, Ikoyi, and other communities make it abundantly clear that he is on a mission to marginalise the urban poor even further and make lives more difficult for their children,’ said. ‘On behalf of the children who recently resumed school, we call on the Governor, to halt the evictions and demolitions until meaningful engagement is had with all stakeholders to prevent needless suffering and ensure that the education of our children is not interrupted, ‘ she added.
The statement further read: ‘Not only is this demolition process a direct infringement on social and economic human rights, specifically the right to adequate housing, it also smacks of gross insensitivity as the government is yet to address directly the issue of inadequate housing in the state, the statement read. We particularly find it objectionable that the demolitions are scheduled at the peak of the rain season. Any demolition exercise undertaken at this time would increase the vulnerability of urban poor families to property losses, inclement weather with health implications, and insecurity; all of which the governor vowed to protect them from while he campaigned for the gubernatorial seat, the statement further added.’
Already, several affected persons affected have shared their tales of grief. Miss Ijeoma Ebunoha, a 12 year-old student of Federal Housing Estate Primary SCH, Victoria Island said, They said government people are coming to demolish our house this week (Thursday, September 22, 2016) and we have nowhere to go. My father is a construction worker and he said there is no money to rent another house.
For Mr. Matthew Abbah, a small scale lottery business owner (aka Baba Ijebu) states, we small time business people offer critical service to the people on the Island and they can’t just chase us away like that without alternatives especially in these hard times. Whatever is the case, it shouldn’t be now. Things are just too bad for everybody right now. Besides, I employ four persons including a student of Auchi Polytechnic (he is on part-time basis). If my business goes down, their source of livelihoods is also gone, not to talk of my wife, four children and several dependents. Even my friends in the formal sector are depending on me because they are not finding things easy either.
Analysts say that several international treaties to which Nigeria is signatory to are at variance with the action of the government. For example, they refer to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which outlines that ‘the right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with e.g. physical shelter as a commodity; but rather should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.’
According to them, implicit in this duty to respect the right to housing is an obligation on state actors like the Lagos State Government to adopt all appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial, promotional and other measures required to realize the right to adequate housing for all (which includes improving housing conditions within the state) prioritising for the most disadvantaged groups.
A number of state agencies such as the State Ministries of Environment, Physical and Urban Planning, Lagos State Waste Management Authority, Kick against Indiscipline (KAI) – an environmental law enforcement unit, and the Civil Defence Corps, have been named as the executors of the state’s demolition policies. There are several substantiated reports of overzealousness, high-handedness and intimidation by officials of these agencies during the demolition and eviction exercises. Against this backdrop, SPACES FOR CHANGE initiated legal action challenging the propriety of the Lagos State Government to demolish privet homes and businesses in Badia community in September 2015 without provision of effective remedies – resettlement, relocation and rehabilitation of the affected residents.
In light of the above, SPACES FOR CHANGE’s Executive Director, Victoria Ohaeri, Esq. has urged the Lagos State Government to “ ensure that people affected by a development activity are given an opportunity to participate in ways capable of transforming their social, political and economic conditions. Accordingly, provision of effective remedies is imperative as this restores the victims to a position otherwise negated by the violation in question. This must be interpreted to mean strict adherence to the laid down procedures under state and international law and the full protection of human rights.”
The NGOs therefore reiterated that evictions cannot, and should not be carried out without; opportunities for genuine consultation with the people affected, adequate and reasonable notice prior to the eviction exercise, proper identification of anyone carrying out the eviction; and legal remedies and legal aid to affected persons, or opportunities to seek redress from the courts.
Efforts to get the Secretary to the Government of Lagos State, Mr. Tunji Bello to respond to the statement by the groups were unsuccessful as at press time.