Lagos: Owode-Ajegunle Residents Living in Fear

23 Feb 2013

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Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, warned the residents of his administration’s resolve to relocate them

Living in slum areas has not been the best experience for the inhabitants who will gladly trade places with those living in urban areas in order to have better social amenities and decent environment. It also becomes a nightmare when they are evicted from the communities without due compensation or alternative accommodation.

The desire to build a mega city or enforce urban renewal programme for major cities in Nigeria has led to the eviction of majority of people living in slum areas in Nigeria regardless of the fact that the people have lived their whole lives without access to good roads, clean water, sanitation, adequate healthcare and education. However, to add more pain to their situation, in most cases, they do not receive notice prior to the eviction, no compensation is granted and no accommodation is provided.

Last year, after a storm that flooded parts of Owode-Ajegunle, a sprawling water catchment area of the Lagos Lagoon and the Ajuwon River, Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, warned the residents of his administration’s resolve to relocate them if they failed to individually work out alternatives for themselves.

This plan by the government has caused a measure of disquiet in the communities along that stretch of the Lagos-Ikorodu Road. This is understandably so, since most of the residents have nowhere else to call home. They were born there and it is where they raise their families.
Now, they sleep with one of their eyes open as the government’s bulldozers could pull up in the area as they fear that Fashola’s seeming failure to carry out his threat might after all be a delay tactic. 

As students of history, the Owode-Ajegunle people remember on a daily basis since the government’s threat that in April 2005, houses, churches and clinics were demolished in the community of Makoko, leaving about 3,000 people homeless. Between May and July 2008, similar forced evictions took place on almost weekly basis in the state.

They are also beginning to imagine the magnitude of difficult situation that awaits them as in the case of thousands of people living in slum, like them that were rendered homeless in Abuja In 2003, while in Rivers State, 19,000 people were evicted from their homes in Njemanze informal Waterfront Settlement in Port Harcourt, in August 2009.

The security implications attached to eviction of people living in slum are enormous. These become more unbearable when there is no provision of alternative accommodation. They include, but not limited to the safety of life and property of both residents of the slum areas and their catchment communities. Given the antecedents of government’s actions on slum areas, the apprehension of the Owode-Ajegunle residents is not out of place. Whatever may be their fate might turn out the burden of the larger society.

For instance, anytime people are removed from their environment, the family becomes scattered because no single family can squat the totality of another family. This exposes them to all forms of dangers and criminalities. The young girls among them may fall into wrong hands and get raped or even killed. The youths may join armed robbery gangs to make both ends meet. The future of the children becomes bleak as they were sent away from where they receive formal education and the parents may not be buoyant enough to send them to schools in urban areas neither will they afford to pay house rents in urban areas. If not properly managed, a full-blown security challenge envelops the society as we have experience in the past. It could lead to an uprising as a result of a possible resistance from the inhabitants.

We have seen some displaced persons engage in a demonstration that attracted the security forces as it happened on October 12, 2009 where at least 12 people were shot and seriously injured in Bundu Waterfronts, Rivers State, when armed security forces opened fire on a crowd peacefully protesting a proposed demolition of their homes.

Lamenting her experience when her house was demolished, one of the evictees of Njemanze Informal Waterfront Settlement in Port Harcourt said: “We suffered a lot, when the bulldozer came, everything was lost, food, utensils, television, fridge, a lot of things, my clothes, my children’s clothes, their books and birth certificates. There was nothing we could do; we slept that night at the compound opposite Njemanze. I slept outside with my husband and children and rain was falling.”

Why can’t the Fashola administration provide the necessary amenities needed in these areas while the inhabitants are still there, rather than evict them and build mansions and plazas that will benefit only the rich; neglecting the low income earners who had kept the area going without compensation.       

  – Ben Oghifo

Tags: Featured, Nigeria, Owode-Ajegunle slum, Politics

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