AMBODE AND RIGHTS OF THE POOR

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Lagos breaches its own law by forcibly ejecting residents of some waterfront communities

Notwithstanding a court injunction which restrained it from carrying out forcible ejection of the residents of some waterfront communities, the Lagos State Government in November last year evicted no fewer than 30,000 residents of Otodo Gbame. Others in settlements along the creeks are also at risk of forced evictions. We consider it rather unfortunate that thousands of families would be so cynically rendered homeless without any consideration for the social consequences of such an action.

Besides, the demolition cannot be justified under the Lagos State Urban and Regional and Development Law which allows owners/occupiers of houses marked for demolition to lodge complaints with the regional agency and if dissatisfied with its decision, to appeal to the Appeals Committee in the Ministry of Physical Planning. The law also allows an aggrieved person to further approach the High Court for redress. But in carrying out the demotion in question, the Lagos State Government deliberately breached its own law by refusing to hear and determine the complaints of the owners/occupiers of the demolished buildings. Such brazen disregard for the rights of law abiding citizens is not acceptable.

In its ruling last week, the Lagos High Court said rightly that ejecting the residents of waterfront communities without adequate notice or provision of alternative shelter amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of section 34 of the Nigerian Constitution. However, given its disposition to the rights of the poor, there are indications that the Lagos State Government may ignore the court orders and go ahead with the forced evictions without making any provisions for the residents whose rights are being violated.

Hon. Justice Onigbanjo, who ordered the parties to explore settlement through court-ordered mediation and report back within one month, stated without any ambiguity: “The eviction/threat of forcible eviction of any citizen from his home at short notice and without any immediate alternative accommodation or sufficient opportunity to arrange for such alternative accommodation before being evicted from his current abode [is] totally undignifying and certainly inhuman, cruel and degrading”.

The eviction, brutally carried out by the police in connivance with some land-owning Lagos families was said to have claimed the lives of four residents. “It has been brought to my attention that the evictions may have involved the extreme use of force and fire by the Nigerian Police Force and Lagos State Government, leaving individuals and families scrambling in the middle of the night to find safety and shelter,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Ms Leilani Farha who demanded from the Nigerian government information on the evictions, the methods used and their compliance with international human rights law.

Available reports indicate that about 70 informal settlements across Lagos, at least 40 waterfront communities and an estimated 300,000 persons may be affected if the Lagos State Government proceeds with the threat to forcibly eject them without providing alternative abodes. Yet, there is no justification for these despicable acts of violence and intimidation against ordinary law abiding citizens. Indeed, there are clear constitutional provisions that entrench the rights of such people to their dignity.

We commend the Amnesty International, Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, and the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation that have taken up the case for the rights of the displaced waterfront residents. Against the background that Nigeria is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which has been domesticated and a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), we hope Governor Akinwunmi Ambode will ensure no further forced evictions take place until adequate alternatives have been provided for people living in the communities concerned.