By Adun Okupe
Last week, I received my copy of the premier edition of the Irin Journal, a bi-annual African culture and travel magazine which seeks to discuss African culture, people and communities. I was captivated by the piece ‘Finding Home’ on Wale Silva, an artist and a Tarkwa Bay resident and I was struck by the timing. Whether or not you believe in coincidences, it is curious that the interview conducted in mid-2019 is published and of particular relevance at a time when Tarkwa Bay residents were forcibly evicted from their home on the 21st January 2020. Wale Silva brought a real sense of the journey to find home, however that is conceptualized. From his childhood in Lagos – did you know that you could get Christmas trees from Ikoyi Park, now Parkview Estate, an estate without a park. Wale spoke of his childhood, weekly visits to the National Museum in Onikan where there were free Saturday cultural classes for films and art. For me, it shows that to some extent Nigeria used to work and this is encouraging because the decay happened over time and the rebuilding, must happen over time.
Wale described his travels around the world and his decision to eventually settle in Tarkwa and by so doing he painted a vivid picture of a community that was vibrant. Not without its struggles but vibrant, residents who sought a calmer pace of life and wanted to be close to Lagos and contribute in some way, to the experience of life: the surf school to develop the surfing community in Lagos, the work residents had been doing to stem plastic waste and the last time I visited Tarkwa as I loved to do, I remember remarking on its cleanliness and was told that the residents really put an effort to clean up the beach, clean up the waste that comes in from Lagos.
And now, all that has vanished.
Evictions are not new, and beachfront evictions particularly so. On Tuesday, the 20th of August last year, residents of Wxlacodji beach in neighbouring Cotonou were forcibly removed from their community with 160 houses demolished. The residents had been given two weeks’ notice to vacate their homes. In July 2019, representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development together with the Mayor of Cotonou had visited several waterfront communities along the Cotonou lagoon and Lake Nokoue to mark some houses for eviction. They provided no information about subsequent resettlement. Following this notice, federation members of six waterfront communities under threat quickly organised to write to the Ministry, the representative of the Littoral Department, and the Mayor of Cotonou in search of a reason. They received a response: the residents of the waterfronts of Cotonou were uncivilised and were at the risk of public health. There is no documentation on the current use of the site which was once known as the Wxlacodji beach community.
Farther afield, there was another beachfront eviction on the 1st of October, 2019 at the Sylvan Beach Mobile House Park New York. The residents of Mariner’s landing park in Sylvan beach were issued an eviction letter on the 15th of April, 2019 from the Oneida Indian Nation stating they need to vacate the property by October 1, 2019. A reason was given: to redevelop the land around its Mariner’s Landing so as to increase accessibility to a marina and allow for a greater number of people to utilize and enjoy the location. Recognizing the disruption for the renters, a 6 months’ notice period (the law required a 30-day notice for renters) was given and the final month of rent was also waived for each of the tenants.
If only this had been the case for Tarkwa Bay residents. Tarkwa Bay is an island along the coastal cove which became a settlement for thousands of Lagosians for over three decades and provided a relaxation area outside of Lagos. About two weeks ago, on the 21st of January 2020, the residents of Tarkwa bay were forcefully evicted with disregard according to news outlets for the safety and security of the residents. The manner of the eviction by the Navy who shot and assaulted residents. No notice was given to the 4,500 residents who were rendered homeless. The reason given: pipeline vandalism.
Some structures were reportedly identified as disguise for crude oil theft operations. At least 300 illegal spots and dug out pits revealed that oil products were being tapped and sold illegally were said to be discovered. The way to tackle criminal activity usually is to address the crime, provide more security for the pipelines, not eviction.
Some hypotheses about the real reason for the eviction have come up and these are not baseless, let’s look at the evacuation of beachfront residents in July 1990 in Maroko displacing a total of 300,000 people; the displacement of 15,000 people in Banana Island on January 1995, Ilubirin beachfront community was also affected in January 1997 displacing 15,000 people, Badia East was evacuated on October, 2003 displacing 5,000 residents, in August 2008 Bar Beach was residents were evacuated rendering 80,000 people homeless and more recently Otodo Gbame residents were evicted in April, 2017 displacing a total of 30,000 residents. The reason provided by the authorities have been for crime and insecurity. The reality is different with the new estates, luxury residences and offices that have cropped up in these areas. The dispossession of the poor for the redevelopment of prime land for the wealthy.
Understandably, cities evolve and as the infrastructural pressures of a congested city such as Lagos rise, city officials are given the task of how to address the requirements of the population. Many times, only a segment of the population is focused on, explanations given as always – the trickle-down effect.
The trickle-down effect does not work. Rising economic growth results in rising inequality, one need only to look at the inequality rates in emerging economies to see that trickling down brings only a trickle, leaving a significant proportion of inhabitants dispossessed, marginalised, feeling increasingly hopeless. And it is this hopelessness that we must focus on and address. Because when a man has been pushed to the wall, and realises there is nowhere else to go, he becomes fearless. Fearlessness and hopelessness do not mix well.
So, is there any hope, what can we learn from this and what does this all mean? My point of view tries to see how the experience of life in our society can be enhanced, how we understand the way of life and what can be done to advance this for economic, social and environmental gain. This issue is quite complex and difficult to unpack in a single article. To be continued.
– Dr Adun Okupe is a researcher focused on socio-cultural development in Nigeria. She focuses on leadership as a tool for sustainable development with a sector interest in the cultural and creative industries, and a particular focus on the tourism industry. She is the country investigator for the GLOBE Leadership project which seeks to understand the cultural dimensions of leadership behavior in Nigeria. You may connect with her on @adunova or firstname.lastname@example.org.