La­gos poor left home­less by ruth­less mod­ern­iza­tion bid

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Ef­forts by La­gos au­thor­i­ties to turn Nige­ria’s chaotic com­mer­cial cap­i­tal into a mod­ern megac­ity have run into con­tro­versy af­ter the de­mo­li­tion of an im­pov­er­ished wa­ter­front neigh­bor­hood left 30,000 peo­ple home­less.

With swanky pri­vate es­tates and a glit­ter­ing new city un­der con­struc­tion on land re­claimed from the At­lantic Ocean, hous­ing for some of the 20 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in no­to­ri­ously-dys­func­tional La­gos ap­pears to be get­ting bet­ter. But as the city un­der­goes a dra­matic meta­mor­pho­sis, many are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the bru­tal re­al­ity of rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion. The lat­est ca­su­alty was Otodo Gbame, a poor fish­ing com­mu­nity close to the up­mar­ket south­east­ern dis­trict of Lekki, which was com­pletely razed in early Novem­ber as part of a grow­ing drive to re­move shanty towns.

Be­tween Novem­ber 9 and 11, the dis­trict was set alight then bull­dozed, re­duc­ing tens of thou­sands of homes to piles of smoul­der­ing wood and cor­ru­gated iron. At least three peo­ple died when armed po­lice moved in with bull­doz­ers, set­ting fire to the area and chas­ing some res­i­dents into the nearby la­goon, lo­cals said. They say they were given no warn­ing.

Now home­less but with nowhere else to go, res­i­dents hud­dle to­gether mis­er­ably un­der makeshift struc­tures built out of rub­ble. Mostly from the eth­nic Egun tribe, they trace their roots to Benin but say they have been liv­ing in La­gos for over a cen­tury.

But like the vast ma­jor­ity of the city’s poor, they do not have ti­tle deeds to prove it.

‘We will fight this’

They ac­cuse the state au­thor­i­ties of con­spir­ing with a prom­i­nent La­gos fam­ily to seize the land and sell it to the high­est bid­der. “They are not happy that we the poor are liv­ing close to them.

“Each time, they look through the win­dows of their man­sions and see us, their anger rises,” Toshun Pas­cal, a pas­tor in the com­mu­nity, told AFP. “We are go­ing to fight this in­jus­tice with the last drop of our blood.” Otodo Gbame used to lie be­tween up­scale neigh­bour­hood Lekki Phase 1 and Ele­gushi hous­ing es­tate, an ex­clu­sive area where res­i­dents drive Mercedes cars and Range Rovers.

Pas­cal said more than 20 res­i­dents, in­clud­ing the com­mu­nity leader, had been de­tained for weeks “for in­sti­gat­ing the vi­o­lence.” But La­gos au­thor­i­ties dis­missed ac­cu­sa­tions they or­dered the de­mo­li­tions, claim­ing a fight be­tween the Egun and their Yoruba neigh­bours caused the fire which burnt down the com­mu­nity. They said po­lice only ar­rived on the scene to re­store or­der and en­sure that “the ar­son did not spread.” Gover­nor Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode had in Oc­to­ber hinted at a plan to de­mol­ish wa­ter­front shanties in a move to rid the city of crim­i­nals, who hide there. But Amnesty In­ter­na­tional warned that such a move would risk leav­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple home­less.

And af­ter the fires, the Lon­don-based watch­dog said the com­mu­nity was “de­lib­er­ately set alight”, de­mand­ing an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into the “forced evic­tions”. “La­gos State Gov­ern­ment is try­ing to evade its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to Otodo Gbame res­i­dents by deny­ing in­volve­ment in the state’s big­gest forced evic­tions in re­cent times,” Amnesty said, in­sist­ing that those re­spon­si­ble be pros­e­cuted. La­gos has a his­tory of de­mol­ish­ing en­tire neigh­bor­hoods. In 1990, the au­thor­i­ties de­mol­ished Maroko, a shanty town in the well-heeled sub­urb of Vic­to­ria Is­land, forc­ing some 300,000 out of their homes. On the site where it once stood, there now stands a pop­u­lar South African shop­ping mall with in­ter­na­tional chains that caters to the city’s elite.

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