With the birth of a mega city comes the suffering of many as the Nigerian authorities reveal plans for further growth, development and tourism.
Residents of Otodo Gbame woke up on 17 March 2017 to unwanted visitors comprising of helicopters, gunboats and police trucks. Waking up in a slum is already difficult as it is, clambering over 5,000 other bodies but the Nigerian government didn’t even spare them that dignity. Overnight, the community in Lagos State was reduced to rubble and the residents evicted. Thousands were displaced and left homeless, setting fire to their homes to eradicate them.
Notwithstanding the devastation of the demolition, the residents defiantly returned to rebuild their only home and what was left of it. However, on 9 April 2017 armed policemen and military agents, with the authorization of the Lagos State government, yet again visited the community and forced them off the land. Lagos State government justified the merciless act saying the town was merely demolished due to its illegality as a hideout for militants.
Officials rendered it a ‘security measure’ whilst rights groups criticise it naming the ruthless act a ‘land grab’.
Needless to say, ‘security measure’ was not the only motivation behind the attacks. The Lagos State government’s ambition to boost the commercial value of the city as a Dubai 2.0 come at a costly price at the expense of the citizens. This illuminates an enduring battle between the rich and the poor in the city of Lagos.
With a population of almost 21 million, Lagos is one of the world’s largest cities and ex-capital of Nigeria. Such history alludes to a promising future as the city remains a key commercial hub for the city. Notwithstanding such potential, it is plagued by poverty, homelessness and slums.
“Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the eradication of poverty as you would expect, the strategy of choice focuses on eliminating the poor”, says Activist Olutimehin Adegbeye.
In a refreshingly positive light, the 21 June 2017, marked a milestone victory for the poor in Otodo Gbame. Justice Surajudeen Onigbanjo of an Igbosere High Court handed down the decision that the government’s eviction of the residents was unconstitutional, ordering the government to negotiate resettlement plans. Onigbanjo ruled that the rights of the evictees were violated as no resettlement plans were in place at the time of the attacks. This ruling comes as a silver lining after months of setbacks whereby over 30,000 residents had been displaced in total.
With the world becoming an increasingly integrated complex, it is understandable that cities such as Lagos, after seeing the phenomenon that is Dubai, would like to follow suit. Despite being poverty-stricken the city seeks to eradicate what is the result of the problem, the poor, and not the root cause itself. Not only are citizens of Lagos living in destitute areas and unhygienic conditions, the Lagos State government has not even spared them such luxury by displacing the poor. The mere fact of ‘sweeping’ the poor under the rug will be counter-effective. Now more than ever, the poor should be fighting back. This ‘unconstitutional’ ruling provides a lifeline not only for those 5,000 residents in Otodo Gbame, rather it is a motivation for the poor to act.
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