Poverty is a crime and by this, I do not mean it is a crime to be poor. Consider murder. Murder is a crime; however, it is not a crime to be murdered. A man who is in poverty is the same; he is not considered a criminal, so much as the victim of a crime for which others, and perhaps himself as well, are responsible.
These words of Henry George come to mind on March 17, 2017, as the Lagos state government demolished Otodo Gbame village and in the process, wounded and killed a number of villagers. The Lagos State Government demolished several structures in the community, an action that prompted residents to seek a court injunction to bar further demolition.
Otodo Gbame is a riverine settlement and home to approximately 4,700 residents in the Lekki axis of Lagos state.
For the demolition, members of the Otodo Gbame riverine community reported that armed police fired bullets and tear gas indiscriminately to force them onto canoes as their houses were leveled. One man was shot in the neck and later died, residents and Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a Lagos-based group working with the community, told Al Jazeera.
The demolition came barely three weeks after the state government tried to justify the demolition of Otodo-Gbame community in Lekki axis, stating that the demolition was carried out as a “security measure in the overall interest of all Lagosians”. The government claims to believe “militants” were using the community as a base, an accusation residents and rights groups denied.
To justify its actions, the Lagos state government claimed that the settlement was “illegal, without any title or appropriate government approval”. It is clear that the state has many problems against Otodo Gbame but are guns and tear gas the only way to evacuate a community?
What the Lagos state government committed is a crime against humanity. Even if the community was illegal, the government should have resettled residents rather than render them homeless.