These are not the best of times for waterfront communities in Lagos State. Great unease, fear and confusion have enveloped the communities: Ogororo, Irede, Ituangan, Oreke, Igbo-elejo, Tomaro, all densely populated waterside settlements.
The intense trepidation that pervade these neighbourhoods stemmed from the spate of recent forceful evictions of poor communities living in prime locations, especially along the waterfront, as developers invade them in their quest to build high-end property.
Many of the residents of these communities hinge their fears on the way waterfront occupants of Otodo Gbame, Tarkwa Bay and several others were forcefully evicted without prior arrangement to resettle them.
“We are afraid because we see the wickedness of government, and how they go about grabbing lands and forcefully evicting residents of waterfront neighbourhoods.
“We the remaining waterfront communities are very fearful because with the way this government is going about throwing people out of there ancestral lands, very soon it would be our turn to receive same cruel treatment. It is very sad because during election period, these politicians come to campaign for votes in our communities. They come to eat, sing, clap and dance with us, pretending to be our friends, but when they get into office, they unleash pain and sorrow on us,” Mr Adanbanjo, a community leader at Ituangan, waterfront community situated apposite opposite Liverpool, in Apapa Lagos, said.
Waves of eviction
Some of the worries of these residents are not farfetched, because in less than three months, over a dozen waterfront communities have been sacked, rendering more than 10, 000 residents homeless and hopeless.
The fate of seaside communities in Lagos began to change for the worse just few months after new administrations and elected leaders took office in 2019.
Sunday Sun learnt that in November, Second Badagry and other communities around Adidas Field in Agegunle were demolished. Also makeshift settlements like Marwa waterside was also sacked by the Lagos state government in 2019.
In December, the Federal Government through the Nigerian Navy, carried out eviction of over two dozen peaceful island communities, including Abagbo, Abule Elepa, Abule Glass, Ajakoji, Akaraba, Bobukoji, Ebute Oko, Fashola, Idi Mango, Ilaje, Inangbe/ Ilado, Kopiamy, Ogunfemi, Oko-kate, Okun Alfa, Okun Babakati, Okun Gbogba, Okun Ilase, Okun Kobena, Sankin, Sapo Okun, and Tokunbo, among others.
Penultimate Tuesday was the turn of Tarkwa Bay, a popular island located inside the waters at Marina, Lagos, where naval forces raided the community very early in the morning, smashing peoples housing and shouting that they had only one hour to pack all their belongings out of Tarkwa Bay.
Prior to Tarkwa Bay eviction, there was the widely reported 2017 eviction of Otodo Gbame, another waterfront tucked inside the Lekki Phase 1 axis, where a combined team of security forces acting on the orders of the Lagos State government, raided the community, killed, brutalized, burnt down houses and finally sacked thousands from their homes.
And more than two and a half years after the gory incident, most of the evicted Otodo Gbame residents are yet to find their footing. Many are still homeless, pushed deeper into poverty and still traumatized by the incident.
Although a court judgment had in 2017 stopped the eviction of settlers at several waterfront communities, as well as urged the government to meet with these communities to discuss how to resolve the relocation of the residents; sadly, the governments both at the state and federal levels ignored the court directive, and have continued the forceful eviction of residents of waterfront communities with no plans to resettle them. “Yesterday was Otodo Gbame, Tarkwa Bay and others; tomorrow it could be us next,” cried Mr. Esemore. “And our major fear is that the government evicts without resettling residents. That was how they did residents in Otodo Gbame. Our government carries these evictions with total disregard to the court ruling that told them to ensure that they give due notice, and also make adequate plans to resettle residents before demolishing any community.
“But the governments don’t obey court order. So, from what we are seeing the saying that ‘judiciary is the last hope of the common man’ doesn’t not apply to us living at the waterfronts, because they can wake up one day and decide that our community is next, and then come to bulldoze us out of our community, pushing us into poverty, penury and homelessness.”
For the evicted victims, moving on with life becomes very difficult. Many of them after losing their homes, go to squat at other communities. Sunday Sun learnt that some of the evictees of TarkwaBay have moved to neighbouring Agala waterside, where they sleep outside, under very harsh weather conditions. Otodo Gbame evictees have been wallowing in misery for over two years now. Many of them stay in squalid conditions at other communities like Sogoro, Makoko, Oke-agbon, among others.
When Sunday Sun visited Sogoro, located deep inside the outskirts of Iwaya area of Yaba Lagos, it was discovered that some of the residents stay in small dingy rooms where at least 15 persons, including little children are crammed to sleep on the wooden floor.
Most of the women and children sleep indoors while most of the men sleep outside, just like some others sleep inside their boats at the river bank. So many outside Sogoro sleep at under bridges from Ajah down to Epe.
Some of the residents told Sunday Sun their stories of pain, desolation and deaths. One of them, Mr Toisinhun Pascal, a 60-year-old fishman, said that he lost every thing after his house was raided by the government.
“I am haunted by what happened and what is happening to us residents of Otodo Gbame. Our community has been in existence for a very long time. Both my father and I were born and brought up at Otodo Gbame. I am a fisherman, but I lost everything after we got thrown out. I watched helplessly as my canoe and water engine were all destroyed by fire. I am 60 years old now. Where do I start now? How do I start my life anew?” he cried.
Another resident, Mrs Aliet Asokiri, a mother, told Sunday Sun that it has been hell since after they were forcefully evicted from their homes. According to her, she hasn’t seen her children for a long time because the eviction made them settle in different locations.
“I used to be a fish seller back then at Otodo Gbame. Now, here I have nothing doing to feed my family. We sleep in terrible conditions. We stay in overcrowded rooms where I cannot even stretch my legs when we sleep at night. It has been terrible. I’ve lost all our source of livelihood. So, we stay here (in Sogoro) depending on people’s goodwill to survive.
“My five children are scattered now, I can’t remember when last I set eyes on them. Some are squatting at Ogogoru in Apapa axis, while others are at Oreke in Ikorodu. The worst is that many of us are falling sick. We don’t have money to treat ourselves. Many of us are dying because of the poor living condition and psychological trauma. We need help to live our normal again. Government and public-spirited individuals and organisations should please come to our aid and help resettle us,” she pleaded.
The legal battle
The pain, trepidation, confusion, and transmogrification of residents of Otodo Gbame, TarkwaBay, and several other waterside neighbourhoods are inexhaustible.
After landmark judgment at the state High Court, the Lagos State government appealed the ruling. Hence the matter was moved to the Appeal Court, Igboshere. Many Otodo Gbame residents firmly believe that justice would be served at the court. They trooped out in their numbers only for their hope to be dashed after the case suffered another lengthy adjournment as it was adjourned to June 2021.
According to Meghan Chapman of the Justice and Empowerment Initiative (JEi), one of few organizations that have spearheaded the fight to get justice for waterfront residents, the eviction done by the government was unconstitutional and inhumane.
Speaking to Sunday Sun, Chapman decried the ding dong they’ve been through in their quest to get justice for Otodo Gbame and others, and the lengthy adjournment the case has now suffered.
“Otodo Gbame and 14 other communities went to court to restrain the eviction of waterfront communities that were threatened by the previous Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. The threat of eviction started in October of 2016 and the Lagos State high court restrained the eviction of all the communities before the eviction of Otodo Gbame began.
“There was a court order on the 7th of November 2016 restraining the eviction. But on the 9th of November, the eviction started. In the course of the eviction of Otodo Gbame, the court was sitting at the same time hearing the matter and they further ordered the evictions to stop, they ordered the government to go into mediation with communities to find an alternative to eviction.
“But the orders didn’t stop the government as they continued to carry out the eviction in blatant disregard to rule of law. And after the final eviction of Otodo Gbame on the 9th of April 2017 the communities continued to go to court and in June of 2017, there was a final judgment in favour of the evicted communities; which said that eviction without adequate notice and resettlement are unconstitutional and violates Section 34 of the Nigerian Constitution, and the government should be restrained from any further evictions, and they should sit with the people, discuss with them and resettle them. But up till today, we’re yet to see the judgment respected and enforced.”