By Maduka Nweke,
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High cost of accommodation in urban cities in the country has been blamed for the emergence of waterfronts and slums habitation for people. Waterfronts in developed countries are mainly where the rich live because of their serenity and scenery, but in a developing country like Nigeria, owing to poor management and lack of security, the rich tend to abandon the waterfronts for the poor who, owing to lack of capacity to beautify them, live in them as slums.
The waterfronts around Ikoyi in Lagos, those in Nkisi Aroli in Onitsha, Anambra State, at former Maroko in Lekki, in Ondo State in the South West and the waterfronts in Lokoja around the confluence of Kogi State, are typical examples of some of the ones taken over by the rich and made to become big men’s quarters.
However, the waterfronts beach, Ebute Metta, Lagos, at Makoko, Festac link road, Ajegunle and at the rear of Ose Okwodu Market in Onitsha prior to the coming of Obiano as Governor of Anambra State, are areas where hooligans and men of the underworld use as escape routes after committing crimes.
Stakeholders in environmental protection and management have at various times proffered solutions to the menace of waterfronts habitats to the government. Some have suggested turning the waterfronts to tourist centres for picnics and other small parties for families and clubs.
Waterfronts have evolved over the years to mean different things in different countries of the world, but there is a consensus among scholars that waterfronts are focal points in many cities and are playing significant role in the social, political and economic life of the communities where they are found and developed. Besides, intensive local and international trade as well as diverse commercial and water-based transportation activities are often seen around most waterfronts. Today, a great percentage of urban residents live in the shanties of various cities’ waterfronts, especially in cities in developing nations like Nigeria.
Waterfronts development is considered very important because they stimulate modern development in the city. In other words, waterfront redevelopment has been regarded as a means of increasing the economic viability of localities, creating new public spaces and increasing access to valued cultural and natural amenities.
According to Noel Abukachemu, a Mexico-based environmental expert, waterfronts are mainly highbrow areas where rich men scramble to buy land and build their houses. The serenity of the waterfronts has remained the strong attraction so they develop and beautify them in such a way that a first-time visit to the place will invoke a repeat visit.
He noted that if government is serious in any urban city, the management of waterfronts could be of economic advantage to them. He decried the negligent of waterfronts by government and the blame on the poor masses who take advantage of government’s inaction to buld their slum homes.
“Governments have remained culpable to defaults arising from maintenance of waterfronts and in order to be free from blame, they look for the poor. Most of them go overseas, stay in tourist centres built along waterfronts but when they come back, they look for cheaper projects. This is bad and it is injustice to the masses,” he said.
Another respondent, Chimaobi Obiekezie, an environmental expert, said government probably does not know that the population of those living in waterfronts and slums is far more than those living in better accommodation. “I will say they know because during elections, they go there to promise them heaven on earth. They will promise them cars in heaven. But all these are to let them in,” he said.
The Lagos State government was recently engulfed in a legal battle to evict Nigerians using the state’s waterfronts as slum habitats. The battle saw a lot of independent lawyers opting to offer their services free to those involved. The state government, probably on the advice of experts, decided to withdraw the case against those being threatened.
In pursuit of the case, the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation addressed as (Federation), comprising dozens of waterfront communities and scores of other informal settlements across Lagos, on March 29, 2017, expressed regret at the decision of the Lagos State government to withdraw from the court-ordered mediation process that had presented a glimmer of hope of finding a win-win alternative solution to the threat of forced eviction hanging over 300,000 Lagos residents living in waterfront communities across the state.
In late October 2016, after trying to engage the Lagos State government unsuccessfully, 15 waterfront communities approached the Lagos State High Court to seek protection of their fundamental rights against the threat of eviction issued by the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode.
A breakthrough came when, on January 26, 2017, Justice S.A. Onigbanjo of the Lagos State High Court issued a landmark ruling, finding that demolitions on short notice without providing alternative shelter for persons evicted constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution, and ordered the parties to attempt mediation through the Lagos State Multi-Door Court House.
“We came to mediation process in good faith and put forward workable proposals regarding alternatives to demolition and forced eviction that could address the various excuses the state government has tried to use to justify its intention to demolish our homes. Even after the state government went back to continue demolishing one of our communities, Otodo Gbame, forcibly evicting 4,700 residents in violation of a court order, we still came back to the roundtable on March 29, 2017, to hear what the state government had to say,” the Federation declared in a statement.
It further said, “it was therefore a great shock to us that the state government decided to unilaterally withdraw from the mediation process and give up on the possibility of any resolution through dialogue. This step is also at extreme odds with the public statement made by the Lagos State Commissioner of Information on March 22, 2017, affirming the government’s ‘unflinching commitment to the development of Lagos State as an ideal mega city that is sensitive to the needs of the public as well as open and continuous dialogue’.
“Waterfront communities across Lagos are home to hundreds of thousands of hard-working, law-abiding citizens. This is where we live and where many of us work. Our businesses, from fishing to sand excavation and our labour add to the Lagos economy. We are the engine of the Lagos economy and we have a right to the city. We do not have any other home.
“Since last year, the government has tried to offer so many excuses for wanting to destroy our homes and take over the waterfronts. We have proffered alternative ways of resolving each of these concerns, but it seems the government is not ready to listen nor is it really dedicated to trying to find lasting, citizen-centered solutions to complex urban problems.”
“Evictions do not make Lagos safer. Instead, they push the urban poor into deeper poverty through homelessness and loss of livelihoods. Worsened poverty only exacerbates crime. Evictions are not the answer. We need to partner to find lasting solutions to insecurity.
“Evictions will not make Lagos the ‘ideal mega city’ it aspires to be. Lagos is a mega city by virtue of its population. We, the urban poor, are part of that population. It seems that Lagos wants us, the urban poor, to simply disappear. We cannot and will not disappear.
“But if we had support and partnership from our government such as can be seen in other mega cities in the global South, we could develop our communities through (in situ slum) upgrading and social housing. Indeed, Federation is building community-financed environmentally sustainable toilet solutions to improve sanitation and public health in our communities. Federation is developing a social housing scheme and planning (toward in situ slum) upgrading. We are learning from the successes of peers in cities around the world.
“Why should the government we elected into power turn its back on dialogue with us when we are still at the table? When we came to the table despite the massive impunity and violation of our members’ human rights perpetrated by the state government with the callous demolitions and violent attacks on Otodo Gbame on November 9-10, 2016, displacing 30,000 people, and between March 17 and 26, 2017, displacing another 4,700, instead of dialoguing with us to find win-win solutions, this government wants to drive the poor from the city by demolishing our homes, taking over our lands, destroying our livelihoods and, very soon, getting rid of our principal means of transportation,” they concluded.
APU Lagos chapter donates 5 classrooms to Unity School
In order to improve on the infrastructural deficits at the Unity Secondary School in Awkuzu, Anambra State, the Awkuzu Progressive Union (APU), Lagos chapter, has donated a five-classroom block it built to the school.
At the commissioning ceremony held at the school premises in Awkuzu, Oyi Local Government Area, the Commissioner of Education in Anambra State, Prof. Kate Omenugha, commended APU Lagos, for the gesture and assured that government will continue to live the dream of making students in the state achieve the purpose of being in school through qualitative education.
Omenugha promised that efforts by any group to encourage students through the provision of infrastructure in the state will never go unnoticed by the state government which put education of students in the state on the front burner.
She said, “we are aware of the infrastructural decays in some unity and public schools and plans have also been mapped out to tackle them head on and make learning conditions in the state very conducive. We are also aware of the priorities of schools with boarding system in the unity schools and we are already compiling the dilapidated structures in them for onwards attention by the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano. The access road and the science laboratory, among others, will be given their deserved attention in due course,” she said.
Earlier, the Principal of the school, Mrs. Adeline Nweke, appreciated the commissioner for her penchant in making schools in the state live their dream. She noted that Prof. Omenugha has stopped at nothing in her efforts to bring accolades to the state through students’ performance in both national and international competitions, which the first position Anambra took at the Science International Competition at Singapore attests to.
In his contribution, the Chairman, Oyi Local Government Area, Charles Uchenna Okafor, who hails from Awkuzu, noted that under the watch of Prof. Omenugha, schools in Anambra State have done well, adding that from Singapore other academic laurels were attracted to the state.
According to him, Prof. Omenugha has proved to be the best Commissioner of Education in Anambra State going by her performance. He said the project being commissioned was one of the numerous community efforts the town has continued to make to sustain any government facility in Awkuzu. He therefore asked other chapters that have not done anything to emulate the APU Lagos chapter in other projects.
While handing over the project to the Awkuzu President General, Chief George Echesi, the Chairman, APU Lagos, Chief Clement Anebeli Nnakwuzie, said the development of the town is for everybody, adding that giving back to the society is part of the obligation one has to do to help others. He said, “we are aware of the enormous needs of the school and we decided to pick this one because whatever you would need, shelter is top need in line with Maslow’s Theory. We plead with the students not to lower the tempo of performance which the school is known for,” he said.
In his statement, Chief Raphael Ogugua, the Vice Chairman, APU, Lagos chapter, said the aim of building the classrooms, apart from giving back to the society, was also to support the government of Governor Obiano who has not rested on its oars in making Anambra State best among the states in the country.
“We also want to use the project to encourage the students to take their studies seriously since the needs of the schools are already being noted by all and sundry in Awkuzu. As long as they keep performing well, we will keep making their facilities better,” Ogugua said.
Also speaking, the Chairman of the occasion, Dr. Okey Umeano, congratulated the APU Lagos, for remembering home. He said that it is a thing of joy that one remembers his fatherland wherever he finds himself knowing that no place is better than home. He urged the state government to continue the good work being done under Governor Obiano.
In his admiration, Chief Kit Emetarom, former Chairman, APU Lagos and former President General, APU, who witnessed the handover, commended the Lagos chapter for continuing with the good work that has become the symbol of APU Lagos even as he also appreciated the current administration in the state for the job well done.