The State Environment and Sanitation Task Force forcefully evicted a whole community triggering a massive internal human displacement crisis.
At nightfall in Ijora-Badia, two-month-old Joy Kalu sleeps in the open. When it’s time for the family to retire for the day, her mother, Ada, unfolds a worn out mattress, lays her baby on it, and lights up a mosquito coil.
“Is it a crime to be poor? I managed to escape with my baby when they came on Saturday,” Ada, 26, said, cradling her baby behind her back.
Last Saturday morning, the Lagos State Environment and Sanitation Task Force forcefully evicted residents of Badia East Community in Lagos.
By nightfall, what used to be homes for thousands of residents were reduced to a mass of wooden and concrete rubble.
The occupants said that they were taken unawares.
“They came around 7 a.m., gave us 20 minutes to pack out our things,” said John Momoh, 28.
“Some people were able to pack some of their things. When they started, they didn’t allow anybody to come in. I lost everything,” he added.
Homeless and helpless
Two bulldozers, accompanied by dozens of armed police officers, continued to rip through buildings into Sunday.
Three “dissident residents” were imprisoned in a Black Maria, but later released.
“Some area boys were trying to steal our properties and were fighting with them,” Mr. Momoh, who was among those arrested, added.
On most nights, Ada said that she stays awake so her baby could sleep.
“I want to stop using (mosquito) coils. It’s giving her catarrh,” she said.
For Bimbo Oshobe and her family – four children and a grandchild- there is nowhere to go.
“What do you do when you don’t have any alternative? We’ve been in this area since 1973,” Mrs. Oshobe said.
“My husband has gone to look for money from his people.”
On Monday, hundreds of the residents marched to the state governor’s office to register their displeasure with the evictions.
After a four-hour wait, Bosun Jeje, the Commissioner for Housing, came out and merely stated that they form a “technical committee” to meet with the government.
By Tuesday, the demolition squad had left, but the residents – most of them – remained, squatting near drainage channels and railroad tracks that pass through the community.
Clothes, torn books, broken torchlight and plates littered the ground.
Albert Olorunwa who spearheaded the protest on Monday said that the demolition was “illegal and callous.”
“We have nowhere to go. No food, no shelter. We have passed through a lot of agony,” Mr. Olorunwa, a former youth leader in the community, said.
“It’s a bad government. They are callous, useless government who has not got anything upstairs to offer the people,” he said.
The Social and Economic Rights Action Centre, SERAC, a nongovernmental organization that had been working with the community, said that the demolition is an illustration that “nothing has changed in Lagos since the days of military government.”
“The Lagos State Government still has no shame in carrying out mass forced evictions in flagrant contravention of international law and the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution,” the group said in a statement.
A history of evictions
The history of Badia in Apapa-Iganmu local council and their inhabitants are dotted with forced evictions.
In 1929, the federal government acquired a huge chunk of the land to build a railway.
By the early 1970s, the federal government called again, this time displacing occupants at the present location of the National Theatre, Iganmu.
However, the people were moved to Badia-East, a few kilometres away, where they had continued to live until Lagos State began its forced evictions.
“Aside from periodic demolitions, the community has, since 2005, been engaged with the federal government in planning for possible in situ urban renewal,” said Felix Morka, SERAC’s Executive Director.
On February 22, SERAC said that it held a meeting with the Lagos State Government in which Mr. Jeje “unequivocally denied” knowledge of any planned demolition.
“By the close of the meeting, the commissioner committed to raising SERAC’s concerns about the need for a more consultative planning process at an inter-ministerial meeting the following week,” Mr. Morka said.
“Flying in the face of all such denials and promises, the massive demolition and forced eviction commenced unannounced less than twenty hours later,” he added.
Speaking during the demolition, Bayo Suleiman, who led the Task Force, said that a slum existing in an area housing big industries such as the Nigeria Breweries is “not acceptable.”
“There is no way we can achieve the mega city status with this kind of slum in this area,” Mr. Suleiman said.