The atmosphere at Badia East, a slum community in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, on Thursday, September 24, the day of the 2015 Muslim Eid-el-Kabir festival, was anything but celebratory.
The community looked like it had been ravaged by hurricane. People wore long and sullen faces as they cuddled under whatever makeshift structure they could build from the rubble of their homes that were demolished a week before.
Stripped of their dignity and possessions, families gathered in small groups in the open looking dejected. A woman was taking her bath in the open, a piece of cloth tied to two sticks barely hiding her nakedness from the public. A young man, who probably hadn’t got much sleep for quite for a week, slept on a bench with corrugated iron sheet delicately placed over his head shielding him from the daylight. A few metres away, four kids were playing with rocks beneath what look like a recharge card kiosk. A woman who sat beside them said that was where they had been sleeping since their parents were forcefully evicted and their home demolished.
Members of the community narrated that on September 17, 2015, representatives of the Oba of Ojoraland, Abdul Fatai Aromire, posted notices of possession of the land backed by a judgement of a Lagos State High Court. They claimed that no notice of eviction was served on them.
They said bulldozers arrived the community in the dead of the night, around 2 am, and started pulling down homes. People were not even allowed to take their personal belongings. Many shops were pulled down with the wares inside them.
Bukola Ojuri, who owned a grocery shop in the community, said she lost everything she owned. Speaking with a clear bitter tinge in her voice, Mrs. Ojuri said the dress she had on was the only possession she was able to salvage from her home.
“They have destroyed everything along with the house because that day when they came around 2:00am in the morning with caterpillar,” she said. “When we saw them, ask them if they came to demolish our houses. They deceived us and said they were not coming to demolish houses. They said caterpillar wanted to pack the gutter. I went out and that was when people at home called me that they were already demolishing the house. Before I got there, they were already moving to the next house and I begged them to allow me take even a bag out of my house, I pleaded with them, They forbidded me from entering my house so I left them.”
Joel Oko said he had a thriving guest house and barber shop before the demolition exercise. He said he and his two kids now live outside with nowhere to call home.
“We just saw them one morning. They started demolishing with no notice. I am helpless. I don’t know what to do. The government should come to our aid,” he said.
Olabisi Malomo, a mother of six, lived in the community for 25 years. She also lost all her possessions to the demolition and now sleeps in the open with her children. She said Thursday evening was particularly difficult for her suffering family as it rained heavily all night and she and her children had little or no protection from the rain.
“I am sleeping outside with my six children. As rain is falling now, we are under the rain. The way they do us for this community, it’s not good. In this Nigeria, they treat we poor people like we’re goats. We aren’t goats; we are human beings. They should help us. We have suffered too much,” she said.
In 2013, the Lagos State government demolished a section of the community to make way for the Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme (HOMS). More than 9,000 people were displaced in the process. The intention of the state government was to demolish the entire community at the time, but widespread local and international condemnation of the shamed the state and compelled it to halt the exercise.
Although this current eviction is being done by the Ojora Chieftaincy family, which is laying claim to the land, residents of Badia East believe it is the Lagos State government that is using the family as a cover to continue what it suspended in 2013.
They suspected the Ojora family plans to hand over the land to the state government to continue its mortgage scheme as soon as they are evicted.
“I am saying it that Lagos state was just using Ojora as a cover up,” said Emmanuel Ojuri, a victim of the demolition. “Lagos state is trying to play hanky-panky. We understand that Ijora has ceded that parcel of land to Lagos State. I know Ojora has collected lots of money, that is why. Even the caterpillar (bulldozer) they used, it is Lagos State Carterpillar, it is not Ijora own. Ijora does not have bulldozer.”
Mr Ojuri, as well as several other residents of the community, alleged that an official of the Lagos State Physical Planning and Development Authority (LSPPDA), Tunde Olugbewesa, was seen supervising the demolition.
That was a concern everyone in the community expressed. After the evictees protested in front of the Governor’s Ofice on September 21, the government ordered a temporary stop to the demolition but the people still live in horrid fear that the bulldozer might start pulling down homes again.
However, Oba Aromire, the traditional leader of Ijora, said his family was merely taking possession of what belonged to it and was not evicting people on behalf of the Lagos State government.
In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, he said Badia East had remained a “den of criminals” and that by taking possession of the land, the family would be helping to rid the surrounding communities of crime.
He declined to speak further on the matter when we visited him last Thursday. But added that some members of the community had written him a “letter of apology” .
He promised to call a press conference where he would further state his family’s side of the story.
Although the Lagos State government denied it has anything to do with the demolition, it promised to help resolve the matter in such a way that all parties involved would be happy and satisfied.
A meeting between representatives of the community and the Ojora family has been fixed for Friday at the state government’s secretariat in Alausa.
Members of the community said they have lived in the area for over 40 years and cannot be treated like squatters. They said the state government should relocate them to a new place and pay compensation for their properties destroyed by the bulldozer.
“In any civilized country if you are displacing us you must create where we will stay. Almost on two to three occasions, Lagos state has been on our lands but what do we get? Even when Amnesty international and all that say you must compensate these people, you must give these people something, they did not give us anything,” said Mr Ojuri.
Demolition after demolitions
Residents of Badia have for long being on the receiving end of demolitions. In 1929, the federal government acquired a huge chunk of their land to build a railway. By the early 1970s, the federal government called again, this time displacing occupants at a location nearby where the National Theatre was built. However, the people were moved to Badia-East, some hundreds of metres away, where they continued to live until Lagos State began its forced evictions.
There were also half-hearted attempts at eviction in 1986 and 2002. But it was in 2003 that the community experienced its first real taste of government bulldozers as Bola Tinubu, the then governor of Lagos, rolled in equipment to demolish a part of the community.
However the one that happened 10 years later, in 2013, was on a scale never seen before by the people.
Witnesses recall how bulldozers, accompanied by fully armed police officers, stormed the community around 7 am that Saturday, February 23, 2013. They spoke of how residents were given just 20 minutes to park their belongings before the demolition started.
Some people, according to one of the affected residents, John Momoh, were able to pack some of their belongings. Others were not so lucky. Their stuffs were destroyed along with the demolished residences.
Once the demolition started, residents were not allowed to come near what were their homes for years.
At the end of the exercise, about 9,000 people were rendered homeless, according to Amnesty International, as bulldozers and backhoes pulled apart wooden homes erected on swampy grounds in the slum.
Forty-eight hours after the demolition, Felix Morka, a human rights lawyer, led hundreds of the community people in a peaceful protest march in front of the governor’s office in Lagos. Mr. Morka also galvanized both the local and international media to beam their attention on the plight of a people rendered homeless by an elected government.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Badia was chosen as part of the urban renewal zone project alongside eight other slums selected for the 200 million U.S. dollars World Bank credit facility project, implemented by the Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project. The project was designed to provide essential services and infrastructures in slum communities in Lagos.
The Lagos government has however maintained that the demolition was not related to the World Bank project. The government maintained the Badia residents were illegal occupants who were simply made to vacate government land.
Lagos, the demolition master
Most of the victims of the 2013 demolition have moved on to find homes in other slums or locations around and outside Lagos. Some have moved in with relatives. A few, PREMIUM TIMES was told, remain homeless.
For several months, arguments and counter-arguments lingered between the community and the Lagos State government over whether the residents were eligible for compensation or government-assisted relocation.
While the community’s lawyers argued that Ijora Badia residents should be compensated, the government insisted they were illegal occupants of its land who did not deserve any assistance. The government maintained that the demolition was not related to the World Bank project.
But after a series of meetings between the Badia community representatives and a technical committee of the Lagos State government, a Resettlement Action Plan, RAP, that included a compensation package was reached for those affected by the demolition.
The figures paid to the evictees were arrived at after a unilateral decision by the Lagos State government to review downwards an initial figure agreed by both parties .
The details of the package in the RAP included: N90,400 for tenants; N171,725 for owners of small structures (1 – 4 rooms) ; N248,740 for owners of medium structures (5 – 8 rooms); and N309,780 for owners of large structures (8 rooms and above).
The World Bank monitored and approved the RAP, despite it falling short of international human rights standard and the Bank’s resettlement policy.
Almost all the affected residents appear to have now been paid. All those interviewed by PREMIUM TIMES lamented that the money paid to them was meager and would do little to provide succor. They however said they agreed to accept the compensation because they ran out of patience after waiting for over a year.
“Normally we are supposed to reject that, but because our people are dying and we cannot cope anymore,” said Albert Olorunwa, a community representative.
The Lagos government has a history of forcefully and brutally demolishing homes and businesses, with little or no warning, no compensation and no resettlement – purportedly in enforcement of the state’s environmental laws.
According to the Social and Economic Rights Action, an NGO documenting these practices, countless Lagos communities have experienced such horror – from Ijora Badia in 2003 and again in February 2013 to Makoko in 2005 and 2010 – and thousands of Lagosians have been left homeless and further impoverished as a consequence.
A call for Buhari’s intervention
A coalition of non-governmental organisations and individuals, known as Friends of Badia East, in a press statement on Sunday, called on the Ojora family and the Lagos state government to stop further demolition of homes in the community.
“We join the victims in calling for the Ojora Chieftaincy Family and the Lagos State Government to put a final halt to these demolitions,” the group said. “We implore urgent protective action for the victims by the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government, both of which have the legal responsibility of preventing forced evictions, protecting victims, and ensuring effective remedy.
“At a United Nations summit just days ago, President Buhari publicly committed Nigeria to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which sets goals for eradication of poverty and rights-based upgrading of slums. It is high time for such commitments to be felt in places like Badia, the statement read.
The group, therefore, made the following demands:
– That the Federal Government of Nigerian and the Lagos State Government take all necessary steps to ensure there are no further forced evictions;
– That people already forcibly evicted be returned to their rebuilt homes, or provided an adequate and satisfactory alternative, and compensated for all their losses; and
– That persons rendered homeless, especially women, children and other vulnerable populations, be given immediate humanitarian assistance, including adequate temporary shelter while long-term solutions are in process.