The Lagos State government on Wednesday told a court that contrary to evidence available to the public, its officials did not carry out further demolition of homes in Otodogbame, but only went to the community to pack debris.
The government also offered insights into the cause of the stalemate in the court-ordered mediation between its officials and inhabitants of Otodogbame, a waterfront community in the Lekki area.
The counsel to the state government, S. Quadri, on Wednesday told a Lagos High Court that the state did not pull out of the mediation but that the residents were making impossible demands.
“We appeared before the mediation, but they are asking the government to build houses for them, over 300 people,” Mr. Quadri told Justice S.A Onigbangbo.
“The government never made any offer to the people that were displaced, how do we relocate them, they should not just come anywhere they see and settle. If they want to settle in Lagos, they should come with their money and buy land to settle.”
The court had earlier on Wednesday struck out contempt proceedings instituted by the Otodogbame community against Governor Akinwunmi Ambode stating that it lacked jurisdiction to try the governor because of the immunity he enjoys.
The court, however, condemned the alleged action of the governor.
“If the governor had truly ordered the forceful eviction and demolition of the second applicant, he undermined the principles of the rule of law and the same process which put him in office in the first place,” the judge said.
Reacting to the judge’s decision, Megan Chapman, co-director of Justice Empowerment Initiatives, a community-based legal and empowerment organisation which represents the residents of Otodogbame, said there are still armed men who shoot anyone that comes into the community.
“It was reported to us as at yesterday that government brought two gun boats in the community. So, the reality may be that they aren’t safe to go back there and enjoy their rights in the community,” Ms. Chapman said.
Ms. Chapman said the court could not punish the governor for disobedience of a court order because he enjoys immunity from prosecution.
“The judge has made his position clear on this case that he finds the action of the governor reprehensible and in flagrant disregard to the rule of law which is detrimental to democracy in Nigeria,” she said.
“It is beyond his powers to commit the governor to prison but if he could, he would have and that’s a strong pronouncement; and I hope it reaches the ears of the governor so he understands that what he is doing is undermining the rule of law, undermining the principles of democracy and it’s damaging the society at large.”
The Court had on January 26 ordered the parties involved in the demolition of the Lagos waterfront communities to attempt mediation through the Lagos State Multi-Door Courthouse and report back to the court.
While also denying claims that the Lagos State government ignored court orders in further demolishing the slums in the waterfront communities, Mr. Quadri said they “were only packing the debris resulting from the fire outbreak in the community. The Fire Services were there and they saw that it was only the debris we were packing.”
Responding to the claims of the government that they were at the scene of the demolition only to pack debris, Justice Onigbangbo cautioned the government to act in a fatherly manner to the residents.
“You don’t act like a child, so if they had flaunted the court order do you also join them,” the judge said.
“If a child rolls on the sand will you also join the child? If you had allowed those debris you claim to be packing for a month or two pending when the court gives its judgement, will those debris turn to concrete that you won’t be able to pack again?”
The judge ordered that the status quo be maintained in the matter, implying residents return to their various houses in the waterfront communities and carry out their daily activities pending the outcome of the case.
The case was adjourned till April 25.