Like an ominous shadow, demolition has followed Florence Njoku, 65, from one slum to another around Lagos.
She has moved from Oko-Baba slum, to Iddo and now Otto-Ilogbo slum in Ebutte-Meta area of Lagos. Mrs Njoku, who cannot afford to pay the expensive rent for an accommodation in a decent neighbourhood in the city of over 21 million residents. Things have even become worse for her in the last few years.
“I have been living here (Otto-Ilogbo) for the past 25 years with my 10 children,” she said, pointing to her wooden home, which is almost collapsing because of its weak structure.
“I had a shop before, but now, I pick plastic and sell it to feed the children. I just sent one of my children to look for plastic that we can sell to buy food,” Mrs Njoku continued.
Things may get further worse for her as she may soon become homeless if the state government goes ahead with a plan to “develop” and “regenerate” her neighbourhood.
“Development” and “regeneration” euphemistic terms often used by the state government when it is set to demolish poorer communities, which are then rebuilt with upscale properties, the original residents of the communities cannot afford.
“Now, I am hearing that they want to break this place, and I don’t know where to take all my children to. I born 10 children and have seven grandchildren,” Mrs Njoku said.
Otto-Ilogbo, Otto, Otumara and Ifesowapo communities are slums located at Ebutte-Meta West, Lagos Mainland. The communities serve as home to hundreds of Lagosians, who are mostly victims of past evictions in the state.
Residents of the communities include victims of Makoko, Maroko, Badia, Oko Baba and Otodo Gbame evictions.
Due to the dense population of slum dwellers, the communities registered as Community Development Areas (CDAs) and are identified by the Lagos Ministry of Local Government and Community Affairs, Musbau Agbodemu, a CDA chairman in Otto said.
“We are part of the 21million residents Lagos count as its population to get Federal Government allocations and international grants,” Mr Agbodemu said, explaining how a recent move to regenerate the communities without their consent will be unfair to the hundreds of residents.
Mr Agbodemu, who is one of the oldest dwellers of Otto/Otumara slum said there have been past attempts by the Lagos State Government to evict residents.
In July 2011, during the administration of Babatunde Fashola, residents of Otto and Otumara communities received a “Notice of Abatement of Nuisance” from the Environmental Sanitation Agency to keep their environment “free from filth, refuse or waste.”
Following the notice, structures in the communities were marked for demolition by the agency, an act which would have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of residents.
“We took the government to court during that time and with the help of NGOs, CSOs and human right lawyers, we won the case,” Mr Agbodemu said in a cheering voice.
PREMIUM TIMES obtained copies of the court proceedings where residents of Otto, Otumara and adjoining communities approached the Lagos High Court for the enforcement of their fundamental rights.
Although the notice did not state that homes will be demolished, the residents told the court their houses were also marked for demolition by the same agency.
In a motion filed on August 11, 2011 before Femi Adeniyi, a Judge at the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere the residents asked the court for the enforcement or their fundamental rights, pursuant to sections of the 1999 Constitution, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, and of the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009.
The communities sought the declaration of the court that the threatened demolitions of their buildings threatened their fundamental rights under the Constitution and the court should declare the demolition orders null and void.
Giving judgement in the matter on March 5, 2013, the judge, Mr Adeniyi said the notice served on the communities had no demolition of any of the houses in its content.
“Although both parties (the applicants and respondents) have alluded to demolition marks being made on the premises, I am not satisfied that a notice to the applicants to abate nuisance under the Environmental Sanitation Law 1992 translates into a threat to demolish the premises.
“Although Section 6 of the Environmental Sanitation Enforcement Agency Law 1992 gives the Agency’s officers powers to demolish a structure which constitutes public nuisance, the section merely states those powers and nothing more.
“I find therefore that the applicants have not established to the satisfaction of this Court that there is any threatened demolition of their houses which may violate their fundamental rights as envisaged under section 46(1) of the 1999 Constitution. The application fails and is accordingly dismissed,” the judge ruled.
Lagos govt to “develop” Otto/Otumara Slums
On May 7, the Lagos Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development announced that approval has been given for the regeneration of Otto and Otumara slum communities in Lagos Mainland.
The ministry, through its commissioner, Idris Salako said the Sanwo-Olu-led administration has concluded “regeneration” plans to create a new Micro City with better urban aesthetics and vibrancy in Otto and Otumara.”
Mr Salako said the new micro-city will feature socio-economic amenities such as hospitals/clinics, schools, market, and water facility.
The commissioner added that ecologically sensitive land spaces, such as Buffer Zones, Earth Drain, Floodplains and waterfronts will be preserved in the communities.
“It is to be upgraded rather than total displacement,” Mr Salako said – a statement which suggests that residents of the community will not be totally displaced.
However, it is unclear what the regeneration plan of Otto and Otumara communities looks like or how it will affect the slum dwellers.
Residents express fear over possible demolition/eviction
A resident, Abiodun Ajimuda, 78, said ‘regeneration/development’ are words the government uses when it wants to demolish the homes of poor people.
Mr Ajimuda has been a victim of two evictions – Maroko and Makoko, he moved to Otto slum, where he has been residing since 1996.
“I was at Maroko initially, I had a house there, my family was also there. They came to evict us and demolish Maroko on July 7, 1990. From there we went to Makoko, again, they demolished Makoko without giving us any notice,” he said.
Mr Ajimuda, a retired petty-trader said he has been living in slums because he could not afford to pay the expensive rents for decent accommodations in Lagos.
“The suffering is too much, the government should have pity on us and help us. “Those places are water-logged areas, it is after we develop them that the government will come and send us packing.
“Where do we go, since 1996 I have been living here and suffering. It surprises me that the government sees us and knows that we are suffering, but it is after we fill up a water-logged area and develop it that they come after us without giving us a better place to live in,” Mr Ajimuda said.
Several other residents who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said they were worried over a possible eviction and demolition of their properties by the state government.
Having witnessed past evictions, many of the residents are unsure of what their fate would be when the planned regeneration commences.
“I have no place to go, no one likes to live in a place like this, it is because we don’t have the money to take good houses that we are here,” Gideon Adams, a resident, said.
Meanwhile no notice has been served on the communities by the Lagos State government, nor has any meeting been held on the regeneration plan.
A clergyman within the community, Moruf Bello, said he made some payments to the Olotto of Otto-land to get land allocated to him in the slum.
‘I came here because of church. When I got here like 27 years ago, everywhere was water, it was a swampy area. I met with the Olotoo of Otto land and they measured this place for me. I got here with the intention to buy land and they collected about N180,000 from me.
“Since then, I have been here inside this water, filling up this place to make it look like this,” he said pointing to the church building which was filled with water.
Mr Bello said the community has been set on fire about three times in the past, to force residents out.
Musbau Agbodemu, the CDA chairman of Otto-Ilogbo said the deficit in housing for the teeming population of Lagosians led to hundreds of thousands of families living in the slums.
“We have been here since 1996, developing this place and when the government and the so-called land grabbers realized that this place is developing into a community, they started with their antics and different policies that they want to take over this place.
The CDA chairman said the recent announcement of the regeneration of Otto and Otumara by the Sanwo-Olu-led administration is another way being devised to take over the communities.
“They sat comfortably in one of the chambers and they designed a regeneration plan without people’s consent. They are coming not for development but they are coming to demolish our expectations, our hopes,” Mr Agbodemu said.
Regeneration of slums laudable, but must be ‘just’ – CSO
A non-profit organisation, Spaces for Change (S4C) said the plan to regenerate Otto and Otumara communities by the Lagos state government is laudable but must be in the interest of the people.
In a letter written to the Ministry of Physical planning on behalf of residents of Otto and Otumara communities, S4C urged the ministry to embark on a people-oriented project and allay fears of demolition and displacement of the people.
“While this regeneration plan is laudable and timely, the target communities fear that gentrification, demolition and displacement are usually occasioned by this kind of development.
“The communities, however, stand ready to support this laudable initiative with the hope that it will lead to major improvements in their social, economic and living conditions,” the organisation wrote.
S4C urged the Lagos government to make Lagos a “Just City” and not only a Mega City.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mukaila Sanusi, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Physical Planning on the regeneration plan and how it will affect residents, he explained that the project will be executed by a sister agency.
“The regeneration is being anchored by LASURA, it is carried out by the Ministry through LASURA,” he said.
The spokesperson of the Lagos State Urban Renewal Agency (LASURA), Olatunde Olusesi, said the agency has never carried out any demolition in the state.
“LASURA has never demolished any community, if we want to do any project, we provide temporary places for people, even the one we did at Adeniji Adele.
“LASURA is not going to be demolishing any community and we have never done that,” he said.
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