The Lagos State Government on Thursday broke its one week silence on Otodo Gbame by denying having a hand in the demolition of the waterfront slum community situated on the edge of Lagos lagoon.
Steve Ayorinde, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, said in a statement that the government did not authorize the burning down of the community last week, saying that the allegation was “far from the truth.”
Mr. Ayorinde said while the police succeeded in bringing to a halt the “deadly clashes which occurred as a result of continued disagreement over tolling and other sundry issues, the large part of the shanties had already been torched and razed down before the combined team of fire brigade and emergency rescue officers got to the scene on the night of Wednesday, November 9th.”
The state government’s account of the incident came one week after almost 30,000 Otodo Gbame people, according to the Justice and Empowerment Initiative, were rendered homeless.
It also came a few hours after the UN Special Rapporteur had demanded an “urgent explanation” from Nigeria over the incident.
The Lagos State Police Command had issued a statement last week claiming there was a “crisis in the community following a violent confrontation between the Egun-speaking part and the Yoruba-speaking part of the community.”
The police said it moved in to restore calm in the community.
But the Otodo Gbame community denied the police’s claim, saying the purported crisis was part of a ploy to force them out of their ancestral lands.
The state government’s denial came amidst evidence that government-owned bulldozers rolled into the community on November 10 to begin demolition of all shanties in the community.
The eviction occurred despite a court order issued three days earlier suspending a planned demolition of communities along creeks and waterways in the state.
At least, seven people died in an ensuing melee.
State-owned bulldozers and armed police officers who shot sporadically into the air stormed the community in the early hours of November 9th.
Multiple sources had told PREMIUM TIMES last week that police officers helped in torching the wooden homes in the community.
In his statement on Thursday, Mr. Ayorinde said the state government shared in the “painful loss” of the residents, insisting that from police reports and evaluation by the government, the waterfront community was razed by the fire incident that happened as a result of the ethnic clash that occurred between the Egun and Yoruba residents within the community.
“It is therefore unfortunate that a few aggrieved persons and fifth columnists will choose to blame the government and law enforcement officers that rose to the occasion in ensuring that the clashes did not degenerate further and more importantly that the arson did not spread into Lekki Phase 1,” Mr. Ayorinde said.
The Commissioner said while the Otodo Gbame shanties clearly fell within the prime waterfront areas where Lagos State Government would prefer to have better development befitting of a prime area in a mega city, it was mindful of the fundamental rights of the various residents living in the area.
According to Mr. Ayorinde, while government was not unaware of the legal tussle over the areas and the rights of citizens to stage peaceful protests, relevant agencies of government had since been deployed to provide succour and lessen the pains of the displaced people.
The statement did not, however, elaborate on the nature of the succour it was providing to the displaced residents.
The statement further warned both local and foreign individuals or groups using the unfortunate incident to perpetrate wrong and unfounded information to desist from taking advantage of an unfortunate development and the plight of the former residents of Otodo Gbame. It added that the state government would not be blackmailed with cheap, sensational interjections from the onerous task of better securing Lagos, improving on urban development and looking after the infrastructural needs of all residents.