A Lagos State High Court at Igbosere, on Monday ordered the state government to immediately suspend its planned demolition of shanties along creeks and waterways in the State.
The court order was a respite to 300,000 people living in these waterfront communities who were facing the bleak prospect of losing their homes and businesses following an order by the governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, that communities should be demolished.
Worried by the growing cases of kidnapping and other criminal activities around waterfront communities, the governor on October 9 gave inhabitants of the communities one week to leave, saying the communities would be demolished after the expiration of the deadline.
“Most of the issues we have with kidnapping are perpetrated by illegal settlers by the waterfront. All shanties along the waterfront of the state must go because the safety of Lagosians is paramount in this administration,” he said.
“We will not allow a few set of people who come into Lagos illegally, then stay on our waterfront and use it as an opportunity to kidnap our people,” added.
However, the judge, Adeniyi Onigbanjo, granted the prayers of a community-based group, Incorporated Trustees of Community Legal Support Initiative and 35 occupants of various waterfront communities, asking for an interim injunction restraining the state government from carrying out its planned demolition of waterfront communities across the state and preventing the government or its agents from evicting occupants of the community pending the hearing of the suit.
Agemo Abacha, an inhabitant of Ago Egun, one of the waterfront communities, explained in an affidavit sworn in support of the suit, that since the governor made the announcement, life has stopped being normal for people living in the communities.
“That since this announcement, my community and dozens of other waterfront communities across the state have been thrown into chaos. We are living in apprehension of demolition and eviction any day.”
He said two days after the announcement was made, members of the communities under the aegis of the Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation wrote to the state governor to retract the order but got no reply.
He said on October 13, members of the community staged a peaceful demonstration at the governor’s office to save their communities but received no favourable outcome from the government.
Two days later, he said, the government commenced the demolition of Ilubirin a waterfront fishing settlement in the Ikoyi area of the state.
He said the inhabitants of waterfront communities in the state are law-abiding people, who are engaged in legal business. He said if the state government goes ahead with the planned demolition they would be rendered homes, without a means of livelihood and the education of their children would be truncated.
He said members of the communities were ready to work with law-enforcement agencies to help tackle crimes around the communities.
“That we understand from what we have heard in the news that Governor Ambode is trying to justify the demolition of communities like ours based on the need to fight crime in Lagos State. But, the residents of our communities are hard-working, law-abiding citizens who have nowhere else to go. We welcome law enforcement activities and we cooperate with the police. Evicting hundreds of thousands of people and destroying our homes and legitimate livelihoods will not prevent crime or make the city safer,” he said.
Megan Chapman, co-founder of Justice and Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria, a group that works with communities under the threat of eviction and demolition, told PREMIUM TIMES that the decision of the court to restrain the state government from continuing with the demolition is a step in the right direction.
“On behalf of the affected communities, Justice and Empowerment Initiative is very pleased with the judge’s exercise of discretion and issuance of this interim injuction to protect and estimated 300,000 people who otherwise might lose their homes and their businesses. We think this is a step forward for justice and we pray that the case will continue in this direction,” she said.