Five days after its officials demolished houses and destroyed properties in Otodo-Gbame, a small fishing settlement outside Lekki, an action residents of the community said was in violation of a subsisting court order, the Lagos State government has finally explained why it took the action.
At about 8.30 a.m. Friday, three bulldozers accompanied by anti-terror police officers and officials of the Lagos State environmental task force arrived the community and started pulling down houses and other structure.
The demolition attracted widespread condemnation from local and international organisations.
In a statement released on Tuesday by the commissioner of information and strategy, Steve Ayorinde, the government said officials of the state’s ministry of environment demolished the houses to prevent “an environmental disaster and another round of deadly skirmishes” that led to the razing of the community in November.
On November 9, 2016, gang of boys linked to the Elegushi family had attacked residents of Otodo-Gbame and proceeded to set fire on their bamboo homes.
The government said the action was taken to keep the waterfront “free from environmentally injurious and unsanitary habitation few months after it was consumed by fire and rendered uninhabitable.”
The government explained that contrary to the claim of the residents that it flouted the order of a court, it owed a duty to the entire population of the state to ensure public health and safety is maintained.
“The Otodo Gbame community is one of the 39 claimant communities that had commenced action to enforce their fundamental rights pursuant to Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 before Onigbanjo. J of Lagos Division of the High Court of Lagos State in Suit No. LD/4232MFHR/2016..AKAKPO & 38 ORS vs. AG L/S & 3 ORS,” the statement said.
Mr. Ayorinde said: “The leave granted to enforce their rights was tantamount to an order of status quo ante bellum on the parties, which amongst other things required that the claimants do not take any action within the area after it was destroyed by fire.
“The undisputed fact is that Otodo-Gbame was engulfed by fire that razed down the entire community in November 2016, which rendered the area uninhabitable.”
Mr. Ayorinde said since the case was already in court, it would be “unacceptable for them to return to the area or to erect shanties and perpetuate unsanitary and environmentally dangerous conditions, hence, the need for the government to maintain order and public safety.”
The government said it was mindful of the welfare of the affected citizens and had indeed expressed its concerns and willingness to explore an amicable resolution insofar the demands of the claimants are reasonable and lawful.
The government added that it would neither be stampeded nor blackmailed into abdicating its constitutional responsibilities to guard against a potential health and environmental hazard in the area by condoning what amounts to a breach of environmental and urban planning laws.
The statement added that government through its fire services and emergency rescue operations as well as the police assisted the residents when the entire community was razed down in November 2016 as a result of inter-ethnic clashes there.
However, residents said the police actually joined the thugs allegedly hired by the Elegushi royal family in setting their houses on fire during the November incident.