Audu Liberty Oseni
West African super cities may be taking a giant stride in the displacement of its citizens for mega city projects across the region, as poor urban populations are continually rendered homeless with their homes taken down for city beautification. Of recent, in Nigeria, Lagos state has demolished Badia slum rendering 10,000 persons homeless in order to give way to Lagos mega city project.
A frightening report from Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) an organization in Nigeria shows that over 2 million Nigerians lost their homes to demolition. In a similar revelation, Violations of Human Rights Global Survey No. 10 show that 800,000 inhabitants lost their homes to demolition in Abuja as a result of city beautification.
The survey also says 15, 000 persons lost their homes in Ago-Egun Ilaje area of Lagos; over 100,000 homes lost homes in Makoko, and 10,000 persons lost their homes at the Agip Waterside Community in Port-Harcourt. In all the massive demolition, the governments’ reason was that the slums were not built according town plan and therefore needed to be demolished for city rebuilding.
The same scenario was in the case in Njemanze waterfront where over 17,000 persons were rendered homeless and forcibly evicted from their homes when the Rivers state authorities demolished the area as part of the state urban renewal programme for Port Harcourt. At the moment, Zamfara has concluded plans to demolish 800 houses in order to build airport.
Poor populations in urban Liberia also lost homes to city beautification project, as Montserrado District 7, in central Monrovia was pulled down leaving over 10,000 persons without homes. Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, has seen massive demolition of slums in various communities that have rendered many men, women and their children homeless.
The May 2011 Norwegian Refugee Council Report shows that a greater number of Monrovians live in slums, thus making large number of the citizens at the risk of displacement. The story is not different from Ghana. In Accra the state capital, the Metropolitan Assembly pulled down over 1,000 houses at Odawna, rendering over 80,000 persons homeless.
After carrying out demolitions and rendering thousands of the urban poor homeless, governments across West Africa build houses that are expensive for the poor. Lagos state for instance, plans to build 008 housing units at Badia after the demolition; however, it is very apparent that the poor cannot afford to live in the government proposed building as the displaced inhabitants in Badia earn below $100 a month.
In as much as mega city project appears pleasant to the eyes and makes the cities look beautiful, the fundamental question is what becomes of the future of the majority of the urban poor who are being rendered homeless by the mega city project?
Lagos state, Nigeria, for instance has an estimated 18 million population, out of which 11.55 million (64.2%) live below poverty bracket. More worrisome is that Lagos state population grows at 8% yearly, and going by government estimate Lagos is likely to have 25 million population by 2015.
As governments in West Africa engage in the mega city project, it must design its mega city in such a way that majority of the urban poor will have decent inexpensive abode. Improvement in the environment should not make the urban poor to be at the receiving end.
Development must not be seen as building attractive hotels, office mansions, super markets, beautiful roads, to make the rich comfortable rendering the urban poor homeless and in a state of unending hardship. The mega city project must not wear the face of capitalism where the government protects the interest of the rich and the poor made to die.
Mega city project that leads to the demolition of slum dwellers abode weakens the very procedure of ensuring human development. Sustainable economic development ought to commence with human development. In urban mega cities in West Africa, superior approach should be made to advancing the human capital and economic capability of the urban poor. Demolition of any kind ought to carry out a broad process of engaging the inhabitants of the slum with an agreement on the relocation and compensation entitlements.
West Africa in its mega city project should put in place suitable policies and programs to handle land and housing challenges. Building low cost housing estates in the satellite towns will adequately decongest the cities thereby reducing the number of victims when carrying out demolitions for mega city project.
Women, children, and the poor and those without legal security of tenure bear the predicament of demolition the most. Demolition for mega city project increases high risk of impoverishment as most of the victims become landless, jobless, homeless, marginalized, and insecure.
Victims of demolition lose their homes and neighborhoods; they are forced to relinquish their personal possessions.
There is indication that demolition and displacement of urban poor are likely to continue in West Africa; there is rapid urbanization taking place in mega cities across the region. Most of the mega cities are growing at 9.3% and 8% rates as we have seen in the case of Abuja and Lagos respectively. Even as this continues to be the trend, governments in the region are refusing to develop rural communities and have no adequate plan to address population surge and rapid urbanization.
In Nigeria for instance, from 1999 to date, what has happened in terms of housing provision for masses is not a good development. Some of the houses built by the previous administration before 1999 to date have been sold or privatized; there have been mass demolition of houses belonging to the urban poor, misuse of Land Use Act by government which makes access to land by the urban poor very difficult, allocation of lands to private estate developers at the expense of the urban poor, which has stifled their access to land and compounded their housing problem and government withdrawal from building houses for the poor and building thousands of houses on the pages of Newspaper. These indicators therefore show that the future of the urban poor is not guaranteed as West Africa embarks in its mega city project.