At the waterfront, Otodo-Gbame Community in Ikate Elegushi, Lekki Phase 1, Lagos State witnessed another demolition of shanties structures. In Otodo-Gbame community inhabitants enjoy the fresh air of the riverside. The inhabitants of Otodo-Gbame community in Ikate Elegushi in Lekki, are predominantly fishermen and carryout fishing business in and outside Lagos State.
Otodo-Gbame settlers witnessed a shock of their life on Friday 17 March, 2017 when some unidentified men with caterpillars came like a thief in the night and started demolishing their homes without any communication with the members of the community.
One of the Residents who pleaded to remain anonymous claimed that about 8.00 a.m. on Friday, some unidentified men accompanied by anti-terror police officers and unidentifiable purportedly claimed officials of the Lagos State Government from the environmental department task force arrived the community and started demolishing houses and destruction of the individual and community valuables properties despite a subsisting court injunction stopping the forceful eviction of residents.
Some of the resident claimed that the Lagos State Government want to construct or use their land for public purposes, that the community deserved a proper notice from the government, that they were absolutely helpless during the demolition as they had not been served notice of demolition by the state government.
That hoodlum and government officials did not allow anyone to take their properties, that resident were running for the protection of the lives because policemen were chasing people away with tear gas and guns.
Otodo-Gbame resident had witnessed forceful demolition late last year and the community believed that the State Government disguised by using some hoodlum to perpetrate crisis in the community late last year which led to property destruction and lost of life.
A community member shared the story that sometimes in November 2016, some hoodlums linked to the Elegushi Royal family had attacked residents of Otodo-Gbame community and proceeded to set fire on their structures which is built with bamboo stick on top of the river because of the nature of the fishing business most members of the community engaged in.
They also said that because of the peaceful nature of the community, group Residents quickly reported the matter to the nearby community, Ilasan Community Police State to intervene in the pandemonium caused by the unlawful act of the hoodlums but they were shocked that when the Ilasan police Station officers arrived at the scene, they joined the hoodlums and started demolishing and setting fire to their homes.
The above incident occurred a day after the Lagos State High Court of Justice gave a ruling restraining the Lagos State Government, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode or any person whatsoever from demolishing the Otodo-Gbame’s properties. To the amazement of the community after the court ruling, some hoodlum and government officials still vowed to demolish all illegal waterfront communities in the state, from going ahead with his threat.
The community protested to the government house, that their homes should not be demolished, that they have nowhere else to live.
However, on Friday, four months after they returned to peace together what was left of their lives and belongings, resident say officials of the state’s Ministry of Environment task force entered the community and began demolishing the rebuilt parts of the town.
Megan Chapman, co-director of Justice Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a community-based legal and empowerment organisation, which represents the residents of Otodo-Gbame as counsel said at least 4,598 people will be affected by today’s demolition of properties.
Ms. Chapman said the officials on ground claimed that the state government was personally supervising the demolition in a helicopter that hovered overhead.
“There was absolutely no notice whatsoever. They just showed up this morning,” she added.
She said Friday’s action by the state government was even more shocking as they had just commenced a court-ordered mediation with the state government last week.
“As you are probably aware there is a case going on right now between 15 waterfront communities including Otodo-Gbame in which JEI is representing the community as counsel.
The Lagos State High Court gave an interim ruling on the 26 of January saying that this type of demolition without an opportunity for people to find alternative shelter or without provision of alternative shelter constitute cruel and degrading treatment.
“The court ordered the state government to go into a mediation with us.
“We started the mediation process last week and it is still on-going and we were supposed to report to the court at the beginning of next month. The court also ordered that the parties should maintain the status quo until the ending of the mediation and the subsequent judgement of the court. So this in direct violation of the court orders,”
Also, human rights group, Amnesty International, has accused and condemned the demolition of the Otodo-Gbame community, adding that it is illegal and thousands have been forced to flee their homes after security operatives used tear gas on them and fired live bullets to pave way for bulldozers to demolish the community. “condemns forced eviction in any form and calls for a halt. The affected community is entitled to Right to Housing. Forced eviction without consultation, relocation or compensation is a violation.”
Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher, Morayo Adebayo, stated that “The scene at the moment is chaotic and dangerous for the thousands who live in the Otodo-Gbame community. The military and police are out in full force and are using tear gas and live bullets to disperse the residents. There are four bulldozers ripping through the settlement.
“This brutal and illegal act flies in the face of human dignity as well as a High Court Ruling that prohibited the eviction taking place and instructed the authorities to instead seek a settlement with the affected communities.
“The Lagos State Government should ensure that the families who have been rendered homeless this morning are given emergency relief including adequate shelter, water, food and any medical care they may require.”
When some journalist at the scene called the telephone line of the spokesperson to the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Habib Haruna did not answer or return several called made to his mobile telephone number.
When reached for comment, the Lagos police spokesperson, Olarinde Famous-Cole, said he would get the full details from the divisional police officer in-charge of the area before responding on the involvement of the police.
Otodo-Gbame community pleaded with the general public to come to their rescue. They states that it is the responsibility of government to make cheap available homes for the general public and that Otodo-Gbame community settler have been living on the land for some years and they are citizens of Nigeria and they are entitled to all the fundamental human rights as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.