Victor Osakwe (Secretary CDWR)
12 June 2008
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) condemns the recent spate of demolition exercise embarked upon by the Fashola state government in its ostensible quest to make Lagos a ‘mega-city’. The CDWR welcomes infrastructure development, but warns that unless it is done with a ‘human face’; it is bound to cause further hardship for the mass of already impoverished Nigerians, instead of bringing comfort.
The first round of demolition of houses began in March 2008, with the pulling down of structures 15 metres to any side of the canals scattered within the Ajeromi-Ifelodun LGA - the last batch of such houses are still being felled by the demolition squad as we write. This demolition syndrome will most likely spread to other parts of the metropolis where a host of poor people live and earn their livelihood through petty trading of all sorts. A few hundred houses have so far been demolished, leaving several thousand occupants homeless.
Ninety percent of the affected families have an average of 7 persons per room - with several rooms to a building. As such, over 15 thousand people - including men, women and children have so far been displaced. These persons are left with virtually nothing to fall back to - having lost their homes, properties, means of livelihood etc. Their children were also not left out of the plight, as most are of school age, and have lost the opportunity to continue their education- thereby making the danger of a bleak future imminent! In addition, these young minds have been left at the mercy of miscreants, armed robbers, commercial sex workers, and drug addicts etc who are willing and ready to take advantage of their helpless situation.
It should be made categorically clear that these persons that have lost homes, properties and businesses were not displaced by a natural disaster, but by government’s insensitivity occasioned by the high-handedness of its agents in league with state forces of coercion.
The second phase of governmental planned demolition of houses at Ajegunle spanned the long stretch of houses at Olumokun/Olayinka/Ssanusi/Oduduwa Street, -supposedly to enable the Fashola government build a bridge with width measuring over 16 metres. Also to be constructed is an expressway that will usher in the BRT to that residential sub-urban neighbourhood at Ajegunle.
The most appalling part of the whole episode is that, at the end of the planned demolition, no tenant will be compensated except landlords in possession of certificate of occupancy (C of O). Majority of those to be affected are citizens that have lived in these locality/ buildings for over 20 years, either as tenants or landlords and have also within this period, paid tenement and other rates due to the government. With these facts, it is ironic that in a democratic setting, government cannot guarantee constitutional as well as democratic rights of citizens, and instead trampling upon it with impunity in the name of building a ‘mega city’.
As part of democratic practices, before any wilful displacement of persons is carried out for developmental purpose or otherwise, government should at least provide alternative accommodation for such persons. If that is not realisable due to expediency, adequate compensation should be provided for such persons to be able to move on with their lives since they are humans and shouldn’t be displaced at will like mere farm animals. At the site of the planned demolition, 99 percent of structures have been marked by several metres by contractors who came in company of armed police officers and read the riot act. As if the planned demolition is not painful enough, they have since issued out a threat to occupants to demolish structures within the specified metres, - failing which, they will be severely fined by the government. Occupants of marked structures have since embarked on self-help demolition, for fear of being fined by government/ the danger of being brutalised by the police.
We hold strongly that many working class houses not only in Ajegunle but also in most parts of Lagos need to be rebuilt. But such task could only be carried out by a responsible and poor-people friendly government, which has already built decent houses to relocate the affected families.
As a matter of urgency, the CDWR calls on the Lagos state government to immediately halt the spate of insensitive displacement of persons currently going on within the Lagos metropolis. As regards the houses at Ajegunle allegedly built too close to canals and had to be demolished, is a typical example of ‘one law for the poor and a different one for the rich’. This is because no plan will ever be made to demolish structures at Victoria Island etc., regardless of how close such structure is to a lagoon or an ocean.
As such, we demand adequate compensation or an alternative accommodation for all affected occupants of demolished structures regardless of their status and affiliation. Anything short of this will amount to victimizing the poor and helpless. As regards the proposed demolition of houses at Olumokun/Olayinka/Ssanusi/Oduduwa Street, we state categorically that the proposed construction of an expressway of that magnitude is not necessary in such a sub-urban environment that is purely a residential area and not a commercial hub or an industrial area. But if the government feels strongly that such a structure should be built, we demand alternative accommodation/adequate compensation for all affected occupants, irrespective of status or affiliation.
This is more so because the already precarious security situation that pervades in this country is caused largely by lack of gainful employment, mass poverty, lack of social welfare, poor investment climate, poor infrastructure base, lack of opportunities, as well as government insensitivity/ neglect etc. As such, any further attempt to render more people homeless, helpless and hungry will further worsen the nightmarish security problems that daily traumatise the mass of helpless poor masses, while successive governments have not mustered the political will to tackle same.
The residents of Ajegunle should be prepared to embark on peaceful demonstration and other legitimate actions to either stop the demolition exercise or suspended it until alternative accommodation and compensation by government are provided for the victims.
We call on labour and pro-masses’ organisations to join the struggle of the Ajegunle residents against arbitrary demolition without alternative accommodation and adequate compensations for all the affected; landlords, with or without C of O, and tenants. We feel strongly that this is the kind of issue and struggle that demands intervention of labour and pro-masses organisations.