‘Nowhere To Go’: Lagos Residents Say Hardship Worsened By House Demolitions

The government-sanctioned demolition of properties worth millions of naira in a shantytown in Jakande has left hundreds of people, mostly women and children, in great distress.

Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, has, in the last few years, been in the news for the demolition of low-income communities, causing the displacement of hundreds of people yearly. Often, bulldozers suddenly arrive when the residents are ill-prepared, and then they have to watch helplessly as the authorities destroy their properties.

“No one saw it coming,” said Bukky Adebayo*, a trader whose house around the Jakande Housing Estate area was demolished on March 11. 

HumAngle learnt that some of the victims were tear-gassed by police officers who gave only 10 minutes for people to pack up and leave before the destruction began.

It wasn’t Bukky’s first experience. In fact, it wasn’t her second.

In 2016, she was rendered homeless as her one-room apartment was demolished in the Mosafejo area, losing all her properties despite paying the annual land use charge to the Lagos State Government because she had yet to get the certificate of occupancy. 

For many low-income residents in the state, the land use charge is believed to confer some legitimacy on their ownership title after purchasing land from people often referred to as ‘Omo Onile’ in Yoruba, referring to families who inherited the property from their forefathers.

Like many others, she picked herself up again and relocated with her husband and children to Otodo Gbame, an ethnically diverse community with people who often rely on fishing as their source of income.

A year later, she became a victim of eviction once again as houses, shops, churches and even private schools in the community were demolished. 

“They came when we were asleep,” she recalled. “When we inquired about the bulldozers in the community, we were told that it was an order from the government. Despite begging them to allow us to pack our belongings, our pleas fell on deaf ears. Unfortunately, a friend lost his child who was still sleeping when the demolition occurred.”

After sleeping on the street for nearly two weeks, Bukky moved to Jakande, where she started a petty trade with donations from relatives. Her husband also secured an open space in the area to carry out his vulcanising business.

Some displaced residents with their properties after their houses were demolished in Jakande Housing Estate. Photo: Adegboye Sunday Caleb.

It took the family another three years to own a two-room apartment in the Eti-osa area of Lagos. They would again watch their properties destroyed when the government demolished their home on March 11. 

Bukky, who is nursing an 11-month-old baby, has been passing the night in the cold since then. Though she tried to control her emotions during an interview with HumAngle, one could hear the severe pain in her voice.

“It is sad that the government could take such a step at a time when there is hardship in the country. I felt lightheaded seeing my shop and house demolished for the third time in Lagos. I currently sleep in the cold because we have nowhere to go.”

‘Violation of rights’

Often, when the Lagos government demolishes houses in shantytowns, authorities say that they are done out of concern for the people’s safety, citing risks such as climate change, increasing water levels, and poor sanitary conditions. They also sometimes allege that criminals who commit crimes in traffic run to these areas to hide. 

In the case of houses demolished in Jakande, the government said that it needed to clear the path for the Lagos-Calabar Highway project. 

Meanwhile, a non-governmental organisation working to infuse human rights into social and economic governance processes in Nigeria, Spaces for Change (S4C), said the wanton demolition of properties worth millions of naira and displacement of hundreds of people, mostly women and children, in Jakande violates their fundamental human rights. 

“The demolition, which began by 9 a.m. of 11th of March, when most residents had gone out for their legitimate businesses, is alleged to be in response to the government’s ‘coastal alignment’ efforts and poor sanitation concerns in the community. However, preliminary findings at the demolition site place these assertions beside the truth. There was no evidence of drainage blocking nor was the community the closest settlement to the sea. Evidently, there are other highbrow settlements closer to the sea, which were not considered for this demolition,” said Joachim Onwe, the commutation officer of the NGO. 

“This callous demolition violates their fundamental human rights of ownership of private property and human dignity, as protected by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. It is almost impossible not to think of this demolition as a case of the government wielding its coercive powers against the poor, marginalised and most vulnerable citizens. To say the least, this demolition is a demonstration of the deep insensitivity of the government to the current harsh economic realities in the country.”

Photo: Spaces for Change

‘Tyranny in disguise’

Speaking with HumAngle, Akingboye Sunday, whose mother’s house and shop were demolished, said his mother had developed high blood pressure due to the exercise.  

“I feel so sad about the development because the government evacuated people without providing alternatives or compensation. Where would the people go? My mum’s house is gone, her shop is gone, and my sister is also homeless. The economy is harsh already. Hunger is striking, and the government still makes people homeless without compensation,” he lamented.

He added that the churches, mosques, and schools that could have served as temporary shelters for the displaced were also demolished. Akingboye alleged that the police officers attached to the task force extorted innocent people trying to pack their belongings.

“Despite the anguish of people, police officers chose to complicate matters by asking people for the receipts of their properties. How do you do that to people who have just been rendered homeless? How do you expect them to have receipts when those who demolished their houses did not give them enough time to pack their gadgets? You see people bribing police just to pack out their properties out of the rubble. For me, it’s tyranny in disguise. We now sell some of our properties as scrap.”

People navigating through a cluttered area with rubble and discarded household items.
Photo: Spaces for Change

A retired member of the Nigerian Army, who did not disclose his identity, told HumAngle that the Jakande demolition was the second time his home had been destroyed by the Lagos government since 1990.

“I  have a church that I have been running for over 20 years in this community. But today, I no longer have anything. There is no respect for humanity because many of us would definitely end up begging for alms on the streets. All fingers are not equal, so the government should not expect all Lagosians to have a home in Chevron, VGC or Ikoyi.

“I feel more pain each time I remember that I was at the war front for 35 years only to see my family homeless and disgraced in a day,” he said.

Spaces for Change urged the Lagos government to compensate the affected families and provide medical and humanitarian assistance to them. “We also demand that steps should be taken to ensure that this daylight display of gross injustice, insensitivity and inhumanity does not go unchecked.”

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Adejumo Kabir

Kabir works at HumAngle as the Editor of Southern Operations. He is interested in community development reporting, human rights, social justice, and press freedom. He was a finalist in the student category of the African Fact-checking Award in 2018, a 2019 recipient of the Diamond Awards for Media Excellence, and a 2020 recipient of the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award. He was also nominated in the journalism category of The Future Awards Africa in 2020. He has been selected for various fellowships, including the 2020 Civic Media Lab Criminal Justice Reporting Fellowship and 2022 International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) 'In The Name of Religion' Fellowship.

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