Going by recent reports from development practitioners, sustainable development and the related notion of sustainability are becoming increasingly important policy objectives for government at different levels as well as in the private sector. They suggest that there is a growing need to strengthen the conceptual understanding of different notions of sustainability and their implications. There is a particular need to design effective policies that aim to achieve sustainability objectives, and more importantly, to analyse the implications of the proposed policies.
In line with the above argument, there is no doubt that successive administrations in Lagos state, south west, Nigeria, may have at various times had sincere desire to move the state forward, through far-reaching policies that bothers particularly on infrastructural development. But similar to every invention which comes with opportunities and challenges, most of these policies in public views were adjudged as potentially deadly. As the policies directly and indirectly lacked conventional planning approaches that infuses human rights principles of participation, accountability, transparency and non-discrimination towards the attainment of equity and justice in such development initiatives.
With the above highlighted statements, let us focus on a specific concern. It may be recalled that demolition and forced eviction gained entrance into the state leadership lexicon in July 1990, when the then Military Governor of Lagos State, General Raji Rasaki and Military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) for yet to be identified reasons destroyed Maroko. It took only seven days notice on national radio for the community to evacuate. After which the military government pulled down the whole of Maroko. Since that date, these terms; demolition and forced eviction became a very strong leadership instrument in the state.
The dawn of democracy in May 1999, did not usher a paradigm shift as successive democratically elected Governors beginning with- Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu (May 1999 – 2007), Babatunde Raji Fashola (2007 – 2015), Akinwunmi Ambode (2015 – 2019) and presently Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, stuck to the practice.
Refreshing our minds of the sad reality that despite the right not to be forcefully evicted being an element of the human right to adequate housing, the practice of such involuntary removal of persons from their homes or land persists in the state. Example is the recent inconsiderate destruction of property worth hundreds of millions of naira along Demurin/Agidi road axis of Ketu, a Lagos suburb by the officials of the Lagos state Ministry of Physical Planning under the pretext of road expansion. An exercise that has appreciably dashed the hopes of house owners (landlords) and terminated the stable means of livelihood of residents and business owners.
To add context to the discourse, I will dwell further on the Maroko tragedy.
Going by reports, Maroko was a sub-city within Lagos Island, a peaceful and popular city. The places now called Oniru Royal Estate, some parts of Victoria Island and Lekki Phase 1, were formerly known as Maroko and it was inhabited by mainly low income earners. Over 300,000 people inhabited Maroko then, it prided itself with over 150 streets and houses owned by ten thousand landlords. The people were happy and content.
Nine years after the Maroko’s experience, democracy came on board. At each electioneering, intending Governors present baskets of manifestos with promises to make Lagos a more human-friendly and liveable state. But contrary to that expectation, documented experience reveals that between 2003 and 2020, demolition/forced evictions of citizens without alternative accommodation have characterized every administration in the state. To achieve this heinous objective, the government has a way of tagging the targeted community as; ‘highly populated urban residential area full of closely packed decrepit housing units’ or ‘in a situation of deteriorated or incomplete infrastructure inhabited primarily by impoverished persons’.
Under the above excuse, the following Lagos communities has between 2003 and 2015 partly or wholly fallen under the bulldozers of the Lagos state Government: Makoko community, Yaba, Ijora East and Ijora Badiya, PURA-NPA Bar Beach, Ikota Housing Estate, Ogudu Ori-Oke, Mosafejo in Oshodi, Agric-Owutu communities, Ageologo-Mile 12, and some communities along Mile 2 Okokomaiko, just to mention a few.
As if that was not enough trouble for poor Lagosians, in 2016, the Governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode, vowed to evacuate all waterfront shanty towns — a population totalling about 300,000, according to the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Association. A few months later, 30,000 people lost their homes when one of the slums, Otodo Gbame, a poor fishing community close to the upmarket south-eastern district of Lekki, was razed.
During the reported demolition of Makoko community on the 17th July, 2012, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stated that a letter from the Lagos state government was served on residents the previous week, giving them 72 hours to vacate their properties. The Lagos state authorities further noted in that Letter that the illegal constructions in Makoko constituted an “environmental nuisance, security risk and an impediment to the economic and gainful utilisation of the waterfront” and undermined the “megacity status” of Lagos. Adding to the woes of the evictees is the government’s ‘love’ for disobeying court directives and non-fulfilment of their promises to resettle those evicted.
Examples of the failed promises of resettling evictees is chronicled as follows: Raji Fashola (SAN), a former Governor of the state who promised to build housing units that would accommodate the evictees. Also in 2002, The Lagos state government through the then Lagos state Commissioner for Justice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, now Vice President of Nigeria, accepted responsibility (after the supreme court judgement declaring the eviction illegal) and promised the evictees 1,000 housing units every year, till the whole former house-owners of Maroko are fully resettled. He admitted that though the government acquired Maroko town in 1972, it again relinquished its acquisition in 1977 thereby confirming that Maroko was not under government acquisition when it was demolished in 1990. However, regrettably, till this day, nothing has been done by the state government or its agents to remedy the situation or fulfilled the promise made.
These sad account is an emblem of a government that is unmindful of, and/or deliberately decided to ignore the clarification by the United Nations Independent Expert on the Right to Development, which states that ‘for a programme to be tagged development, it must require a particular process that allows the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, and all fundamental freedoms, by expanding the capabilities and choices of the individual’.
Even as this piece centres on the non- infusion of human rights principles, the international convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Ratified by Nigeria in 1993), is one document that probably did more than anything else to capture the gully of disappointments and many sins of successive administrations in the state against the evictees. It is recognized globally, that forced eviction is a brazen violation of the right to life, right to fair hearing, right to dignity of the human person, the right to a private and family life, and the rights to property guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the African charter of Human and peoples’ Right (Ratification and Enforcement Act 1990).
Similarly, the United Nations Human Rights Commission Resolutions 1993/77 and 2004/28 affirm that when forced evictions are carried out, they violate a range of internationally recognised human rights. These include the: Human right to adequate housing; Human rights to security of the person and security of the home; Human right to health; Human right to food; Human right to water; Human right to work/livelihood; Human right to education; Human right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; Human right to freedom of movement; Human right to information and Human right to participation and self-expression.
While it has reported repeatedly that clearance operations should take place only when conservation arrangements and rehabilitation are not feasible and relocation measures stand made, the UN Resolution 2004/28, recognised the provisions on forced evictions contained in the Habitat Agenda of 1996, and recommended that, “All Governments must ensure that any eviction that is otherwise deemed lawful is carried out in a manner that does not violate any of the human rights of those evicted.”
It will be highly rewarding if the state government internalizes these provisions and develop processes that allows the realization of economic and social development of the state in a way that protects the rights of the people.
*** Jerome-Mario Utomi is a Lagos-based media consultant.