Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: 200 Rendered Homeless As Evacuees Vow to Remain On Water

Photo: Wendy Bruere/IRIN
Nigerian Settlement

No fewer than 200 people were rendered homeless, yesterday, when the demolition exercise that commenced at Makoko area of Lagos entered day two. Many of the residents said the exercise took them unawares as there was no prior notice from Lagos State government before it started around 10am, Monday.

Most of the structures were makeshift shanties built on waters, which most of the residents claimed were built to make life easier for them. The residents, who are mainly fishermen who migrated from Badagry, said there was no alternative provision by Lagos State government.

As at 6.30pm, yesterday, many displaced victims were seen hanging around in canoes on water as there was no place to lay their heads.

Evacuees speak

A mother of five, Mrs. Christiana Agbogla, was seen lying down on some of her belongings, saying one of her children, who is two years old was receiving treatment from a nurse when a flying boat arrived the area and some men came out to demolish their structure.

Another victim simply called Zende, who was heavily pregnant, lamented that she could not salvage her belongings as there was no one to assist her when the exercise began in her area. Some of the victims also said they will remain on the water as long as they were alive.

They chorused: "We are used to the river due to the nature of our business. We need a place to park our canoes and nets, hence our reasons to be closer to waters. No life was lost in the exercise, because we have trained our children to swim. In this place, a one-year-old baby can swim very well."

The Alase of Egun, Baale Francis Agoyon, said their grandfather inherited the land from University of Lagos many years ago and there was no plan for relocation.

Baale of Sogunro Community, Chief Johnson Idunsa, said they were given about nine days notice by the state government.

He said: "The community is mourning because many of our residents have been rendered homeless."

Quit order

The quit notice stated that the owners of the shanties occupying and developing shanties and unwholesome structures on the waterfront, thereby constituting environmental nuisance, security risk, impediment to economic and gainful utilisation of the waterfront such as navigation, entertainment, recreation, among others, should vacate the area within 72 hours.

Lagos justifies demolition

As the ongoing clearing of Makoko waterfront in Yaba Local Council Development Area, LCDA, continues, where thousands of residents have been displaced, Lagos State government, yesterday, explained that it embarked on the exercise to save lives and property of residents and also to aid execution of government's original plan for the area.

It would be recalled that thousands of Makoko/Iwaya residents of Waterfront community, whose structures were built close to a power line on the lagoon, were Monday displaced following the expiration of a 72-hour quit order. The joint task force comprising policemen, soldiers and officials of Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI, carried out the demolition exercise.

Most of the residents, who lived and make a living from fishing on the water and petty trading have been rendered homeless as a result of the demolition.

Giving the clarification about government's intention, state Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Prince Adesegun Oniru, said the government took the decisive step to ensure the safety of residents, adding "their continuous stay leaves them at the mercy of being victims of environmental hazards."

Oniru, who dismissed the insinuation that the exercise was being carried out to prevent occurrence of dreaded activities of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, added that the forecast of rainfall for the year and its attendant consequences, if they remain on the water ways, was the motivating factor to the clearing exercise.

He said: "It is true that the state government issued them notice to quit. However, we had met the community leaders about a month ago and government's plan was conveyed to them. They knew what the government was planning for the area and beyond that the LCDA leader in the area also met with us and we told them the same thing about government's plan for the area.

"They got quit notice from the state government before we embarked on what is going on now in Makoko.

Our plan for evacuees

Oniru, in explaining what the state plans to do with the affected area, said: "The question is why we are doing what we are doing now? The reason is not far-fetched. We are doing it for the safety of the areas and dwellers.

"First is to clear the environment and the entire vicinity of the danger that is looming in that area. I'm talking about rise in water level, global warming and the danger looming in that area with regards to thunder storms and heavy rains that we are having in that area and in Lagos generally.

"If you look at that area properly, there are electric cables and other structures that run across the shanties on the water. All you need is one spark and everything will disappear overnight. We all live in Lagos and we know the thunderstorm that we have been experiencing; the lightening, too. So, what we are doing there is to protect lives of the people on that water.

"Should they be there at all? The answer is no.

"It is not a fixed address for anybody. If you are to ask me what plans we have for them, where we are relocating them to for example; my answer to that is that these people came from somewhere.

"They didn't just grow up on that water and wherever it is that they came from they can easily go back to the place. That area is not a safe place for anybody to reside in."

After demolition

Oniru said: An assessment will be done by Ministry of Physical Planning and the Environment, Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA, will be carried out by Ministry of Environment before government can actually come up with a scheme or proposal for the entire area. That is the plan we have for now."

Neighbours rejoice

Meantime, residents of neighbouring communities such as Akoka and Bariga, expressed joy over the demolition exercise, noting the operation would eliminate the security problem they encountered from criminals who often attacked them from the waterfront, which had become hideouts for criminals who live within the community.

Some of the residents of Bariga, Makoko, Iwaya and Akoka also stated that the demolition exercise would stop the flood problem they faced, adding that the shanties erected on the water front obstructed free-flow of water into the Lagoon, thereby making the community prone to flooding during the rainy season.

The community

Makoko is a small community in the Yaba Local Government Area of Lagos State. Majority of the people who live there are the Ilajes and the Eguns, from the Western part of Nigeria. Their main occupation is fishing. This is largely because their structures virtually float on water.

One won't understand the depth of poverty there until one visits the community. Their homes are made of wood and built on water. When it rains, their safety is better imagined than described. The residents move from one part of the community to the other with canoes. Walking long distances is usually not encouraged, except one is a good swimmer because the planks used in construction of bridges are weak and could give way at any time. However, the single-plank bridges are inevitable for short distance.

Exercise has no human face-PDP

Meanwhile, Lagos State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has condemned the way in which Makoko settlers were displaced by the state government. In a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Mr. Gani Taofik, the party argued that previous eviction of settlers, just like this one, has never been with a human face.

While it faulted the way the settlers were "dispossessed of their abodes and area of occupation," the party expressed concern over the ordeal of the traders.

It said: "Lagos PDP views the sudden demolition of the Makoko area as a surprise. This is coming on the heels of the fact that the ACN-led Lagos State government is supposed to be a government of progressives as acclaimed.

"There cannot be any justification for the eviction of people from their abode and area of occupation; people of Makoko are known to be riverine-based and fishermen."

3 babies drown-Residents

The displaced residents, yesterday accused the state government agents of drowning three babies while several others were injured during the exercise, which they said came as a surprise.

When Vanguard visited the scene of the clearing exercise, it was gathered that three babies got drowned in the confusion that ensued when officials from the state government stormed the area for demolition.

It was also learnt that the babies were between the ages of one week and three months.

According to the aggrieved former residents, one of the babies was on his bed and got drowned when his mother went out to buy foodstuff for the family. It was also learnt that the baby was in company of his sibling, who was two years older.

Produce evidence-Lagos

However, Oniru, whose ministry is supervising the exercise, debunked the claim that some babies got drowned in the process of clearing the shanties, yesterday.

He said: "The story can not be true. I am not aware of such reports as I speak to you now. The story is untrue, unfounded and baseless. In a community like that where everyone, including a toddler, is a great swimmer.

"Those spreading such news are mischief makers. I will implore you to ignore them. We challenge them to produce the evidence."

Confirming the development, the Baale of the Sogunro-Pedro, Chief Johnson Agbojeti, said the incident occurred immediately the exercise commenced.

Agbojeti said: "The baby was in the house when the officials came. The mother was out to buy food stuff for the family."

He added that the house was among those first demolished by KAI and other security officials.

One of the parents, who said his baby died during the demolition, Mr. Celetine Aginsu, declined commenting on the child's death, but confirmed that his structure was the first to be demolished.

However, Mr. Peter Ajape, who said his own baby eventually got saved, said that his wife went out when the demolition started.

He said: "Unknown to the officials, they demolished the structure with the baby fast asleep in the house. Immediately they cut off one of the pillars that held the structure, the baby fell into the water."

Ajape noted that it took the intervention of those around to rescue the baby.

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