opinionBy Gboyega Akinsanmi
TORN BETWEEN ITS DRIVE TO BUILD AFRICA'S MODEL CITY AND THE POLICY AGAINST ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES THAT THREATEN THE DREAM, LAGOS STATE TASKFORCE ON ENVIRONMENTAL AND SPECIAL OFFENCES (ENVIRONMENT) UNIT PENULTIMATE WEEK DEMOLISHED SHANTIES AND DENS OF OIL THIEVES in Lagos.
She never expected she could be caught and displaced so soon. But she knew long before now that what she was doing for a living truly violates the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Law as well as the new Road Traffic Law. It was not just about what she was doing alone. How and where she was doing the business had a lot of implications for the environment and health, though her ignorance was evident in her explanation.
But Mrs. Alice Oruobe (not real name) had to eke a living, at least for the sake of her children. She indeed expressed her mind while weeping. She did not disclose her identity when journalists sought further information. She might perhaps think disclosing her identity could compound her woes. Even at this, the middle-aged woman did not escape the axe of the taskforce operatives. Her goods were seized. She was later arrested, begged for pardon and understanding while explaining what compelled her into hawking.
Like other hawkers and street traders that were affected during the exercise, Oruobe told her tale of despair when the taskforce operatives arrested penultimate Friday under the Iganmu Bridge. She also expressed her strong will to make both ends in the face of huge responsibilities, which she said, fell upon her after she lost her husband some years back. So, according to her, the pressure to keep her children in schools and feed them too brought her into the business of selling concoctions blended with local herbs and dry gins.
But her plight indeed was not an excuse for violating laws. First, she was into street hawking, which breached the state's environmental and special offences law. Also, she was selling local herbs (popularly called paraga), which offends the state's health and safety rules. Lastly, she carried out her activities on the drainage channels, which according to the state, endangers thousands of lives at the instance of massive flood disasters which often results from blockage of the drainage channels and canals with the ever-changing climate.
After a long period of begging and weeping, Chairman of the taskforce, Mr. Bayo Suleiman granted her request. But she lost her entire business, which she said, would affect her children. Like Oruobe, thousands in Mushin, Orile and Iganmu really tasted the bile of the demolition exercise, which the taskforce carried out penultimate week, thereby leading to their displacement.
The Demolition Exercise
The exercise, which Suleiman, a Chief Superintendent of Police led, took place shortly after Governor Babatunde Fashola inspected the on-going construction of the light rail (blue line) project at Iganmu and Orile. Confronted with the disturbing sites of wastes on different spots along the rail track, Fashola warned the residents against poor waste management, which he said, was injurious to human health and environmentally hazardous.
Exactly four days after Fashola's inspection, more than 80 fully armed security operatives under the auspice of the taskforce stormed such areas as Orile, Oshodi, Iganmu and Mushin in order to sanitise the areas. As the operatives moved from one point to the other, commercial motorcycle operators popularly known as Okada riders were arrested and their motorcycles impounded for illegal operation on the restricted routes.
At Mushin, for instance, the taskforce brought down all the structures built on the drainage channels, mainly at Oloruntoyin Street and all the abandoned vehicles on the street were towed off the roadside. Likewise, all auto technicians, who were operating roadside contrary to certain provisions of the law, were driven away. All the shades and kiosks, which the street traders mounted along the road and on the median, were removed.
At Orile too, illegal structures erected on road median were demolished. The entire axis was cleared of illegal traders and hawkers selling on the medians and walkways. The taskforce also gave so many Okada riders operating on the prohibited routes a hard chase, consequently arresting and impounding motorcycles in line with the new road traffic law, which came into force August 2, 2012.
But at Iganmu, there was a case of environmental degradation under the bridge. Just behind the light rail system currently under construction, the activities of oil thieves selling diesel and petrol stolen from the vandalised pipelines had brought almost irreparable damage to the environment and road infrastructure. At the time the taskforce stormed, the oil thieves and vandals had entirely disappeared from the place.
The taskforce operatives stormed the different directions, but none of the oil thieves and vandals was present at the scene. Their escape was a mystery to the taskforce chairman. The gang might have caught wing of the state intelligence reports on its nefarious activities and of the plan to raid their den. The good news was that several drums of diesel were recovered from the scene and their shanties were demolished.
It was entirely another tale at Ladipo Bus Stop in Oshodi. Unlike Mushin where street traders and their makeshift shops were targeted, the taskforce raided the den of socially deviant youths, some of whom were addicted to Indian hemp. Some of them caught smoking the weeds were arrested. Some of the delinquents too escaped arrest just a relatively large wraps of the weeds was discovered and immediately destroyed at the site.
Since Fashola's re-election, the state government has continuously carried out different demolition exercises. Precisely in 2012, the state government through the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development brought down Makoko, a waterfront community. The exercise, which culminated in the demolition of the whole community, affected thousands of residents, who argued that Makoko was their ancestral roots
Despite their argument, the exercise displaced almost all the resident of the waterfront community. Aside, it also claimed the life of Chief Timothy Hunpoyanwha on the sixth day of demolition. But the rationale the state government gave for embarking on the exercise undoubtedly appeared reasonable. It was basically linked to the environmental effects of living close to the lagoon considering the impact of climate change globally.
However reasonable the rationale might be, human rights and environmental activists faulted the demolition exercise. Their argument was hinged on the fact that the state government should have first worked out resettlement plan for the residents of the waterfront community. The activists also argued that the resettlement plan should have been effectively implemented before embarking on the demolition in line with international best practice and at the instance of the huge number of vulnerable people living in Makoko.
In 2012 also, the state government intervened in the case of Apapa, especially from Ijora Causeway to Marine Beach. Before the state intervention, this axis was known for the nefarious activities of truck drivers, and aliens, whom indiscriminately put up shanties in different parts of Apapa. This indeed explained why Suleiman then said cases of robbery and rape were rife in the area, thus threatening individuals and businesses alike.
Most disturbing was the operation of oil companies, which the state Commissioner for the Environment, Mr. Tunji Bello said their tankers had caused much damage to the environment and habitats created to improve human lifespan. According to him, the activities of oil companies and their tankers have degraded the road infrastructure, drainage system and public spaces from Marine Beach to Ijora Causeway.
But the state government intervened to restore Apapa and its environs to their glory. Supported by the Federal Government, the state intervention yielded temporary result and drastically eased traffic gridlocks in the area though they are back gradually. Criminal hideouts and shanties were out-rightly demolished and cases of degradation remediated immediately after. Unlike the case of Makoko, the state intervention in Apapa was applauded and won popular support.
Fight to Finish
The rationales behind the last demolition were obvious, perhaps reasonable enough. According to Suleiman, the exercise became necessary because the state government could no longer tolerate lawlessness in the state. This explains we came into this den of oil thieves and vandals in Orile and Iganmu and thereby demolished several shanties built along the roads, oil pipelines and those erected on drainage channels.
Speaking after the exercise, Sulaiman explained that what informed the raid at Iganmu under the bridge was the light rail (blue line) project the state government "is currently constructing, and the lot one of the project would be completed by June 2013. One this note, the state government does not want a situation where the volatile diesel and fuel products being traded under the bridge go aflame and affect the light rail bridge".
He added that the Iganmu Bridge "has become weak due to the activities of oil thieves and pipeline vandals. We have evacuated them from that place before, but they returned. This time, we will maintain regular surveillance of the entire axis. Henceforth, we will effectively monitor the area that will not be any chance for them to return to the place and engage in all these kinds of illicit activities that can cause the state collateral damage.
"At Orile, it is part of our duty to clear the area. We even cleared the area before the governor visited. But these traders returned. We are just doing our job, though the governor found some ugly sites along the road during his visit. In Mushin, we found out that the local government had allocated the place to the people again. If there is a fire incident in that area, it will be devastating," the taskforce chairman explained.