[ctt_author author=”12202″ name=”Betty Abah” template=”3″ link=”_Q5u2″ via=”no” ]Over 32,000 people (have been) displaced. It’s a huge humanitarian crisis. Many of them are in several parts of the state stranded[/ctt_author]
Betty Abah, the Executive Director, Centre for Children’s Health, Education, Orientation, and Protection, otherwise called CEE-HOPE has been part of those sensitising support for the displaced residents of Otodo Gbame, a waterfront community in the Lekki area of Lagos State that recently had their settlement demolished by the State Government. On April 12, 2017 when the matter came up for hearing at the Igbosere Court, Lagos, Abah was there to witness proceedings. Although the case was later adjourned, Abah, a journalist-turned-child rights activist believes that the people will get justice in the end. In this interview with Anthony Akaeze, Associate Editor, Abah explains her connection with Otodo Gbame community and others like it, her view on the action of the Lagos State Government and what she expects the Akinwunmi Ambode administration to do to salvage its image.
You have, in recent days, been outspoken about the demolition that occurred in Otodo Gbame, leading to the displacement of thousands of residents. What’s your take on it, really?
I’ve had contact with Otodo Gbame people for over three years now. Many of the girls in the community are members of our Girls Go for Greatness Club, which is our most vibrant programme, the girls empowerment, and education programme in CEE-HOPE and in recent times we also started working with the children in the community in terms of educational support. That’s what we do generally, working with children in impoverished communities, especially in Lagos. The waterfront communities feature most prominently in our programme because they are the most impoverished in Lagos. We work with vulnerable children in Lagos and other places. And so, it’s a personal tragedy for us because these children whose lives we are trying to improve have been thrown further to the brink of despair, misery, and hopelessness ironically by the same government whose preeminent role is to protect and to improve their welfare. Children that were vulnerable before now and whose lives we are trying to improve to see if we can ensure their empowerment educationally and otherwise so that they can thrive in spite of their communities and circumstances of their birth; (you had) the same government fighting them and trying to make life more miserable and hopeless for them. It’s a scandal and a personal tragedy for us. We are trying to see the much we can do to stabilize these children’s lives. Over 32,000 people (have been) displaced. It’s a huge humanitarian crisis. Many of them are in several parts of the state stranded, in dire need of food and clothing and shelter. When the invaders entered the community, (most of) the residents couldn’t pick anything as there were lots of gunshots and commotion. Many of them are still wearing the cloths they wore to bed (before the attack).
What kind of support are you rendering them?
We are providing relief like foodstuffs, money, clothing as much as we do the campaign. We collaborated with Justempower Initiative. We started Go Fund Me page which is being controlled by JEI. And on our own, CEE-Hope, we are providing food, cash, and counseling. We are very much interested in the children so we are working closely with families with young children.
What’s your impression of the current Lagos State administration and others before it dating back to 1999?
I can’t say much about Bola Tinubu’s (governor of the state from 1999-2007) rule. I have been in Lagos for over 15 years and we didn’t see this kind of violence on a helpless populace under Tinubu’s watch. We saw some elitist politics. A kind of siege over the poor in Lagos State started under Babatunde Fashola (Tinubu’s successor), which climaxed in the very callous demolition of parts of Makoko (a slum community). Somehow I thought I had seen the worst because when this happened almost five years ago it actually started the dream for CEE-HOPE when I saw the condition in which children affected by the demolition in Makoko were. I was undergoing my masters programme in the University of Lagos and I had to go to assess the situation. It was at that point I decided to start working with children in waterfront communities and other impoverished neighbourhoods, to talk about their situation, to ensure justice for them and most importantly to see what we can do to improve their lives, especially educationally because that’s the way they can be empowered to outlive the environment and also know their rights. I remember that when it happened in Makoko, when one old chief was killed by a member of the task force, Fashola ordered a stop to the demolition process. I remember going on protest with thousands of people to Alausa and Fashola addressing them and specifically apologizing for the death of that man. I remember that the police commissioner visited the house of the dead man commiserating with the family because the man was killed by a policeman who was a member of the task force demolishing Makoko. But what we’ve seen now is unprecedented, and I want to believe that this is the lowest that government can go in terms of human rights violation. I want to believe that it cannot get worse than this. A case is pending in court and you went ahead to demolish and violently throw the people out, shoot live bullets at an unarmed population and kill. It’s unprecedented and I believe that we have peaked in terms of human rights violation, in terms of how callous a government can be to its own people that it is mandated to protect. I believe that we have peaked in terms of how a government can galvanize arsenal of war against an armless, already poor and powerless, vulnerable people who do not pose any threat and I believe it is the peak of official wickedness. I believe that the people of Otodo Gbame will get justice. It could be delayed but they will get justice.
If you were to advise the Lagos State government on the best way to resolve this crisis, what will it be?
I think that the governor should apologize to the people and give their land back to them. These people have been on that land for over 300 years. You cannot wake up one day, and because they are poor, they don’t have representative in government, you throw them out. You do not have that kind of power. There are United Nations laid down rules on habitat and procedures that are supposed to be followed. If you think their staying there entails environmental disaster or anything, there are rules to follow, there are laid down rules. Lagos is not the only place that has slums. There are slums in Kenya, there are slums in Brazil, there are slums in Morocco, there are slums in South Africa because the poor will always live side by side with the rich. That is the reality of life and so you have to follow the procedure and if you would not follow the procedure because you think you have the arsenal of power or force to oppress the vulnerable, you will be brought down by law, because the law is no respecter of persons. So I believe that justice will take its course. It may take time but I have no doubt that the Otodo Gbame people will get their land back.
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