There was tremendous joy yesterday within the camp of the displaced people of Otodo Gbame, a riverine community in the Lekki area of Lagos State whose homes were demolished by the Lagos State Government. Justice Onigbanjo of the Lagos State High Court ruled in their favour in a case brought before him by the Justice & Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria (JEI) and the Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation challenging the action of the Lagos State government. The judge ruled that the demolition of the people’s homes was illegal. While urging for a stop to further eviction, he advised the Lagos State Government to consult and resettle the displaced residents as evictions without adequate notice and resettlement amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The petitioners had challenged the threat to their existence by the Lagos State Government which, last October, through the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode threatened to “start demolishing all shanties on waterfronts across the State within 7 days.” Days after the threat was issued, Ilubirin, a riverine community, was destroyed. Fearing that they may be next, over 20 members of the Informal Settlement Federation took the matter to court asking it to restrain the Lagos State Government from further demolishing their houses.
On November 7, 2016, Justice Onigbanjo granted a temporary injunction stopping Lagos State and its agents from continuing with the demolition. The order was however ignored as sections of Otodo Gbame were pulled down over two days in November 2016 after a mysterious fire engulfed parts of the community at night. Some residents of Otodo Gbame attribute the fire outbreak to agents of the Lagos State Government. In the days and weeks after, more threats would follow, as the Lagos State government routinely deployed its bulldozers and men to demolish structures in Otodo Gbame. It justified its action on the ground that it was meant to ensure a cleaner and safer Lagos. It’s a familiar line of the state government as it often claims that waterfront communities in the state are haven of criminals and kidnappers. Despite criticisms by human rights activists at home and abroad, the Lagos State government, again on April 9, at dawn, unleashed its security apparatus on Otodo Gbame. Residents of the community of approximately 30, 000 inhabitants were rudely awoken from sleep by strange voices asking them to quit a land they had lived in all their lives. It was like a dream but before long, the community was up in flames with residents scampering in all directions via boat as gunfire from the invading policemen rent the air. Daniel Ayah, a 25-year-old resident of the community, was killed by police bullet. Thousands of others, since that day, have no place to call home as, apart from the boat many escaped with, their properties and houses were lost to the inferno. Days after, JEI and the Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation were back in court. After hearing their complaint again, Justice Onigbanjo, after two adjournments, delivered judgment on June 21. In the court premises to know their fate were thousands of the displaced residents of Otodo Gbame. They all had a smile on their face after the judgment was given.
But in a land where the Lagos State Government is known to flout court orders at will and not get punished, not a few persons will be interested in knowing how this latest court directive will play out.