For residents of Otodo- Gbame, a riverine community located near the high-brow area of Lekki, the frequent threat to freedom and right to peaceful existence is not yet over. Muritala Ayinla takes a look at the plight of the community
Two weeks ago, officials of the Lagos State Task force on Environment and Special Offence Unit allegedly stormed the fishing community of Otodo- Gbame in Lekki to dislodge the residents.
Although, there is no reliable record of the exact number of the residents living in the sprawling community, some Non-Governmental Organisations and other right activists said that the community is made up of more than 30,000 inhabitants. Many of the people in the ancestral settlement are fishermen and fisherwomen.
They are among the estimated 10 million homeless residents or people living in the sub-standard or overcrowded hamlets also known as ‘Tan’lese in the state. Last year, over 200 structures in Otodo-Gbame in Lekki axis was set ablaze and hundreds of residents were displaced when Yoruba and Egun ethnic groups clashed within the community.
During the crisis, which many, particularly, NGOs suspected to be a calculated attempt to evict the residents, four persons, including a child were drowned while trying to escape through the river behind the community.
Some said over eight residents allegedly drowned including children while few of them managed to escape in the ensuing supremacy battle between the Egun speaking community; mostly indigenes of Benin Republic and the Yoruba speaking community .
The police, amid the fighting and burning of houses also rescued a two-day-old baby.
Following the bloody clash, the state government took over the area while the State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development demolished the remaining shanties and cleared the rubbles caused by the inferno.
Residents sleep on boat, open-field
Faced with reality of non-availability of structures in the community and the crisis that swept away their once ‘model city’, the residents were forced to sleep inside their boats while others passed the night on the community open field, the only available space in the community.
Meanwhile, Abdul-Rahman Sehnu, a resident blamed their woes on one Segun, who he also called the Oluwo of Ikate Land.
He said Segun has been the one paying law enforcement agents to dislodge them. Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), said that 800 structures have been either burnt or demolished, rendering 30,000 residents homeless.
Lamenting the recent demolition exercise, which swept through the remaining shanties and those newly put together, a resident, who simply identified himself as Dansu, said: “On the March, 17, 2017, around 8am, excavators and a swamp buggy were seen by the entrance of our community. Without any prior notice to residents, they started demolishing homes we had rebuilt since the November 2016 forced eviction.
“They came in Black Maria and two marked pick-ups on ground, the Military Police and a large number of people in NSCDC uniforms claimed they were working for the Lagos State Ministry of Environment.”
But speaking on the development, Co-Founder / Co-Director of Justice & Empowerment Initiatives, Nigeria, Megan Chapman, said that since November 7, 2016, there had been a court order restraining the Lagos State Government and police from demolishing Otodo Gbame and other waterfront communities across Lagos.
Despite that order, Otodo Gbame residents were evicted November 9th and 10th 2016, by fire and caterpillar working in the middle of the night.
“Since that time, with the subsisting court order and a positive interim ruling from the court that ordered the Lagos State government into mediation with the waterfront communities, some homeless Otodo Gbame evictees have been able to rebuild their homes to provide themselves basic shelter.
“Today’s demolition violates the order of Honourable Justice SA Onigbanjo of the Lagos State High Court and will render an estimated 4,698 residents homeless.”
According to her, Onigbanjo had last year granted a temporary injunction restraining the Lagos State Government and the Nigerian Police Force from proceeding with any demolition of the waterfronts or eviction of their inhabitants.
Lagos denies flouting court order
The Lagos State government, worried by the criticism and what it described as misrepresentation of facts by some media outlets and Non-governmental Organisations, denied flouting any court order over its action on demolition of the houses and shanties in Otodo Gbame.
The government said that the state’s Environment Ministry’s action was carried out in order to forestall an environmental disaster and another round of deadly skirmishes that led to the razing of the Otodo Gbame community in November 2016.
According to the government, in a statement signed by the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Steve Ayorinde, contrary to the claim on the purported judgement, the trial judge did not deliver judgment on the matter but rather referred the parties to Multi Door House for mediation. He added that the demolished structures were illegal shanties and unwholesome habitations cleared around Ilado and seafront areas beside Freedom Road, in Lekki, Lagos.
Ayorinde said that the action was informed by the overriding public interest to ensure that the waterfront area is free from environmentally injurious and unsanitary habitation few months after it was consumed by fire and rendered uninhabitable.
Hence, the government denied flouting any court judgment as incorrectly alleged, insisting that it owes a duty to the larger population of the state to ensure that public health and safety are maintained.
He stated that the state government had no interest in the area other than to ensure that the delicate ecosystem of the waterfront remains safe, clean and secure. According to the statement, the Otodo Gbame community is one of the 39 claimant communities that had commenced action to enforce their fundamental rights pursuant to Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 before Onigbanjo. J of Lagos Division of the High Court of Lagos State in Suit No. LD/4232MFHR/2016..AKAKPO & 38 ORS vs. AG L/S & 3 ORS.
Ayorinde said: “The leave granted to enforce their rights was tantamount to an order of status quo ante bellum on the parties, which amongst other things required that the claimants do not take any action within the area after it was destroyed by fire.
“The undisputed fact is that Otodo Gbame was engulfed by fire that razed the entire community in November 2016, which rendered the area uninhabitable.”
According to the Commissioner, since the claimants had submitted the case for adjudication, it would be unacceptable for them to return to the area or to erect shanties and perpetuate unsanitary and environmentally dangerous conditions, hence, the need for the government to maintain order and public safety.
The statement maintained that the state government was mindful of the welfare of the affected citizens and had indeed expressed its concerns and willingness to explore an amicable resolution insofar that the demands of the claimants are reasonable and lawful.
It insisted that the government would neither be stampeded nor blackmailed into abdicating its constitutional responsibilities to guard against a potential health and environmental hazard in the area by condoning what amounts to a breach of environmental and urban planning laws.
He added that the state government appreciates the understanding of the general public and assures all of its unflinching commitment to the development of Lagos State as an ideal megacity that is sensitive to the needs of the public as well as open and continuous di- alogue.
Tricycles on a mission to kill
With just a few days to her daughter’s wedding, Alhaja Aminat could not contain her excitement. It had always been her dream, to witness her daughter’s wedding in grand style. After exchanging pleasantries with a few neighbours, she set out to the market to get expensive cloth materials.
As a faster means of transportation, she had opted for a tricycle on her way back home; little did she know that it was going to be a death trap. The tricycle she boarded had weaved its way amidst two trucks and got stuck. While the tricycle driver tried to wriggle out of the mess, a chain on one of the trucks caught Alhaja Aminat’s lace blouse and all efforts to remove this proved futile. Almost immediately, the road was free and the truck dragged her down from the tricycle and unto to her death.
With a population of over 20 million inhabitants, Lagos mega city is renowned for the presence of huge gridlock in almost all the major areas in the state. In an effort to improve transportation system in Lagos state, several transportation means have been introduced: Danfo, Molue, Motorcycles, Bus Rapid Transits, and the tricycles are not left out.
Following the recent ban placed on motorcycles as a result of accidents recorded on bikes, the tricycle became accepted as the newer safer and faster substitute. It was considered a safer substitute because of the considerable amount of protection it had from outside elements. Information gathered also indicates that the Napep, as a poverty eradication scheme, accommodates more people, accrues more money than the motorcycle.
However, there seem to be a twist in the glamorous history of Keke Napep in Lagos state. Recently, accident rates involving tricycles is skyrocketing based on media reports. Residents and commuters complain of the recklessness of the drivers of these tricycles who seem to be on a mission: a mission to murder.
Speaking with New Telegraph, Mr. Chris Nwachukwu, a resident of Ejigbo area said that the recklessness of the tricycle drivers is gradually on an incredible increase in the state, “If I say that the Keke Napep or Maruwa as is commonly is still being operated with much responsibility; that would be a lie. The way these people drive now is not good at all. I call for thorough checking on the activities of these drivers who behave like mad men. I’m speaking from experience. I usually board a Keke Napep from my house to Idimu and the way they drive sometimes makes you want to eat out your heart. They do not even care about themselves not to talk of the passengers. If you complain to them, they do not want to listen to you.”
He averred that accidents are not really recorded on the road, but believes that there should be a check on the activities of these drivers who maneuver their ways around big vehicles capable of crushing the tricycle and its occupants.
Mrs. Iyabo Ayanwale stated that because of the portable nature and capacity of the tricycle, she prefers it to other means of transport but that the way the drivers operate nowadays is irresponsible.
According to her, Keke Napep drivers do not observe traffic guidelines that are meant to protect road users. She said, “As someone who sweats a lot, I preferred the Keke Napep to Yellow Buses because Maruwa accommodates less people and allows for air to come in but I don’t like the way they drive now. It is now very annoying. They climb bumps anyhow and jerk too constantly as if the people there are not human beings.”
She added that she doesn’t board the tricycle again, since the time she witnessed an accident scene that was caused by the tricycle driver.
Mr. Ojo Adewole, a driver, believes that the cause of the recklessness of these drivers is because there is no check on the activities of the drivers by the LASTMA officials. “It is very obvious that the Maruwa drivers do not observe the bumps on the roads, traffic lights, or even LASTMA directives, but I believe that the LASTMA officials are the ones to be blamed. I have been in situations where the Maruwa driver would just drive past long lanes even when a LASTMA official is there and the official won’t say anything to that. If it was a bus, they would run after the bus and make the driver face the consequences but why is Maruwa an exception?” he quipped.
He asserted that the free hands the LASTMA officials had given to the Maruwa drivers is the cause of the constant carelessness of the drivers and refusal to look into it would result in an uncontrollable situation, which he believes, is already happening. “The other day, a Keke Napep driver almost hit a LASTMA official because the man thought that he had stopped vehicles from that lane so he turned his back to that lane and kept directing the vehicles on another lane. He didn’t know that a Keke Napep would surface from behind him and almost knock the life out of him; still the LASTMA did not stop the Keke Napep driver.”
Speaking with New Telegraph, some of the tricycle drivers in the state debunked the claims that they were driving recklessly.
Mr. Kolawole Oyekan, a tricycle driver claims that he does not drive recklessly and knows that his colleagues do not also; that the allegations of reckless driving are unnecessary and unfair to their trade, “As commercial drivers, our own duty is to transport people to their destinations not to drive them to their death. My own Keke, the Lagos state government empowered me with it so that I can make money with it and I follow the rules and regulations guiding this business. I don’t drive anyhow, I observe traffic light and I respect LASTMA officials. Those people don’t tolerate nonsense, they are friends with transporters but if you go against the law, you can never go scot-free.”
Another driver, who prefers to be known as Sulaiman told New Telegraph that he believes there are some people who want to kick out the Keke Napep scheme from Lagos state. “We don’t drive recklessly at all. Lagos is not an ordinary state were actions can go unchecked, there are appropriate measures in place to checkmate recklessness and we dare not contravene these rules, we observe them to the letter because if we get caught in any trouble, that might cost us our means of livelihood and you know that a jobless man is a dead man. Please help us tell them that we are responsible people who know how to do our jobs well. We will and are always ready to serve Lagosians.”
LASTMA officials also respond to the allegations of the unwarranted freedom granted to Keke Napep drivers in the state. An official who preferred to stay anonymous stated that the claims were untrue and fallacious as LASTMA officials perform their duties as expected.
Lagos’ fences are collapsing
Vandals are gradually destroying wire-mesh fencing mounted on the Lagos highways by the Lagos State government for safety and protection of pedestrians, passengers and motorists. Muritala Ayinla reports
When Governor Akinwunmi Ambode vowed to govern cheaper by saving N3bn monthly from the cost of governance, many people wondered how that would be possible giving the inflation rate in the country and ever increasing needs of the residents in the state. Many had considered the declaration as one of the political statements unconsciously made by Nigeria political office holders. Few months after, Lagosians and indeed some observers in the state began to notice financial re-engineering which gave room for relocation of the government agencies from their hitherto rented apartments to the State Secretariat, Alausa and other buildings belonging to the state government.
Possibly, billions of naira previously paid to their respective property owners where the agencies were using as offices is now being saved by the government through the policy and other financial re-engineering and review of the revenue and expenditure framework of the state government.
Beyond other financial restructuring strategies which are only known to the financial experts, one of the strategies used by the administration to reduce the cost of governance was the reduction in the cost of enforcing the law through the establishment Wire-mesh Fencing in all the newly roads constructed and rehabilitated roads to bring about safety and orderliness. With wired fences and pedestrian bridges constructed in some parts of the state, which many agree have contributed to the remarkable traffic flow on the highways, the government has been able to save the cost enforcing the environmental law.
Hawkers no longer have a field day on Lagos highway just as pedestrians do not cross the highway indiscriminately like before. Without the law enforcement officers running after the pedestrians or hawkers, everyone now adopts the right approach of commuting on the highways and the new lay-bys. The Wire-mesh Fencing placed on the roads median has indeed engendered sanity despite the fact that some will naturally ignore pedestrian bridge to cross the highway without consideration for the risk involved. Whether one likes it or not, one is forced to use the pedestrian bridges, walkways or other designated places. With the fences, pickpockets, robbers and other criminals who emerge from nowhere and snatch valuables from unsuspecting pedestrians before disappearing into their hideouts have also being prevented from operating easily. The presence of the wired fences has displaced some street traders who display their wares or goods on the roads.
However, as commendable as the installation of the Wire-mesh Fencing,vandals, who many described as environmental offenders and “enemies of change” are gradually destroying the fence, with nearly no efforts to get the perpetrators arrested and possibly prosecuted.
From Ojota to Ketu, some of the fences are either being pulled out or vandalized; From Berger on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to Ojodu Abiodun, the fences have been destroyed and not yet fixed or replaced. The stories are the same in Oshodi, Alapere and some other busy areas, which have the fences.
Speaking with New Telegraph, Mrs. Lanre Kasimawo, a roadside trader appealed to the government to fix the damaged wire in the interest of the safety of Lagos residents and commuters. According to her, the incidents of hit-and-run on the expressway have been reduced since most people now use the bridges, especially with the constant provision of light on the bridges at night.
Although, the woman attributed the installation of the fence on the low sale and patronage by their customers, saying many of them who would have ordinarily crossed the expressway to buy goods from them would not want to take a long walk again to their shops after using the pedestrian bridge.
On his part, Segun Rahim, banker, wondered why most Nigerians resist change and ideal ways of living. He lamented that he was shock to see that some of the fences get vandalized daily. “Government must rise to the occasion, the Governor meant well to have come with the idea and we have all seen that it works. No more traffic and the fencing has brought about civility. So, Governor Ambode must prove that, we have maintenance culture and tax payers’ money must not be wasted by the vandals.”
Also speaking, an officer in the Rapid Respond Squad, didn’t want his name mentioned on the ground that he was not authorized to speak, said that the police are doing great jobs by arresting the vandals and prosecuting them. According to him, the vandals are the criminals who operated easily before the government came up with the idea; he said that their findings revealed that the vandals turned to destroy the fences because they make their operation tedious. “The Light-up cable vandals too are constantly arrested and prosecuted. We will definitely go after vandals of the fences too and make it known publicly at least to serve as deterrent to other criminals,” he said.
Noise pollution on the rise
Mega cities are usually known for their humongous volume of population coupled with rising influx of people into such cities daily. Consequently, there will be proportional boost in the number of people at bars, restaurants, salon, churches, and mosques. In return, the level of noise produced in these places increases. Lagos as a mega city is no exception to this as there is an observable increase in noise pollution across the state.
A stroll down the streets of Lagos reveals vans with deafening loudspeakers ranting the benefits of a brand to people; two or three brand ambassadors were seen sharing handbills highlighting the prices, benefits and location to people. In major market areas, are these same vans with a small stage created for dancers who attract passersby with their craft as they twist and toss to the music produced from a nearest loudspeaker which is always on a high pitch.
In their efforts to make a request to God, some religious houses in the state have allegedly succeeded in disturbing the peace of neighbours through vigils, thunderous applauds and call to prayers that are usually done through loudspeakers directed to those outside the place of worship. In addition, one notable nature of Lagos mega city is the blasting sirens and horns that livens the highway.
However, according to a review paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, loud sounds from sirens and horns may increase the risk of heart diseases such as coronary artery disease, hypertension and heart failure.
Corroborating these observations and likely consequences Lagos residents groan amidst the noise pollution calling on the state government to do something about the level of pollution before it gets out of hand.
Dominion Agboola, a teacher stated that noise pollution is really on the rise and very disturbing. “On my street alone, there are three churches and these churches hold vigils and other programs at intervals, it is always like switching. When one finishes its 7days vigil, another would start 5days crusade, when that one stops, the next one would begin 21days miracle program. It is very hard for us to sleep in peace after many hours of laborious work. We go to church too!” he quipped.
Speaking on what the community had done to control the situation; Agboola revealed that the people in the area had complained to the leaders of the religious houses in question but that none of their requests had been granted. He stated that the community first wrote a letter to the leaders of the religious groups inviting them for a meeting, which they attended, complaints were laid bare and the solution was proposed: that the churches have to reduce the volume of their loudspeakers since those they are preaching to, are already inside the church with them.
He continued, “One of them said nothing, the other one said that it is not possible for him to do that because some people are in their homes praying along with them. The third one said that the people of the community ought to be grateful for the presence of a church in the area that all the prayers offered to God are also done for the sake of the residents in the area. In fact, by the time they got back, it multiplied.”
Miss Olayiwola Yemi, a youth corps member in the Ikotun axis also lamented the increase in noise pollution. She said that her house is near a mosque and the window to her bedroom is particularly close to the speaker such that whenever the muezzin makes a call to prayer, she rises out of her bed and relocates to the couch in the sitting room where the noise is minimal. “If I had come to check the house myself before paying the rent, I wouldn’t have agreed to stay here. I was in need of accommodation so I didn’t even bother to check. A friend of mine recommended the place to me and I trusted her judgment. Another friend of hers had packed out from here and she asked me to take up the room. Well, she is not totally wrong, the place is peaceful, calm and very okay as she claimed but the loudspeaker aspect was mentioned, she might not even know about it because I learnt that the person that packed out is a Muslim, so there was probably no offence in that.”
She added that she respects the religious views of everyone and made efforts to get the landlord to speak with the leaders of the mosque to redirect the speaker which he did but that there has been no difference as the leaders claimed that they had considered a best direction to place the speaker even before the house was built that there would be no change in that. “So what do I do? I keep switching from bedroom to parlour everyday; after all it is only a room and a parlour.”
Speaking with New Telegraph, Joshua Omoyeni, a gymnastic coach said that the major areas where government should tackle noise pollution is not that of religious houses but that of public places such as bars, restaurants, hotels among others. He averred that whether it is a Christian or Muslim religious house, all that is being offered is prayer but that bars and restaurants should be the main headache of the government as these places, he believes, constitute nuisance to the environment.
He said, “The government should checkmate the excesses of these hotels, club houses, bars and the likes. The people that are complaining about mosques and churches might have their reasons but how many days will church hold vigils? Mosque would definitely make a call to prayers every day, but for how many minutes? These bars and clubs are everyday workers, in fact every night and it is not for some minutes or for some hours, it is a thing that continues till the next morning. Fridays are worse; sometimes I might be forced not to go home on Fridays because it is usually louder and longer. Probably, they believe that everybody rests at home on Saturdays but some of us don’t.”
He also complained about the type of noises produced in the hotel near his house, which he referred to as “ungodly”.
A teacher, Mr. Adams Muyiwa, stated that the current level of noise pollution, if not addressed would have negative effects on the academic performance of students in Lagos state. Governments of mega cities around the world are known for their efforts towards providing comfort for their people one of which is the eradication of all forms of pollution in the state. Thus, issues bordering on the protection of the environment have been a major priority of the state government. This could be said to be responsible for the establishment of the Lagos state environmental police agency, LASEPA that perform a range of functions one of which is controlling to its barest minimum, noise pollution in Lagos state.
The objective of the pollution control department states thus, “Attending to public complaints on noise pollution from religious worship centers, night clubs, record/studio shops, hotels etc”
The agency which was established in 2013 had shut down a number of public places where the rule guiding noise pollution have been contravened, however, there seem to be a slack in the discharge of duties as LASEPA has refused to heed the cries of the masses against the current increase in the level of noise pollution in the state.
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