Battle against illegal settlements rages in Lagos

Effort to improve quality of life in Nigerian cities and ensure environmental safety is pushing the government against inhabitants of illegal settlements/shanties. Dayo Ayeyemi writes

 

 

If the latest ranking of Lagos and Abuja as 212th and 213th out of 231 cities assessed under the 2017 Mercer Quality of Living Rankings for cities is anything to go by, Nigerian government at the federal and state levels would need to double their efforts to improve environmental condition of the cities to enhance their livability index.

This is due to the determinants used in Mercer’s survey for quality of living ranking of cities, which centered on connectivity, competitiveness, attractiveness and security.

In the latest report, Western European cities dominate top of 2017 Quality of Living Rankings, with Vienna remaining in first position for the 8th year in a row. Already, efforts are in top gear to put in place quality road infrastructure in Abuja and ensure cleaner Lagos.

However, plan by the government to improve the rating of the city on quality of living ranking and rid it of environmental nuisance and insecurity is pushing the authorities against occupants of illegal settlements and shanties in the metropolis.

Urban renewal

While authorities in Abuja are not resting to ensure the city fits into its status as Nigeria’s capital, Lagos is renewing fight against shanties. Commenced from Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Lekki neighbourhoods on the island to other locations, especially government’s housing estates in Ipaja, Isolo and Amuwo- Odofin, the authorities have already taken the battle to waterfront communities in Eti-Osa Local Government where it demolished what it termed “illegal shanties and unwholesome habitation” around Ilado and seafront areas beside Freedom Road in Lekki, Lagos. Since the demolition, affected residents and nongovernmental organisations have been condemning the government’s action.

The inhabitants of Otodo- Gbame have condemned the ongoing demolition of houses and destruction of their properties by the state government. One of the residents, Celestine Ahisu, said they were shocked by the demolition as they had not been served notice of demolition by the state government. He said that it was the second time in five months that houses in the community would be demolished.

Another, Sera Inagija, told New Telegraph that there was court judgment restraining the government from embarking on demolition of the community, saying that the authorities flouted the order.

Also, Amnesty International (AI) has condemned the government’s action, which has rendered many inhabitants of the community homeless. AI described it as a violation of the right of the people.

“Thousands, who live at Otodo Gbame, have right to housing. Their humanity is being violated by rendering them homeless. Forced eviction of Otodo Gbame community violates court ruling,” the agency said in a tweet.

Defence

Justifying the action of government, Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, said that no court judgment was flouted in the demolition of Otodo-Gbame According to him, the Ministry of Environment’s action was carried out in order to forestall an environmental disaster and another round of deadly conflicts that led to razing of the community last November.

Ayorinde said that the government’s action was informed by 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.

According to a 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.

It added, however, that the trial judge did not deliver judgment on the matter but rather referred the parties to Multi Door House for mediation. 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 down the entire community in November 2016, which rendered the area uninhabitable.” Meanwhile, a civil society organisation, Safe Habitat, has called on the Lagos State Government and relevant stakeholders in the state to show serious interest at the rate aliens from neighbouring countries and criminals fleeing other parts of the country are creating illegal settlements in some riverine communities in the state.

The group with focus on environmental safety led by its Executive Director, Ade Williams, told this newspaper that the spate of illegal settlements by aliens and criminals in the state was worrisome.

He said: “We are concerned about information reaching us that some aliens and criminals fleeing from law enforcement agencies have formed the habit of creating illegal settlements and shanties in some water front communities especially in Eti-Osa local government area of the state, where they constitute environmental nuisance and launch criminal attacks against residents of Lekki, Ikoyi, Victoria Island and others.”

Williams warned that the earlier the government and other stakeholders took decisive action against such settlements and shanties the better for the environment, lawful residents and business development of Lagos.

The group commended Governor Akinwunmi Ambode for taking similar action last year to rid Ikoyi and Victoria Island of such environmental nuisance, recalling that past government in the state had summoned same will to cleanse Kuramo beach of criminal activities in 2007 by dislodging illegal settlers erecting shanties.

Managing Partner, JIMS Partnership, Mr. Olujide Oke, also called on built environment professionals to come together to proffer workable solution to some of the challenges impacting on livability and environmental efficiency of cities and towns.

Some of the challenges, he mentioned, ranged from infrastructure decay to increasing slum settlement in city centres, poorly planned living environment, poor road networks, poor maintenance leading to dilapidated facilities and public utilities, lack of portable water supply, bad drainages and canals, poor housing, environmental pollution and poor waste management systems and flooding. According to Oke, inadequate urban planning has led to an increase in physical size of cities, higher population densities, greater demands on natural assets within cities and increased congestion.

Conclusion

The government needs to be proactive in its efforts to curtail creation of illegal settlements rather than being reactionary to forestall loss of lives and properties.

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