Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) Press Article - Lagos Demolitions Emergency

Anonymous's picture

The following article is a direct press release and call to action from Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) Nigeria; a Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation support NGO. The article documents the recent devastating demolition experience that destroyed the Otodo Gbame Community of Lagos, leaving over 30,000 homeless. 

10 November 2016

Lagos, Nigeria


One month after the Governor of Lagos State went to the media announcing the Lagos State

Government’s intention to demolish “shanties” along waterfronts across the state – and just days

after the Lagos State High Court issued an injunction restraining the same – the Nigerian Police

Force and Lagos State Government have moved into Otodo Gbame community in full force.

In the early morning hours of 9 November 2016, a gang of boys with reported ties to the

powerful Elegushi Chieftaincy Family, entered Otodo Gbame community – a peaceful fishing

settlement on the edge of the Lagos Lagoon in Lekki Phase I, made up predominantly of Eguns

and other ethnic minorities in Lagos – and began setting fire to houses in the community.

When police arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, according to eyewitness reports, they began

to lend assistance to the spreading of the fire. They shot into the community and chased away

persons bringing water to quench the fire. They helped to set more structures on fire. Four

persons – two women, one man, and one child – reportedly drowned as they rushed into water.

It was only when help from other Egun communities around Lagos Lagoon such as Makoko and

Oke Ira Nla arrived that residents began succeeding to put out the fire and police turned back.

By the time JEI arrived in the Otodo Gbame, about a third of the community – an estimated 800

structures – had been razed to the ground and fires were still smoldering across the community.

An estimated 10,000 people rendered homeless in a matter of hours tried to recover what

properties they could and dozens of people huddled in boats off the shore of the community.

At least 15 police vehicles were on ground and, around 1:30pm, the Commissioner of Police Fatai

Owoseni arrived on the scene in person for “inspection” and to order the community sealed.

Interviews with affected residents throughout the day confirmed the complicity of the police in

the spreading of the fire and loss of life in the early part of the day. They also indicate that police

are working in tandem with those that initiated the fire to serve private interests of Otodo

Gbame’s wealthier and more powerful neighbors. Residents pointed fingers at the Elegushi

Chieftaincy Family and to the neighboring International Children’s School.

On 7 November 2016 – just two days before – Hon Justice Onigbanjo of the Lagos State High

Court issues an injunction restraining the Lagos State Government and the Lagos State

Commissioner of Police from demolishing waterfront communities – including Otodo Gbame – or

evicting residents therefrom or otherwise giving effect to the 9 October 2016 eviction threat.

As evening fell in Otodo Gbame, tens of thousands of residents – some newly homeless and

some terrified but lucky to still have their homes – tried to get some rest after the wearying day.

JEI-trained paralegals had delivered a copy of the subsisting injunction to the local Ilasan

Divisional Police Station to ensure their awareness and pasted the order around the community.

Shortly after midnight on 10 November 2016, however, JEI received reports from numerous

residents of Otodo Gbame that a bulldozer with an escort of at least four police vehicles had

started working to destroy remaining homes. There has been no indication that our efforts to

notify the Nigerian Police Force at various levels – from Zone II Command to the Complaints

Response Unit (CRU) in the office of the Inspector General of Police – have stopped the

demolition ongoing with blatant impunity and disregard for life and wellbeing of citizens.

According to Edukpo Tina, a young woman in Otodo Gbame interviewed in the early morning of

10 November, “Police came again after midnight with caterpillar [bulldozer] and started breaking

everywhere, putting fire on peoples’ houses. They are seriously beating our people and

threatening to shoot unless we leave. All of us are on top of water now, there is nowhere to go.”

JEI-Nigeria strongly condemns the actions of the Nigerian Police Force and any branches of the

Lagos State Government or private parties at whose behest the NPF may be working. We decry

the extremely false and misleading press release issued by the Nigerian Police Force in the late

afternoon of 9 November 2016 that seeks to characterize the police’s actions as a “rescue,” while

announcing that the community in question will be taken over by the Lagos State Ministry of

Physical Planning and Urban Development and remaining structures will be demolished.

We note that there is absolutely no legal basis for eviction or taking over of land in the aftermath

of either security or fire incident. We further note there have been no statutory or paper notices

whatsoever served on any residents of Otodo Gbame. Rather, the police are acting completely

outside the scope of the law and in overt disregard for a subsisting order of court. We call on all

conscientious citizens concerned for democracy and rule of law to join in condemning this action.

JEI can be contacted directly for further information. Additional details can be found in this recent Reuters article.