Saturday, November 07, 2015

An Urban Land-Grab in Nigeria

 A couple of months ago security forces chased some 15,000 Nigerians from their homes in Badia East, one of Lagos’ largest slums and today thousands of families are still sleeping rough. The once vibrant community now resembles a disaster zone, with houses and shops reduced to rubble.

Former residents say they were given less than 12 hours’ notice, by way of a few posted eviction flyers, before bulldozers rolled in and demolished their community, making it difficult to salvage their meager belongings. Some residents have since been able to move to other slums, or stay with family and friends, but many families have settled in a narrow, overcrowded piece of public land sandwiched between the demolition site and the main road.

The demolition and evictions came after the Lagos State High Court ruled that the land belonged to the powerful Ojora chieftaincy family, who has been trying to reclaim the land since the 1990s. Badia East residents say they weren’t even given the chance to participate in court proceedings. The evicted families, the majority of who are from southwest Nigeria’s Ilaje community, insist that the land belongs to them because the government resettled them in Badia East more than 40 years ago.
“When we relocated here, the whole place was a bushy swamp. We cleared it and filled it with sand to make it habitable,” said 70-year-old Ola Igbayilo.

For decades, the slums existed without anyone laying claim to them. But now, as land has become scarcer in the ever-growing metropolis that is Lagos, they are considered prime real estate.

“Slums are being targeted because they can easily be taken away from the poor who lack the financial resources to resist the acquisition of their land,” said Segun Olutade, who works with Shelter Watch, a Lagos-based organization that works to improve human settlements. “No one will attempt to acquire land in the affluent parts of the city because the rich will get the best lawyers to fight back.”

According to a number of international instruments, including the International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Nigeria is a signatory, authorities must respect “the right to adequate housing by refraining from forced evictions.”  Additionally: “Evictions should not result in individuals being rendered homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights. Where those affected are  unable to provide for themselves, the State party must take all appropriate measures…to ensure that adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land…is available.” 

The last major evictions in Badia East took place in 2013, when the government demolished the homes of more than 9,000 people, following a $200 million loan from the World Bank destined for slum upgrading. But instead of building decent housing for the poor, the money and land was used for upmarket homes, shopping centres and offices. Few people were compensated; none were able to afford the new homes.

“The suffering is too much,” said Kemi Ogunyemi, a mother of four who lost her home and business. “The restaurant through which I made a living has been demolished. Now I have no way to feed my family.”

With much of Badia East reduced to rubble, the bulldozers, which are still on site, are ready to move into Badia West, Matimininu and Ladejobi, three other slums marked for demolition.

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