Forced Evictions on the Increase!
Mobilise Mass Resistance, NOW!
“How do they want us to survive, when we pay high taxes; government does not know how we survive with our families; and now they have destroyed our houses?!”
This was the open cry of one of the landlords that his house got destroyed through forceful evictions at Badagry. And Badagry is just one out of many “brutal evictions” and destructions of working peoples’ homes and markets in order to make Lagos a “mega city!”
In a commando manner, the Lagos state government is carrying out demolitions and evictions following in the footsteps of former governments. While doing this, the Ambode-led state government has snubbed all orders against the demolitions. The most recent is the case of Otodo Gbame where according to Morayo Adebayo of the Amnesty International, “Thousands of residents of Otodo Gbame watched in horror as their homes and possessions were destroyed literally overnight, and their futures plunged into uncertainty. What makes this especially shocking is that on Monday this community was granted an injunction preventing the Lagos State Government from proceeding with the planned demolition of the informal settlements along the State’s waterfronts – the authorities involved in this destruction are in flagrant violation of the law.”
A resident, reeling in pains also told how the police and other state forces participated in the destructions:
“Police were firing guns [into the air], everybody was running helter-skelter so they had to run for dear life…They did not allow anybody to rescue his property, everything was burnt. I was only able to rescue [a] few [items]. Most of the property that was burnt is my wife’s property, clothes and children’s clothes. I have [a] TV and other things; they were burnt down.
The housing question is a class question. The rulers of capitalist society do everything to make sure that the basic needs of the working masses are undermined as much as possible, to keep them under the leash of insufficiency, while the wealthy flourish. Examples like Maroko and Makoko, show how the rich who constitute the ruling class destroy the homes of the poor, and replace these with huge edifices that are affordable only to the rich.
To carry out these destructions, the bosses use whatever power they have at their disposal. In the case of Otodo Bgame, a UN Independent Rappatour on the right to housing, Leilani Farhai, wrote a letter to the Lagos state government saying that:
“It has been brought to my attention that the evictions may have involved the extreme use of force and fire by the Nigerian police force and Lagos state government, leaving individuals and families scrambling in the middle of the night to find safety and shelter,”
She continued by pointing out that “International law is clear: there must be consultation with the affected community, all alternative options to eviction must be explored, and a resettlement plan must be in place should the evictions be carried out, under no circumstances should force or fire be used.”
The people mostly affected, are from the Egun and other ethnic minority populations, who with no other options, live in poor-quality homes along creeks and other waterfronts. These people engage in fishing to survive.
In Badagry, the forced evictions were carried out by the Nigeria Police Force who bought a neigbouring land in Agemowo and Agelado which are quiet district but could not develop it because it is swampy, and then decided to take over two communities – Atiporomeh and Araromi-Ale, that does not share any boundary with Agemowo/Agelado, without even consulting the community leaders.
The affected communities “woke up to the gory sight of over two hundred (200) fully armed riot policemen with over fifteen (15) heavy duty evacuating machines on our communities, forcing us to scamper for our lives without any opportunity to evacuate our household items, and before our unbelieving eyes we watched haplessly our hard earned properties reduced to rubbles by officers and men of the Lagos state government working in connivance with the Nigeria Police Force.”
It must be noted that the communities have full and up-to-date legal documents and certificates of occupancy. They were given a false security alert and were asked to hurriedly leave their homes only not to be allowed in again. Chief Adu, the leader of the communities, speaking in an interview with me, said the Lagos state House of Assembly commissioned an ad-hoc Enquiry committee led by Hon Rotimi Abiru, and having found out the truth about the cruel and unlawful demolitions have not published their reports till date.
Also in Ikoyi, the shanties and ghettos where persons with disabilities and displaced people live were destroyed. Several inhabitants of the areas were arrested and dumped in a rundown asylum for lunatics at Owutu in Ikorodu. After a mass protest to the Lagos state Government House in October, about 70 of the persons were released. Several persons died during the ordeal. The government is not forthcoming with confirming the number of these avoidable deaths.
These evictions are not only in Lagos, but across major cities like Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Abuja, Oshogbo and Zaria. But, the evicted persons are fighting back and engaging the governments in conjunction with civil society and already organised communal organisations.
In Otodo Gbame, the community resisted arrests with mass protests and engagements with the police and other state forces which caused the arrests of the monarch and some other community leaders and activists. The protests have attracted global wakings and supports.
Resistances against demolitions in Lagos state commenced a few months earlier, led by the Federation of Informal Workers of NIgeria (FIWON) and some NGOs and radical organisations like the Socialist Workers League (SWL) and the Youth Against Austerity (YAA). There is a need for more coordinated intervention that would unite the resistances and other bring in more organisations of working class people into the fore of the struggles.
The NGOs monopoly of leading mass actions is dangerous as most of the donors would not go towards real practical engagement that would put class considerations on the front burner of the struggles. This is why larger groups like the UAD and JAF need to be up and doing in this regard.
The housing struggles is a page in the class war that is currently going on in Nigeria and the entire globe. The working people are more endangered than before. With economic recession and the generalisation of austerity measures by governments, the masses are gnashing their teeth, reeling in biting pains and hardship, and accosted by the harsh and high cost of living.
Socio-economic attacks by the bosses could lead to or deepen to resistances. But these could also lead to submissions so many a times, or a distorted form of reaction. The renewed cases of rampaging child cultists like the famous AWAWA are examples of ugly developments and reactions to these class oppression.
As socialists we must be part of every struggle of the working masses any and everywhere it is being waged, be these in the workplace or the communities where we live. In these struggles, we learn from working class people. Drawing from such lessons and with the foresight of perspectives, we present well thought out alternatives which concretely challenge the arguments and power of the bosses.
The capitalists wage an endless and multi-faceted war, and we need to respond as rapid and dogged as possible with clear-cut positions and alternatives. Instead of the Lagos state government to continue with its inhuman demolitions, mass low-cost housing should be engaged through direct labour (not the expensive housing estates built by Fashola that are almost empty today.)
The labour movement needs to rise to the housing struggles as it is directly about the immediate welfare of the working people. The faster and sharper we intervene in uniting and organising the struggles, the better for our engagements with the anti-poor ruling/thieving class!
by Kunle Wizman Ajayi