Stop the Demolitions and Land Grabs

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demolition at Apo-NEPA in Abuja

The right to decent housing is a fundamental human right. But tens of millions of Nigerians live in “face-me-I-face-you” single rooms in the slums of our cities, where families share toilets, bathrooms and kitchen. Some of these are even made from cardboards or loose roofing sheets. This is not because they want to live in such horrible situations. It is because they have no money and nowhere else to go.

Government should provide housing for these poor working people. Instead, it has become a norm over the years for their houses to be pulled down without any alternatives, rendering them homeless with many families now living under bridges in big cities like Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt.

At the beginning of the year, over two hundred houses were pulled down in poor informal settlements in in Takwa Bay Lagos, with thousands of families thrown onto the streets. The demolitions have continued despite the pandemic. Houses as well as two mechanic villages were demolished in March, leaving these artisans with no shelter or source of living.

Abuja used to be known for the demolition of informal settlements when Nasir El Rufai who is now the governor of Kaduna state was minister of the federal capital territory at the beginning of the century. For several years, poor people in these shanties breathed sighs of relief. But the bulldozers came back last year when the Gwoza market and adjourning houses were pulled down.

The situation has gotten worse. And indigenous people in the FCT are a major target. More than 100 houses were pulled down at the Apo NEPA area of Abuja at the beginning of August by the FCT Task Force on City Sanitation. These were houses of indigenous Gbagyi people.

Their lands are also being seized by the army. About the same time the task force was destroying houses in Apo, bulldozers moved into the Iddo Sarki, Tungan Maje, Zuba and Kpakuru communities in the Gwagwalada Local Government Area of the FCT. These were from the army. The chief of army staff, Lt. Gen Buratai claims that the land was allocated to the army in 1978 and it recertified a certificate of occupancy in 2011.

The Coalition of FCT Indigenous Associations has called for the release of their lands back to them. Despite promises by the minister of the FCT, nothing concrete is being done.

The Socialist Workers & Youth League demands an immediate halt to the demolitions of poor working people’s homes and this brazen land grab by the military. We demand the provision of decent housing for all, as the fundamental human right it is deemed to be.

The housing sector has always presented one of the most graphic pictures of extreme economic inequality in Nigeria, according to Leilani Farhi, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing. She was “shocked to see such inhumane and insufferable housing conditions in the 21st century, particularly in an oil producing country, showing relatively strong economic growth”.

Millions of poor people, particularly in Lagos with its sprawling population of over twenty million inhabitants live in slums. They are exposed to horrible living conditions, beaten by the rain, scorched by the sun and lack potable drinking water. In fact, for many, nearby streams where they bath is also where they are forced to drink from. Without toilets, faeces can be found all around where people live. These conditions have severe impact on their state of health. And they have no money for treatment when they get sick.

Several times, governments have used the excuse of the sorry state of slums to evict their residents, as if anyone would have been happy to live in slums in the first place if affordable housing were available. The first in a series of such evictions commenced during the introduction of the structural adjustment programme in the late 1980s.

Probably the most well-known of these was the 1990 demolition of Maroko a community of poor people on Lagos Island, close to Victoria Island and Ikoyi where the rich bosses live. Not less than 300,000 poor working-class people were evicted. The evicted residents organised themselves into the Maroko Evacuees Committee (MEC) to fightback.

They never received their lands back. One of the excuses proffered by the military government in Lagos at the time was that, being so close to the sea, the residents’ lives were in danger from flooding. But when the area was sand filled, it was all sold to the rich bosses.

The struggle of the MEC could only win them some derelict buildings in one of the Jakande estates, far away from their former place of abode. The only reason they were provided with any alternative whatsoever is that they united and fought back.

Attacks on the already miserable housing situation of poor working-class people in slums became worse this century. “According to Amnesty International, between 2000 and 2009, Nigerian authorities forcibly evicted two million people.”

9,000 more people were evicted from Ijora Badiya communities in February 2013 and another 10,000 people from the same area in September 2015. Matters got worse by 2016/17 when about 330,000 people were forcefully evicted from the Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin waterfront communities on Lagos Island.

Demolition of the fifteen fishing communities declared to be “illegal settlements” by the state government was in contravention of an interim court ruling. The judge was unequivocal in pointing out that it would be “cruel” and “degrading” to evict the residents without providing any alternative and thus ordered the government to stand down.

Thousands of Otodo-Gbame residents marched to Alausa, the seat of government to protest when the first phase of demolitions started in 2016. But government was not to be deterred from seizing their lands and handing these over to the high and mighty almost immediately.

Those who tried to physically resist the pulling down of their homes (and where their parents and parents’ parents had lived) in subsequent phases of the demolition, by 2017, were brutally suppressed. Not less than 11 persons were killed.

This new wave of demolitions during the COVID-19 public health emergency further makes the affected poor masses rendered homeless more vulnerable to infection. The trade unions and radical civil society organisations must come out to demand a halt of this barrage of attacks on the poor people.

by Nnamdi Ikeagu

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