BY SIMON ATEBA/WASHINGTON DC
They danced. They sang. They smiled. Some cried. Others were silent, remembering at least five of their neighbours, brothers and fathers, who were shot dead by the police or thugs sponsored by a shameless royal family.
Residents of Otodo Gbame and other evicted waterfront communities in Lagos state on Wednesday 21 June, 2017, celebrated the best way they could with those who defended them; Justice and Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria (JEI) and the Nigerian Slum and Informal Settlement (Federation), the final judgment given by Honourable Justice Onigbanjo of the Lagos State High Court in a fundamental rights enforcement case brought in October 2016.
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The case was brought before the court after the Lagos state Government stated its intention to demolish all waterfront communities, citing frivolous reasons such as kidnapping and armed robbery attacks.
Honourable Justice Onigbanjo delivered his landmark ruling as hundreds of urban poor residents – men, women, and children – from waterfronts across Lagos state waited patiently inside and outside the courtroom.
Relying on the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, Justice Onigbanjo said he found evictions without adequate notice and resettlement to be cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in violation of the right to dignity enshrined in Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The court also ordered the Lagos State Government to immediately consult and resettle displaced residents and he issued a permanent injunction restraining further evictions without consultation and resettlement of affected persons.
“The final judgment delivered by Honourable Justice Onigbanjo is a huge step forward in the quest for justice for Otodo Gbame evictees and brings relief to over 270,000 residents of other waterfront communities in Lagos that have been living under the threat of eviction,” JEI and Federation said in a statement signed by Megan S. Chapman, Akinrolabu Samuel, Bimbo Oshobe and Sani Mohammed.
“Moreover, the judgment sets important precedent in Nigeria by finding that evictions without adequate notice and resettlement violate the right to dignity of the human person – an absolute right, which has no exceptions in the Nigerian Constitution or in well-established international human rights law.
“As Nigerians across Lagos, the country, and the world celebrate this landmark judgment, we call on the Lagos State Government to demonstrate a commitment to the rule of law and democracy by swiftly commencing consultation with Otodo Gbame evictees to remedy their homelessness.
“Knowing that wholesale resettlement is costly, we also call on the Lagos State Government to enter into dialogue with residents of other waterfront communities to plan for in situ upgrading that can simultaneously improve the quality of life of residents and address Government concerns, embracing international best practice and avoiding unnecessary and costly evictions,” JEI and Federation added.
The threat to the Lagos waterfronts began when Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode announced to the media on 9 October 2016 the Government’s intention to “start demolishing all shanties on waterfronts across the State within 7 days,” citing recent kidnapping incidents as the purported justification,”
“Based on mapping and profiling done by the Nigerian Slum / Informal Settlement Federation, we identified at least 40 communities that fell under this threat and estimated over 300,000 residents were at risk of imminent eviction.
“Accordingly, more than 20 member communities of the Federation joined together to write to Governor Ambode calling for retraction of the threat and requesting for dialogue to explore alternatives to eviction.
“Two peaceful protests brought thousands of waterfront residents to the gates of the Governor’s office and the State House of Assembly, but to no avail. To the contrary, the Lagos State Government proceeded to demolish Ilubirin on 15 October 2016. Finally, the threatened waterfronts had no option but to proceed to court to enforce their fundamental rights”.
On 7 November 2016, Honourable Justice Onigbanjo granted a temporary injunction restraining the Lagos State Government and the Nigerian Police Force from proceeding with any demolition of the waterfronts or eviction of their inhabitants. Despite this order, Otodo Gbame community – an ancestral Egun fishing settlement in Lekki – was demolished and over 30,000 residents forcibly evicted on 9-10 November 2016 by arson and a bulldozer working in the dead of night.
On 26 January 2017, Honourable Justice Onigbanjo issued an interim ruling holding that these evictions were in violation of the residents’ right to dignity and ordered the Respondents to enter into mediation with the residents to explore alternatives to eviction. The court-ordered mediation failed, however, when the Lagos State Government unilaterally pulled out of the process after starting to evict the remaining ~5,000 residents of Otodo Gbame on 17-21 March 2017.
On 9 April 2017, the Lagos State Government led the most violent demolition in recent history that completely displaced all remaining residents of Otodo Gbame. Arriving without notice around 5am, the Government’s Task Force chased residents from their beds and into boats on the Lagos Lagoon using live bullets and teargas, while systematically setting their houses on fire.
At least 5 evictees were shot, including 20-year-old Daniel Aya who died from a gunshot to the neck.
The demolition of Otodo Gbame has been broadly condemned as a forced eviction and a gross violation of human rights, including by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Shelter, Amnesty International, the Norwegian Ambassador to Nigeria, and countless others.
Evictions that use arson and take place during the night – such as what occurred at Otodo Gbame – also constitute violations of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, even more so when they are discriminatory, as here where used against an ethnic minority community in Lagos.