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With Docu-film, hFACTOR debunks eviction narrative

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Last week, stakeholders in the media, real estate developers, government officials, traders’ associations and social advocates converged on the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, to screen a docu-film on government’s evictions of some people on their space and the social implications such actions have brought to Lagos, which is assumed to be on its way to becoming a smart city.

Shot in different areas of Lagos, hFACTOR partners Heinrich Boll Stiftung to produce the documentary, which aims to interrogate the various demolitions in Badia, Oshodi, Tejuosho, Makoko and others that government said were carried out to develop the areas and for public good.

Titled, Dispossess: Evictions For Development, the documentary reveals how for over 10 years, market places and unplanned settlements in some areas of the state have been demolished and replaced with ultra-modern markets and structures that are far beyond the reach of the original occupiers. The documentary also shows how many of the markets that sprout from these areas are not attracting traders and customers as expected, stressing that this has made the traders to sell their wares on the streets and major roads to sustain themselves and their families.

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Aside from the unveiling, there was an open discussion on which stakeholders called on government to make state policies reflect the feelings and aspirations of the people whom they are elected to serve. They added that the various infrastructures should reflect the way people, their values and should be affordable, stressing that the current situation where the former occupiers because of the high rent placed on the structures, cannot get them, is not acceptable.

Also, there was a session that debunked some of the myths often held by government to carry out their evictions. Rethinking Cities Initiatives and Heinrich Boll Foundation, Abuja, have put some of the ideas in a booklet, titled, ‘Lagos Urban Planning: Debunking Myths And Stereotypes.’

On Myth: The Informal Economy Is An Impediment To The Prosperity Of Lagos, Ademola Omoegun disclosed that Lagos faces the ever-present challenge of creating gainful employment to promote economic inclusion and poverty alleviation for a rapidly expanding population and key to solving this challenge is increasing productivity and leveraging the informal economy.

According to Omoegun, there is much benefit to derive from formal and informal linkage, saying with the informal operators improving productivity, owing to their nimbleness and ability to make goods more readily available to end users in sometimes in unusual locations such as in the traffic.

He joined forces with other advocates to call for a gradual approach to formalising the informal economy, involving urban management, inclusive policies and partnerships with often poor informal workers, stressing that Lagos will do well to follow this approach as its diverse informal economy rather than being an impediment could potentially hold the key to its economic success.

Speaking on the Myth: Eviction Of Communities And Market Is Done For Environmental Sanitation, Kofo Adeleke observed that in Nigeria, local authorities have responsibility for markets, sanitation, local drainage and upholding planning regulations and enforcement, but are let down by weakness and mismanagement and over centralised power.

She noted that proper urban planning, strong waste management systems, well-maintained roads and adequate water supply would transform many communities and markets into safe environments for the people who live and work in them.

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Adeleke noted that it is unfortunate that the easier route and way out for authorities seemed to be bringing in the bulldozers to pull down the people’s structure and then erect shopping malls and gated estates, which then become exclusive and not accessible to the people who have been displaced.

She observed that using public health concern, as a pretext for evictions, is an age-old method, which is used around the world for gaining access to lucrative real estate.

She said: “Examples include the draconian 18th and 19th Highland Clearances in Scotland of poor overcrowded communities, suffering from diseases and starvation, by brutal landlords to make way for improvements under agrarian modernisation.”

Commenting on the Myth: Slums In Lagos Are Synonymous With Criminality, the Founder and Director of Research and Policy at Spaces for Change, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, noted that state authorities adopt the pretext of combating crime to gentrify blighted neighbourhoods.

According to her, mass evictions are conducted with lethal force and the land reallocated to new affluent owners or private property developers, who transform the area into luxurious housing estates pegged at prices beyond the reach of former owners. She observed that this pattern of violent gentrification has been consistent in displacing thousands of people from Maroko to Makoko to Otodo, Gbame, pushing them deeper into poverty.

“These underhand tactics fuel mistrust, causing suspicion of even the finest urban development intentions. Tensions arise and slum dwellers are too poor to utilise conventional methods of conflict resolution, while attempts at legal and policy reform have been slow and elitist and often times excluding the target communities.”

“For Lagos’ teeming population living in precarious conditions in the urban slums, strategic action is now necessary to change the perception that criminalises their landholding, legitimises their exclusion, and consequently, exposes them to recurrent human rights violations.”

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Ibezim-Ohaeri called on the state government to rather than perpetuate false stereotypes about slums and their inhabitants to tackle the underlying reasons for slum proliferation.

Hermes Iyele, the artist who featured in the documentary aside from performing live, called on government and the private sector to develop the city, give the design that would accommodate different segments of inhabitants.

Asserting that he is from the slum, Iyele stated that poor planning and forceful evictions on their own breed crime and criminals, adding that some of the things Lagos State is witnessing today in terms of crime and traffic jam are some of the fallouts of some of the evictions carried out in the past in some parts of the city.

According to hFACTOR community liaison officer, Dolapo Osunsina, the advocacy is going to be an on-going campaign that will last for a year. She observed that the real estate development in Lagos is tilted towards the elite, adding that a lot of people do not have access to social infrastructures and called for synergy between the private and public sectors to properly develop the city without damaging our social values.

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