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Travails of wrecked, dispersed Otodo-Gbame families


• How Displaced Citizen Patch Up Their Shattered Existence

When the Lagos State government on March 17 this year demolished several structures in Otodo Gbame Community, in Lekki, Eti-Osa Local Council, speculations were rife that the hapless residents would gird their loins and stand up against the government, over the action considered by may as illegal and inhumane.

Days after the initial demolition, the residents perfected plans to approach the court to seek an injunction restraining the state government from further demolishing their waterfront community. But on April 9, the state government returned to the community and brought down every structure that was still standing, thereby rendering over 1, 000 residents, including hundreds of babies and the aged homeless.

Irked by the cold treatment meted to them by the government, the evictees headed to the High Court in Igbosere, which faulted the demolition and ordered their immediate resettlement.Expectedly, the favourable verdict by Justice Adeniyi Onigbangbo, on June 21, got the displaced residents dancing their way home.

Their joy was, however, short-lived as the state government, in a Notice of Appeal dated June 22, 2017, filed before the Lagos Division of Appeal Court, maintained that apart from violating constitutional provisions, the judgment of the lower court was capable of encouraging illegality.

In the appeal, which was hinged on two grounds, the state government argued that the lower court erred in law and misdirected itself when it made far reaching decisions that conflicted with the facts of the matter as placed before it.At the end of the demolition exercise, at least one person was shot dead, scores injured, while structures that housed 4, 698 displaced residents were destroyed and set ablaze.

Since the residents were sacked, some of them have relocated to different parts of the state, with a good number of them pitching tent with friends and relatives in Makoko and Badore areas of the state. For days in October last year, some residents of waterfront communities were at the State House, Ikeja, where they protested and demanded a reversal of the 7-day ultimatum given by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration for them to quit.

They also demanded an opportunity to dialogue with the state government on the need not to implement the eviction order.After the governor failed to grant them audience, they resorted to blocking the entrance to the State House, and two days after, they also blocked the entrance to the state House of Assembly. One week after they occupied the place, they departed following an assurance by the Assembly that their matter would be looked into. Their departure was, however, temporary as they returned weeks after, when a section of Otodo Gbame was razed down.

However, on the day Otodo Gbame was completely leveled, Information Commissioner, Steve Ayorinde, claimed the state government or its agents were not responsible for the demolition when The Guardian contacted him. But days after, Ayorinde recanted, he issued a statement that Otodo Gbame was demolished for environmental reasons, and as a result of violation of the court order by the residents.

The court had ordered that both parties should maintain status quo, but some of the residents flouted that order and went ahead to reconstruct their destroyed shanties.
Before Otodo Gbame’s demolition, the demolition of Maroko, another slum community equally generated immense furore, even as the echoes are still reverberating several years after as the issue is yet to be successfully resolved.

One of those, who have lost the warmth generated by her close-knit family at her Otodo Gbame family house, is Mrs. Janet Dosa, a grandmother, who lived with her husband and their four children. They are now all living apart. While her husband now lives in Ijebu-Ikosi, Janet stays in Shogunro, Makoko area of Yaba.

Similarly, all her four children have been scattered in different locations across the state. While one currently stays at Epe, and another at Lekki, the third lives in Badagry and the last one is putting up around Seme border.

Dosa, who traded in smoked fish before the eviction, but now jobless having lost/expended all her savings during the demolition, and on relocation moves, told The Guardian that she now idles away due to her inability to secure a loan, or some kind of financial support to restart her business.

Speaking about life after the eviction, she said if not for the International Mission for Soul Salvation Church, which provided her shelter in the immediate aftermath of the demolition, she would have been stranded and homeless.

Now taking shelter in one of the church’s visitors’ rooms with some of her grandchildren and her daughter in-law, Dosa said she and her family members have been shattered since their family home was demolished. The distraught grandmother, who said she was born in Otodo Gbame, where she also got married and gave birth to her four children, added that it was also there that she raised her children before the joy of their happy family was short-lived.

She is therefore, calling on public-spirited individuals and rights’ groups to come to the aid of the displaced people as they demand for justice over the crude manner, which they were sacked from the only place they knew as home, without compensation.Forty-year-old father of four, Monday Dansu, owned a barbershop at Otodo Gbame before the demolition.

Today, jobless Dansu is accommodated by his mother in-law in Shogunro, Makoko. His children aged 15, 14, 10 and 8, who were schooling in Victoria Island (VI), have halted their educational pursuits due to his inability to fund their transportation from Shogunro, Makoko to VI, daily.

While recounting his ordeal, Dansu lamented that since stopping his barbing business owing to inability to raise funds to hire a new shop, life has been on downward spiral. Matters are made worse because his wife, a hairdresser is also yet to secure a shop to restart her business. Dansu, who was born in Otodo Gbame, where his mother passed on some years ago, added that his father, as a result of the eviction has relocated to the Badore area of Ajah.

While lamenting his plight and that of fellow evictees, he also called on rights’ groups not to abandon them in their hour of need, insisting that they want justice to prevail so that they can get their ancestral land back. Sixty-year-old herbalist, Wusu Doko, has spent his entire life in Otodo Gbame, where he married his two wives, who bore him six children, who are now all staying with relatives and friends. He is staying in Shogunro with a friend, who caters for his daily needs, as he has not been able to continue plying his trade.

His six children, who are all artisans that worked at Otodo Gbame before the eviction, now to earn a living doing menial jobs elsewhere. Doko, who insists that his family was badly hit by the demolition, added that his health has also badly deteriorated as a result of severe mental torture. He particularly expressed sadness that despite all the assurances given them by the state House of Assembly that they would not be evicted, they were eventually rendered homeless by the government.

Pascal Torsinhun, a fisherman is 53 years old. Like his father, he claims he was born in Otodo Gbame, where he also grew up. Since after the demolition, Torsinhun says he sleeps in his canoe in Shogunro, and has been rendered jobless having lost his fishing net during the demolition. Though he managed to retrieve two of his water tanks, he still has not been able to put the water tanks to use in his new location.

Right now, his wife and six children (five of whom are still in secondary school) are still at the mercy of the elements. With an ailing wife and six children all temporarily out of school, Torsinhu, who sells water says life could not have been harsher than it currently is for him and his household.

For now, he manages to get by with donations from friends, family members, as well as, church members. Senior Secondary Two (SS2) student of Falomo High School, Ikoyi, Kojah Nicholas, describes the demolition as a “tragedy, which has shattered his family” and punctuated his education.

He feels very sad that his parents, who are into fishing are now incapable of financing his daily trips to Victoria Island, from Shogunro, in order for him to continue his education.

He is not the only child in the family to be so affected. His younger brother, who was learning a trade also discontinued his journey due to the relocation. Nicholas maintains that it was terrible that the government that ought to facilitate a decent living condition for them, was actually the one that forcefully evicted them from the ancestral homestead.

Paul Kunnu, a teacher in one of the six private schools in Otodo Gbame, has now taken up residence in an uncompleted building in Badore area of the state, alongside his five-month-old daughter and wife. For him, life tastes sour since the demolition of his home.

Co-founder, Justice and Environment Initiative (JEI), Megan Chapman, is of the opinion that the state government should have provided sufficient time for the people to respond, and to make alternative arrangements for evictees without capacity to find alternative shelter.

“Any such persons must be provided with alternative shelter before any demolition could occur. All affected persons must be compensated for all losses they suffer. If the government fails to do all these, any eviction constitutes a forced eviction, which is a gross rights violation,” Chapman said.

She admitted that resettling the affected communities might be costly for the state government, the reason the federation and her organisation proposed alternatives that would have cost the state less, but serve as a more effective way of achieving its objectives.

“For instance, the government can give adequate information about the physical planning violations they are concerned about, and give residents sufficient time and a simple process to remedy such violations. Such solutions constitute a win-win.

“Communities could even be willing to negotiate land-sharing arrangements whereby, as part of the regularisation and upgrading processes, portions of land in the community could be made available to the government to support necessary social infrastructure, such as schools or police stations.”

According to the JEI boss, there are so many positive examples of government-supported, community-led on-site slum upgrading around the world that the state government ought to have borrowed a leaf from. “Most of these countries like Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, and India are places where their governments have tried demolition for decades and finally realised that demolition does not actually get rid of slums. Those governments have recognised that they need to partner with the urban poor, help them secure their tenure, and come up with realistic, community-led plans for incremental or gradual formalisation and upgrading.”

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Otodo Gbame
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