The Lagos state government has rejected a High Court ruling that it stop a programme of evictions on the city’s waterfront that has left more than 30,000 Nigerian fishermen and their families homeless.
The government of Nigeria’s fast-growing mega-city of 23 million in October announced its intention to demolish all waterfront communities, home to around 300,000 people, for public safety. Residents and rights groups say this was an excuse to help a local businessman get rid of a settlement that had existed for decades so he could build more skyscrapers, hotels and malls. Steve Ayorinde, the Lagos state commissioner for information told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday the government would appeal last week’s court ruling that deemed demolitions of the waterfront Otodo Gbame settlements “unconstitutional”.
“The Lagos state government will exercise its constitutional right to appeal a judgment that we do not agree with,” he said in a phone message. A Lagos government statement on Monday said the court erred in its ruling that the demolitions were illegal because “there was no demolition in Otodo Gbame before the case was filed.” “There was a fire in Otodo Gbame caused by a violent clash between two rival cult groups. The fire destroyed the community with no residents and property remaining because the burnt shanties were built with corrugated sheets, woods and bamboos,” the statement read.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode visited the community after the incident and stopped reconstruction of the shanties, the statement said, directing those living on the waterfront to leave “for security reasons”. The High Court issued its ruling on June 21 after a case against the demolitions was launched by the Lagos-based human rights group, Justice and Empowerment Initiative. (JEI) Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo ruled the rights of the residents had been violated and ordered that the state government stop further evictions and discuss resettlement.
Campaigners hailed the ruling as a vindication for poorer residents, whose prime land in Nigeria’s biggest city is being cleared to make way for luxury developments. One man was shot dead and another wounded when the Lagos state police launched the fourth wave of forced removals from the waterfront communities in April. Weeks after the government announced plans to demolish the slums last year, bulldozers escorted by police arrived after midnight and destroyed dwellings, forcing residents to flee into their canoes and leaving an estimated 30,000 without shelter. JEI co-executive director and lawyer, Megan Chapman said most had moved in with friends or relatives, although many were still living in their canoes or in the open air.
– Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Ros Russell