The Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, a group comprising dozens of waterfront communities and scores of other informal settlements across Lagos, on Wednesday expressed regret at the decision of the Lagos State Government to withdraw from a court-ordered mediation process aimed at finding an alternative solution to the threat of forced eviction hanging over those living in waterfront communities across the state.
The group said the government’s decision was “sudden and unilateral.”
“We came to mediation process in good faith and put forward workable proposals regarding alternatives to demolition and forced eviction that could address the various excuses the State Government has tried to use to justify its intention to demolish our homes,” the group said in a statement.
“Even after the State Government went back to continue demolishing one of our communities, Otodo Gbame, forcibly evicting 4,700 residents in violation of a court order, we still came back to the roundtable on 29 March 2017 to at least hear what the State Government had to say.
“It was, therefore, a great shock to us that the State Government decided to unilaterally withdraw from the mediation process and give up on the possibility of any resolution through dialogue.”
In late October 2016, after trying to engage the Lagos State Government unsuccessfully, 15 waterfront communities approached the Lagos State High Court to seek protection of their fundamental rights against the threat of eviction issued by the Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
On January 26, Justice S.A. Onigbanjo of the Lagos State High Court issued a ruling finding that demolitions on short notice without providing alternative shelter for persons evicted constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution, and ordered the parties to attempt mediation through the Lagos State Multi-Door Court House.
It is not immediately clear why the state government pulled out of the mediation process.
E-mails and phone calls to the state’s Ministry of Information were not responded to.
The government’s decision came days after it returned to one of the waterfront communities to execute a fresh forced eviction.
In defending its action, the government had said it owed a duty to the entire population of the state to ensure maintenance of public health and safety.
Last Monday, Amnesty International condemned the government’s action, insisting that Nigeria is a party to international conventions that require it to recognise the right to adequate housing and to refrain from carrying out forced evictions.
The waterfront communities accused the Lagos State government of offering excuses in order to destroy their homes and take over the waterfronts.
“Waterfront communities across Lagos are home to hundreds of thousands of hard-working, law-abiding citizens,” the group stated.
“This is where we live and where many of us work. Our businesses – from fishing to sand dealing – and our labour add to the Lagos economy. We are the engine of the Lagos economy and we have a right to the city. We do not have any other home.
“We have proffered alternative ways of resolving each of these concerns, but it seems the government is not ready to listen nor is it really dedicated to trying to find lasting, citizen-centered solutions to complex urban problems.
“Evictions do not make Lagos safer. Instead, they push the urban poor into deeper poverty through homelessness and loss of livelihoods. Worsened poverty only exacerbates crime. Evictions are not the answer. We need to partner to find lasting solutions to insecurity.”