By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina
THE former residents of the Otodo-Gbame community in Lekki that were forcefully evicted last year have disclosed plans to drag the Lagos State Government to the Court of Justice of the Economic Communities of the West Africa States (ECOWAS), seeking justice for the survivors of the eviction.
Disclosing this at a Flotilla protest in commemoration of the first anniversary of the brutal eviction of the mostly Egun Fishing Community, as ordered by the state Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode between November 9-10, 2016, the push to seek ECOWAS Court’s intervention is said to be the latest efforts aimed at seeking succour for the survivors of the state action.
It would be recalled that during the eviction, over 30,000 residents were violently displaced without resettlement; 13 persons – including women and children died; some got drown while others received direct bullets from the rampaging law enforcers. Several others were injured and 158 persons were arrested and locked up for daring to challenge the injustice. They were later released.
Speaking with CITYVOICE at the protest, the co-founder and co-director of the Justice and Empowerment Initiative of Nigeria, Megan S. Chapman, said one year after, Lagos State Government, has shown no iota of remorse or sensitivity to the excruciating psychological, economic and social pains being inflicted on the displaced persons.
Chapman, who is co-leading the struggle to seek justice for the victims, said the “flagrant violation of the rule of law” by the state government was highly regrettable as it was not reflective of the democratic and progressive nature of the state.
According to her, “it was in response to this insensitivity that we have actually petitioned the United Nations (last year) when the eviction was carried out. And the UN Special Rapporteur came out and issued an urgent communication to the Federal Republic of Nigeria; and even went further to issue public statement, condemning what was happening in Otodo Gbame.”
Chapman said but for the recalcitrance of the Lagos State Government and the seeming powerlessness of the UN to curtail the aggressiveness of state officials over the issue, the needed result has not been achieved.
“Unfortunately, the powers of the UN doesn’t go beyond the official condemnation of the act hey can’t go further to impose sanctions on the state. There is also a judgment from the Lagos High Court that compelled the Lagos State Government to first resettle the people of the slum before any eviction would take place and there is nothing stopping the enforcement of the subsisting ruling except an overture by the same court which has not happened.
“Therefore, we are now trying to take the case to the ECOWAS Court of Justice. And we believe that this body has powers to issue orders that are binding on the government of Nigeria and any state within. And also put pressure on the entire ECOWAS region to key behind the position so as to achieve maximum pressure and the needed result.
“We are also going into partnership with a Lagos State parasatatal, Lagos State Renewal Urban Agency; and the aim is to work out and demonstrate the alternative to eviction of the people of the slum. And the case study is the Ago-ekun in Bariga and Orisunbare slum. This is a simple act of human coexistence.
Meanwhile, the flotilla protest was organized by the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, in collaboration with Justice and Empowerment Initiative-Nigeria, featuring procession from the UNILAG Waterfront, to Third Mainland Ilado and through to the headquarters of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
Hundreds of persons —older men and women, young adults, teenagers and children – who participated in the protest demonstrated strong bond and sense of unity as they chanted solidarity songs, appealing to whoever that can help to prevail on the government to resettle them and compensate them for their loss.
There were five large wooden boats to convey hundreds of protesters; one for journalists and two for the organisers. Large banners, with inscriptions such as: #SAVETHEWATERFRONT #STOP FORCE EVICTION and #OtodoGbame” were conspicuously displayed on the moving boats.
Children were strapped to their mothers’ backs as the boats navigate through the surging water. Snacks and pure water were also shared to serve as appetizers for the protesters as the now scorching sun gained ascendancy.
While this lasts, some brave men were not afraid to display their swimming/diving skills as they jumped off the boats, diving into the lagoon off the Third mainland bridge. They would display acrobatic swimming positions, turning upside-down on the water to show their two legs. This display invokes more excitement as the protesting crowd cheered them and increased the tempo of the chanting of their songs.
According to the organisers, the purpose of the visit to the Redeemed Church headquarters was to seek religious intervention on the pains of the victims, since all legal means appears to be yielding little or no result.
While this struggle lasts, Chapman maintained that it is highly disappointing and disheartening that the Lagos government has not budged a bit on the matter.
Instead, “what we have seen is that the government is not listening to the people on this issue. Instead, it is running away from the people. For instance, before we got judgment from the high court, the court already ordered we hold a dialogue meeting to sort the issue out. But the government was arrogant and self-righteous.
“Not long after the court order restraining them from evicting the people without resettlement first, they went ahead with their brutal evictions. This shows clearly that the government already has its own script.
“ For instance, since we went to protest at the state assembly, the government has erected two new gates at the State House of Assembly, meaning that the government is saying clearly that it doesn’t want to see the people. Like it is not actually the representatives of the people,” she adds.
One year after the displacement, the life of Mr. Pascal Tosinhun has never remained the same.
“We have been practically homeless for more than six months now,” he says.
The 54-year-old man, who is a fisherman by vocation, says after the incident, they were forced to seek refuge in Makoko. But the sanctuary was not a complete package; the responsibility to feed his family still rests squarely on his shoulder. And as a fisherman, with no dedicated fishing terrain, this job has become less profitable to even feed himself.
“What I do now is a little of selling potable water to the residents. And this is also not enough for me and my family,” he said slowly in his frustration.