Makoko people abandoned in misery

The act is totally unlawful—Morka

Barely a week ago, pandemonium reigns supreme in Makoko, a suburb tucked in the heartland of Lagos Mainland as the government bulldozers opened their mouths like lions roaring for their preys to pull down the home of a people of many  generations. And in a jiffy, no fewer than 200,000 people were rendered homeless, properties destroyed and stolen and a traditional ruler, Pastor Timothy Hunkpoyanwai was murdered in cold blood.

Today, the people of Makoko call out from the abyss of their miseries and with a mighty voice they cried to the Lagos State government that is acquainted with their sorrows. Their eyes have grown dim from the trouble inflicted on them by the fiery darts fired by the Lagos  government.

In their hundreds, they wailed helplessly over the immediate but forceful dispossession of their ancestral land. Their hearts melt away like wax. For many years the people of Makoko seem not to have known any other home apart from their present abode.

For them, it’s difficult for a fish pull out of water to survive. Where will they start from, they wondered. Their land taken, their traditional occupation fishing, taken as well. For a long time, Ahmed Giwa, one of the victims look at the debris left behind  the wonton destruction of the Lagos State Task Force. Confused  over what to say with his tongue cliff to the roof his mouth, he walked away without a word to anyone but to nowhere in particular.

Everyday, the people of Makoko remain awake in their stationed fishing boats with some of their personal effects floating on the river bank. Their days vanish like shadows at night and opted to live as a lone bird on the housetop. But who will hear their plaintive voice? The Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fahola has described the demolition of their homes as government primary responsibility.

Hear him: “We understand what challenges you face there and we are working. The Ilajes are our brothers from far and near,” just like he-goats and coco-yams. It will be recalled that the present Lagos State administration seem battle ready to wipe away small communities whose residents are mainly low income earners.

The Lagos State bulldozers have wrecked havoc in Ijora Badia, Ajalogo in Mile 12 and most recently, the embattled Makoko enclave. But what becomes after the displacement of residents of these areas has become another basket of mangoes for government officials and powerful party members.

Everyday, people watch the large expense of land at Ajalogo wasting away, as reptiles and other dangerous areas boys have taken tenancy in the area. Everywhere in the world, even in most developed countries, shanties exist alongside organised areas in cities. But that of Lagos State has become an exception to the rule of international law.

A protest of life and death, residents remain homeless
Over five thousand residents of the demolished Makoko waterfront went on a protest march to the Lagos State Governor’s office at Alausa last Monday to condemn the brutal murder of the Otun Baale of Egun Community, Timothy Hunpoyanwa.

The people whose homes were pulled down by a task force lamented the unlawful treatment metted against them by the same government they claimed they rightly voted into power.

A 70-year old man, elder Emmanuel Adewunmi Adekoya and chairman of the Lagos Marginalised Community Forum LAMCOFR, who lamented the ordeal said the unfortunate incident  has thrown the entire community into confusion as regard the way forward to tackle their plight.

The Lagos State Government decided to punish and treat us as nobody. We have nowhere to go. People living on water are living wealthy. And I don’t see reason why the poor should be targeted. Our fore-fathers and mother were born in Makoko. We live in water and we co-habit in the same community regardless of our tribe,” he said.

One of the chiefs of Egun Makoko community, who proffered to be anonymous said, “We all voted for all Lagos State politicians but they decided to invade our community and destroyed us at the same time. They have started killing us.

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The fact that we are armless means we should be seen as human beings. We have the Ilaje, Egun,Ilaro, Ipokia, Ibos, Yorubas and Badagry and that is why we are pleading to be left alone. Our children are graduates but now we are devastated over what is going on in Makoko.

Our fore-fathers were born in Makoko, therefore, it is unfair to dispossessed us of our land unlawfully. We are fisher men and women that cannot live on land. We don’t want to die. They said, we abhor criminals in our midst, I believe, this is not true. Makoko is a peaceful place.  Besides, they are so many hide-out for  criminals in Lagos State and nothing is done about it. There are more than 150,000 people living in Makoko and they are good people, he said.

One of the teachers, Princess Lovefan Alfredo Durugo, told  Saturday Vanguard that, “for 22 years, she has been living in the community without any fear. “I have been with the Eguns, Ilajes and the Ijaws  and all the people living within the waterfront area. And I have been teaching their children from cradle to secondary level.

*Mobile home after demolition of abode.

“They are friendly and accommodating. I encourage them to give their children the best education and they have been doing their best. Their children are graduates from reputable institutions. Some are working and are living comfortably.
“But, I am surprised that they can be thrown out of their own abode. I believe what is happening is capable of ruining the future of these children”, she said.

The Baale they killed had children in my school. They manage to pay school fees and now that their father is dead, I don’t know how they can cope with the school fees, she lamented.

Mr. Agbodemu Ishola Musibau the Public Relation Officer, Lagos Marginalised Community Forum, said, “with what we are seeing presently, there is no means of resettling us and our children. After the Saturday killing of Makoko Baale, three children have been reported missing.

One of the member of Social  and Economic Rights Action Center, Mr. Lanre Nosaze said, the protest was launched to express their total dismay over the demolition exercise by the Lagos State Government.

In his reaction, he said, “The governor’s address is capable of dividing the people of Makoko.  Since, the state government has been demolishing slums and displacing the people, they have not been able to resettle the people. This fight is for the poor and their children.  We must not allow them to destroy our lives. They have done that in Maroko, and unfortunately, they didn’t resettle the poor people living there.

The act is totally unlawful—Morka
Felix Morka, Executive Director of Social and Economic Rights Active Center (SERAC), described the demolition of Makoko Waterfront as totally unlawful.

What is the agitation?
The  Lagos State Government is desirous of restoring the amenity and value of the waterfront, protect life and property, promote legitimate economic activities on the waterfront, restore security, improve water transportation and beautify the Lagos waterfront/coastline to underline the mega city status of the Lagos State and has decided to clear all illegal and unauthorized developments on its waterfront and water bodies.”

So far, over 30,000 residents, including women, children,and the elderly have lost their homes. Over 120,000 residents face imminent displacement. The evictees are further endangered as many of them are now forced to live and sleep in their canoes. The Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) is presently investigating a report of the drowning of 3 children from a family when their canoe capsized as they slept during the night of Wednesday July 18,2012.

At a meeting with Mr. Adesegun Oniru, Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, on Friday July 20, 2012, he informed me that he was committed to completing the destruction of Makoko. He stated that the Lagos State Government had no intention of compensating or resettling the Makoko evictees. Mr. Oniru said that Makoko residents are not indigenes of Lagos State. Therefore, they should return to their states of origin.

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Felix Morka

He said demolishing their homes will force their exit from Lagos. When I suggested to him that his statements were capable of being perceived as a declaration of a policy of ethnic cleansing through forced migration, a crime against humanity under international law, he responded “I don’t care.” Mr. Oniru has been visible and vocal in the news media on his intolerance for citizens, like Makoko residents, that he has adjudged as expellable.

These acts and utterances of a high ranking official of your government are uncivil and unacceptable in a constitutional democracy. They are capable of promoting ethnic tension and social strife. Lagos state’s ethnic and cultural diversity is what makes Lagos a uniquely global city. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria affords protection to all persons to move freely and reside in any part of the country without discrimination or state-sponsored violence to compel their removal from their places of abode.

Makoko is well documented and globally recognized as an ancestral fishing settlement that has flourished since the 1860s. It comprised  of Yorubas, Eguns, Ilajes and Ijaws. Their lifestyles, occupation, cultures and identity of majority of the residents are intricately connected to access and use of open water tor fishing and transportation of wood from the hinterland to Lagos.

The people of Makoko have coexisted peacefully despite the community’s ethnic and religious diversity. The community also boasts of developed structures of organization that ensure the security and overall cohesiveness of the community. Its domestic economy is equally vibrant. Over 40 percent of all smoked fish consumed in Lagos is processed in the community. The tourism potential of Makoko is immense and can be harnessed through thoughtful and participatory planning.

It is unconscionable to give 72 hours notice to anyone to vacate their home under any circumstance. That is a violation of the due process of law. Further, under the laws of the land, it is unlawful to forcibly evict anyone from his home without appropriate statutory notice and without an order of a court of competent jurisdiction.

Makoko residents were in possession of their land and properties. It is unlawful for the state to dispossess them of their properties without a valid order of court. That the Lagos state government can improperly utilize the coercive powers of the state to brutalize poor citizens and grab their land does not and will never make it lawful.

The government’s actions in Makoko are remarkably invidious because of the very reasons it has advanced in justification of the demolition. Pushing the poor deeper into poverty by seizing their land in favor of the rich and powerful in society is economic violence and a recipe for urban strife.

The ongoing demolition of Makoko is yet another episode of violent eviction in Makoko. You will recall that on December 23, 2010, officials of the Lagos Task Force on the Environment demolished the homes of over 2,000 people on a private land in Makoko. Citizen Waheed Saka was shot dead during that demolition. This incident was the subject matter of SERAC’s letter dated January 28, 2011.

The inquiry that Your Excellency ordered through the Ministry of Justice was never carried out because Task Force officials treated the process with contempt by their persistent absence at the inquiry. Till date, no one has been held accountable for the mindless violence inflicted on Makoko residents by officials of the Task Force.

Makoko and Iwaya are two of nine communities targeted for upgrading under the 200 Million US Dollar World Bank-funded Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project (LMDGP). Under the project, the Lagos State government is obligated to observe safeguard standards in accordance with the Bank’s operating policies that mandated the provision of effective remedies for involuntary displacements.

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Notwithstanding its contractual commitments under the LMDGP and its legal obligations to respect the human rights of all citizens under the Constitution and international law, the Lagos State government has continued to treat residents of impoverished communities as expendable people. The recent demolition and burning of the homes of Ijora Badia residents by the Kick Against Indiscipline (Kai Brigade) remains unaddressed.

He has ruled out any possibility for compensating or resettling these people who have lived in Makoko for over two centuries. The earlier settlers in Makoko Fishing settlement settled down as far back as 1860. The UN recognises Makoko as one of the oldest ancestral fishing villages. A decision by the government to destroy that community with 72 hours notices is totally unlawful.

Makoko is also one of the communities targeted by the World Bank Project and the project itself is looking to upgrade nine communities including Makoko. And if you go to the World Bank and take a loan of $200m under the Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project, LMDGP, to develop a community, why then, do you want to destroy it and turn it over to the rich. What is the purpose of that decision and I believe the commissioner is misled and totally in violation of the rule of law, constitution and every element of human right.

They said, some people built their houses under the power-line?
The people themselves over the years have struggled to maintain a corridor of a setback of 50 meters. And in some cases a 100 meters away from the power-line.  But because of population pressure, nobody is creating houses for the poor. Neither the government nor partner companies is doing it. Hence, the people continue to en-mass in their population and they are having babies as well.

I concede that it is against the public safety to live directly under the power-line but if the government intention is to remove living directly under the power-line, then we will not be having this protest. And I think, what is going on now is that government is using that as a plot to take the entire Makoko. We have copies of the development of Makoko which does not include these people.

There are over 150,000 people who live in Makoko, where are they going. The same way, government destroyed Maroko. Demolition and counter eviction is counter productive. It doesn’t help to solve any problem. It is simply, relocating the problem from one slum to another.

Is Makoko prone to flooding…
Mr. Oniru is not the commissioner for environment and the body of water on the lagoon doesn’t belong to the jurisdiction of Lagos State. The water by the Land Titling Vesting Act of 1993, N0 25, says, all land that is 100 metres pertaining to anybody on water belongs to the federal government.

The waterways and the use is statutorily the responsibility of NIWA, Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority.
So, Lagos State government in demolishing Makoko is trespassing because they haven’t shown any prove that they have the authority of the Federal Government to do what they are doing.

Why hasn’t any action from the Federal Government since the exercise?
The federal government is in Abuja doing their thing, NIWA is in Abuja doing its thing. And the Lagos State government is running a morgue in Lagos because it is state. We are using this moment to call on the federal government to come to the protection of its citizens. Mr. Onriu has declared them to unwanted guest in Lagos State even when many of them are Yoruba, Egun, Ilaje, Ijaw, Ibos, and they as Nigerians  have the right to move freely under the constitution.

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