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Lagos, Nigeria: Where housing is a luxury

By Oluwatosin Popoola

“The police said if we went back into the house they were going to shoot us.”

Friday Ogunyemi woke up on Saturday 23 February 2013 oblivious to the fact that he and his family would be made homeless that morning and would have to spend the night in the open street at the mercy of the elements.

That day, officials of the Lagos State government began forcibly evicting Friday’s community of Badia East, a vibrant informal settlement of around 150,000 people in the heart of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. Lagos has over 10 million inhabitants – most of whom are constantly struggling for adequate housing. With an ever-increasing population, a decent place to live has become a luxury for Lagos’s poor majority.

Chasing people out of their homes
In the morning of 23 February, the residents of Badia East were fulfilling their civic duty by cleaning their homes and surroundings in accordance with the Lagos State mandatory monthly environment sanitation exercise. They were caught unawares by the Lagos State government demolition squad. They had turned up to destroy hundreds of houses and structures, including Friday’s 16-room bungalow.

“I woke up to do some cleaning at about 7.25 am, all of a sudden I saw bulldozers and I wondered if this was how the sanitation exercise was going to be. About one hour later Lagos State task force officials, together with over 40 heavily armed mobile police men, turned up. The police started chasing people out of their homes,” said Friday Ogunyemi.

‘The police said if we went back into the house they were going to shoot us.’

“I was chased out of my house with my 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. The police said if we went back into the house they were going to shoot us. My kids were the only ones I could carry, leaving all my belongings behind. My wife was not around; she had gone to the market to buy some cleaning products. By the time she returned our house had been demolished; it was the first house to be demolished in the area”, added Friday.

Friday’s plight is similar to that of hundreds of families who have been made homeless as a result of the demolition of Badia East. Friday and his community were not given the opportunity for genuine consultation about the planned demolition. They were not aware a demolition was going to take place. The Lagos State government has not provided the affected people with alternative housing, compensation, or relief materials. Hundreds of residents with no where to go now sleep in the open streets protecting the few belongings they have left.

Treating us as if the society is for the rich alone
“I have had nothing to eat since morning and I am using my last strength to speak to you. I went out to beg for food in the next street for my kids to eat. The Lagos State government is treating us like animals and as nothing before them; as if the society is for the rich alone; we are Nigerians too; we are suffering; they have turned our lives upside down. If really we are Nigerians they should give us equal rights”, Friday said in an emotion-laden voice.

“They have chased us from our homes; we have been sleeping in the open, being bitten by mosquitoes and at risk of developing malaria. They say Badia East is a shanty area; it is not true. The community is a residential area with university graduates and hardworking people living here. The government deprive us of basic amenities and yet demolish our homes”, Friday added.

At the expense of the poor
The victims of the forced eviction in Badia East say they feel let down by the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, who they claim they voted for overwhelmingly at the last general elections in 2011. The Lagos State government has shown a callous disregard for the residents of Badia East by forcibly evicting them without providing alternative accommodation or emergency relief including access to food, shelter, water, sanitation and healthcare services.

In a bid to transform Lagos into a 21st century city the Lagos State government has declared its intention of “making Lagos a mega city”. This has led to demolitions across the city in order to make way for several infrastructure projects. This should not come at the expense of the poor. If the life of Lagos’s poor majority is not being improved, certainly, it should not be made worse by government actions that ignore the human rights of the people it is meant to serve.

As the sun sets over Lagos, Friday laments: “In the last few nights I have been covering my children up against the cold and mosquitoes with my own clothes. Tonight I am thinking of the cold and mosquitoes that would bite me and my family; I hope it does not rain; I am so worried”.

Another day draws to a close with many now former residents of Badia East remaining homeless, made destitute in their own city. I wonder if relief will ever come their way.