- The Lagos state government has made true its promise to demolish shanties across all waterfronts in the state
- In its latest demolition exercise, over 30,000 people were kicked out of their houses after police officers reportedly torched their houses
- The people are asking the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode where they should go after the demolition
- No government official was available for question as at the time this report was filed
About 30,000 resident of Otodo Gbame community in Lagos have been rendered homeless after officers of the Nigeria Police Force stormed their houses and torched them on Wednesday, November 9.
According to a press release sent to Legit.ng by the people whose houses were destroyed and Justice for Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) the NGO fighting their cause, this demolition was carried out at the instance of the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led Lagos state government.
The governor had one month ago, announced his intention to demolish shanties along waterfronts across the state and just days after the Lagos State High Court issued an injunction restraining the same, police officers and the state government invaded the community in full force.
"In the early morning hours of 9 October 2016, a gang of boys with reported ties to the powerful Elegushi Chieftaincy Family, entered Otodo Gbame community – a peaceful fishing settlement on the edge of the Lagos Lagoon in Lekki Phase I, made up predominantly of Eguns and other ethnic minorities in Lagos – and began setting fire to houses in the community.
"When police arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, according to eyewitness reports, they began to lend assistance to the spreading of the fire. They shot into the community and chased away persons bringing water to quench the fire. They helped to set more structures on fire. Four persons – two women, one man, and one child – reportedly drowned as they rushed into water.
"It was only when help from other Egun communities around Lagos Lagoon such as Makoko and Oke Ira Nla arrived that residents began succeeding to put out the fire and police turned back.
"By the time JEI arrived in the Otodo Gbame, about a third of the community – an estimated 800 structures – had been razed to the ground and fires were still smoldering across the community. An estimated 10,000 people rendered homeless in a matter of hours tried to recover what properties they could and dozens of people huddled in boats off the shore of the community.
"At least 15 police vehicles were on ground and, around 1:30pm, the Commissioner of Police Fatai Owoseni arrived on the scene in person for “inspection” and to order the community sealed.
"Interviews with affected residents throughout the day confirmed the complicity of the police in the spreading of the fire and loss of life in the early part of the day. They also indicate that police are working in tandem with those that initiated the fire to serve private interests of Otodo Gbame’s wealthier and more powerful neighbors.
"Residents pointed fingers at the Elegushi Chieftaincy Family and to the neighboring International Children’s School," the statement read in part.
Justice Inigbanjo of the Lagos state high court had on Monday, November 7, issued an injunction restraining the state government and commissioner of police from demolishing waterfront communities, including Otodo Gbame, or evicting residents therefrom or otherwise giving effect to the 9 October 2016 eviction threat.
As evening fell in Otodo Gbame, tens of thousands of residents – some newly homeless and some terrified but lucky to still have their homes – tried to get some rest after the wearying day. JEI-trained paralegals had delivered a copy of the subsisting injunction to the local Ilasan Divisional Police Station to ensure their awareness and pasted the order around the community.
It was also gathered that the demolition exercise continued into the midnight and early hours of Thursday, November 10, as bulldozers reportedly started destroying the remaining houses which their fire could not effectively pull down.
"Shortly after midnight on 10 November 2016, however, JEI received reports from numerous residents of Otodo Gbame that a bulldozer with an escort of at least four police vehicles had started working to destroy remaining homes.
"There has been no indication that our efforts to notify the Nigerian Police Force at various levels – from Zone II Command to the Complaints Response Unit (CRU) in the office of the Inspector General of Police – have stopped the demolition ongoing with blatant impunity and disregard for life and wellbeing of citizens," the statement by JEI added.
According to Edukpo Tina, a young woman in Otodo Gbame interviewed in the early morning of 10 November: "Police came again after midnight with caterpillar [bulldozer] and started breaking everywhere, putting fire on peoples’ houses. They are seriously beating our people and threatening to shoot unless we leave. All of us are on top of water now, there is nowhere to go."
The group and the people are now crying foul play, stating that, "We note that there is absolutely no legal basis for eviction or taking over of land in the aftermath of either security or fire incident. We further note there have been no statutory or paper notices whatsoever served on any residents of Otodo Gbame.
"Rather, the police are acting completely outside the scope of the law and in overt disregard for a subsisting order of court. We call on all conscientious citizens concerned for democracy and rule of law to join in condemning this action."
More pictures from the demolition below: