Thousands Displaced as Police Raze Lagos’ Otodo Gbame

Thousands of people in Nigeria’s Lagos state were left homeless on Sunday after
police stormed an informal fishing settlement and set fire to their homes,
according to rights groups and residents.

Community members of the
Otodo Gbame riverine community said armed police fired bullets and tear gas
indiscriminately, forcing them onto canoes in the water as their houses were

One man was shot in the neck
and later died, residents and Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a
Lagos-based group working with the community, told Al Jazeera.

The forceful eviction
followed the destruction of the homes of more than 4,700 people in the
settlement in mid-March for environmental and health reasons, according to
local authorities.

[Police] came very, very
early in the morning [of Sunday], Tina Edukpo, a 21-year-old Otodo Gbame
resident, told Al Jazeera by phone.

When I saw them, I was
surprised, she said.

JEI co-director Andrew Maki,
who arrived to the community shortly after the demolitions began, said that at
least 50 to 60 officers and 10 police vehicles were in Otodo Gbame in the

He told Al Jazeera that the
Lagos State Task Force officer in charge at the site told him and residents
that police were there on the orders of the governor.

’Security measure’

According to the Lagos State
Governor’s Monitoring Team Twitter account, Sunday’s demolition was carried out
as a security measure in the overall interest of all Lagosians.

It said it believes
militants were using the community as a base, an accusation residents and
rights groups deny.

It also said the settlement
was illegal, without any title or appropriate government approval.

Maki said on Sunday that
police shot tear gas and bullets, forcing thousands of residents onto boats.

Everyone in the community
was forced onto the water, there were hundreds of boats, Maki said.

Paul Kunnu, another Otodo
Gbame resident, said people had nowhere to go but the water.

They started shooting tear
gas and bullets, Kunnu, 38, told Al Jazeera. So many people started running
into the water.

He also said he remained on
a boat in the water for nearly 12 hours and was continually pushed away from
the land by marine police as other officers set fire to the remaining homes.

According to residents and
JEI, a 20-year-old student was shot in the neck. Video from Sunday shows a
bleeding man being rushed in a canoe for help. Maki, from JEI, said the man
died in the boat before getting to the hospital.

Authorities were not available
for comment on the death.

The Otodo Gbame community is
one of many informal settlements along the waterfront of Lagos, Nigeria’s
commercial capital.

In January, a Lagos court
issued an injunction halting demolitions in such communities after an estimated
30,000 Otodo Gbame residents were evicted in November 2016 to make way for
development projects, rights groups said.

JEI and Amnesty
International accused the government of violating that court order on March 17
when excavators and police razed of homes of at least 4,700 Otodo Gbame

Following last month’s
demolition, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode issued a statement defending
the move, saying it was not in violation of the January injunction.

Ambode said the evictions
were carried out to ensure that the waterfront area is free from
environmentally injurious and unsanitary habitation a few months after it was
consumed by fired and rendered uninhabitable.

The government has also said
it was not responsible for the fire that displaced thousands in November 2016,
instead blaming an ethnic clash between residents of different communities.

A ruling on a court case
against the governor and other Lagos officials – filed by JEI and dozens of
waterfront communities in Lagos – over the March demolition is expected on

’We have to rebuild’

Last year, rights groups
warned that more than 300,000 people faced eviction from waterfront communities
across Lagos state.

Makeshift housing is common
in the poorest parts of Lagos, a city of more than 20 million people.

Morayo Adebayo, a senior
researcher at Amnesty International, accused the government of land grabbing.

This is a land grab
situation. That is what is happening, Morayo told Al Jazeera by phone on

Otodo Gbame residents are
fishermen who derive their daily sustenance from the water, she said. They have
been here for more than 80 years.

Residents, including Kunnu
and Edukpo, vowed to rebuild.

I want to rebuild my home
because I don’t have any other place to go, Edukpo said. This is the third time
they have demolished my home.

Kunnu agreed.

[These are] our homes where
our fathers and grandfathers have lived, he said. We have to rebuild.

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