It’s no longer news that the Lagos State Government, through its Environmental and Special Offences Enforcement Unit, descended on the Oworonshoki waterfront community in Kosofe Local Government Area of the Lagos State penultimate Thursday and demolished scores of houses in the environment.
The affected houses/spots in Oworonshoki are; Oke-Eri, Oluwaseyi, Community, Cornerstone, Ogo-Oluwa, and Lagos streets, among others.
Since the demolition, no fewer than 7,000 affected residents have been thrown into the streets with no alternative.
With this figure, the nation’s housing gap, which is estimated at 22 million people, has further widened.
Visiting the scene of the demolition at the weekend, Nigerian Tribune saw scores of affected residents still hanging around the site, combing the rubbles in search of their valuables.
Some of the evictees were seen already erecting wooden cubicles to serve as temporary shelters for their families.
Scores of them lamented that they have been rendered homeless due to the demolition exercise.
They alleged that the state government did not give them prior notice before invading the community to destroy the houses.
Others alleged that they were not allowed to carry their belongings before the buildings were destroyed.
They are calling on the state government to provide them with alternative accommodation.
Narrating her experience, a woman, who identified herself simply as “Iya Olamilekan”, said she and her three kids have been sleeping in the open since the demolition.
According to her, they have nowhere else to seek accommodation
“We are just suffering here as you can see. All my clothes were wet. We are sleeping in the open and whenever it’s raining, we used clothes to cover ourselves. All our belongings have been scattered by the invading taskforce’s men,” she said.
Another woman with a set of twins “Mama Ibeji”, said the demolition of her house came as a surprise, emphasising that she never received any notice from the government.
“They told us that they were out to demolish makeshifts, but they succeeded in demolishing our houses made with sandscrete blocks.
“We don’t have the power to fight them. They came with mobile policemen and rendered us homeless,” she said
On the way forward, she said: “We have held a meeting with our Community Development Association (CDA) ,” adding that the Local Government’s Chairman and House of Representatives member, had visited the affected residents and promised to intervene.
“We are expecting them to come to our aid,” she said.
She claimed to have been living in the locality more than 24 years ago.
“My firstborn who is now 24 years was given birth to here,” she said, appealing to the state government to restore their land.
“The state authority should have mercy on us and consider our many of them have been sick. They have no place to sleep,” the woman said in an emotion-laden voice.
A woman, Mrs. Aina, who claimed to have lived in the community for over 25 years, said that prior notice was given to affected residents
Another person, Mr. Sunday Oba, said he was not ready to leave the locality since no one offered him alternative accommodation, appealing to the state government to bail him out.
“We are not living well. There is no money. There is no money to rent another house. Government should have mercy and assist us,” he said.
Another evictee, Mrs. Bola Idowu, said some people came and asked them for documents of the demolished houses.
“We don’t have a document to tender. Where do we get such papers? We are labourers and our children have no place to sleep,” he said.
Meanwhile, officials of the Lagos State Government had denied the allegation of demolition of houses, saying they only demolished shanties.
According to the Director, of Press and Public Affairs, Lagos Tasks Force, Mr. Abdulraheem Gbadeyan, most of the structures in the area were makeshift buildings, saying that nobody demolished houses but shanties in the area.
He explained that it would be the responsibility of the Lagos State Building Control Agency to carry out the assignment if houses were involved.
“But as it is, only if is shanties and makeshifts are being demolished,”he said
Gbadeyan lamented that it has become a habit of the people that once they erect makeshifts in a location and stay there for three years; they begin to claim ownership and start to sell land in the area.
“Criminal elements are many in Oworonshoki and when they collect people’s phones and other valuables from motorists on the bridge they run into the shanties. The cult groups operate from that community. That is why the government considered the place for demolition to drive away criminal elements,” he said.
A coalition of civil society groups has queried the Lagos State government over the recent demolition of about 7,000 homes in Oworonshoki, Kosofe local government council, describing the government’s claim that the communities illegally converted and live on wetland as disingenuous.
The coalition, namely Fabulous Urban Nigeria Foundation, Rethinking Cities, Shantytown empowerment foundation, CEE-Hope, Oworo Youth Forum, Lot5 Charity Foundation, Lagos Urban Development Initiative, and Heinrich Boll Stiftung said the affected areas such as the Precious Seeds Community are not on wetland but border the Lagoon.
According to the groups, over 40,000 households in Oworonshoki were affected by the demolition, after the Ministry of Environment had issued an enforcement notice on July 18, 2023, to residents in Lekan Oyebade Street, Oworo and others, for disobeying the Environmental Management and Protection Law 2017.
They said issuing one notice for a whole street or community instead of individual residences affected is demeaning and deprives residents of their individual rights.
They noted that the demolished area is assigned for a newly proposed Jetty site of 70 hectares in the newly published Kosofe Model City Plan (2020-2040), whereas a functioning jetty already exists in Oworonshoki, built five years ago.
While suspecting foul play in plans for future development of the area, it stated: “The Ministry of Transport is responsible for the development of the planned jetty until 2035. Why did the ministry not discuss with affected residents their possible integration?
Also, the Lagos State House of Assembly has ordered the State Environmental and Special Offences Enforcement Unit to stop the demolition of houses in the Kosofe Local Government Area of Lagos State with immediate effect.
The decision of the House followed a ‘Matter of Urgent Public Importance raised by Hon. Sanni Okanlawon, who told his colleagues that some policemen and a team stormed the area and demolished buildings.
He said the demolition squad had claimed that only shanties would be pulled down, lamenting that the team had gone beyond the shanties and had demolished a lot of other buildings.