“In a conflict between conscienceless power and powerless conscience, the former may win but the latter will overtake”- Obafemi Awolowo
In African communities, land has always been a source of controversy with several cases of land litigation still ongoing in courts after decades. In various parts of the continent, it is the belief of the African that land is a link between the dead, the living and the unborn. A generation in whose lifetime a portion of inherited land is lost immediately earns a tag of irresponsibility to the future and this tag is one that generations go to any extent to make sure they do not bear.
The foregoing leads to severe quarrels on land that may sometimes make people descend to the lowest ebbs of civilised behaviour. It is not unusual for brute force to be employed or for ” juju” to be used.
In Nigeria where a lot of people are poor with an estimate claiming 70% of Nigerians live below the dollar mark. The need for land to provide shelter as one of the three basic needs of man has led people to living in hitherto uninhabited areas such as watersides and locations that should not ordinarily have human residents due to the environmental conditions prevalent there. The need has become inevitable drawing them to the undesirable because those areas happen to be the place where they can inhabit without committing trespass on other people’s property.
Generations have thus inhabited these settlements and in a country where low cost housing schemes are not on the priority of the government and even when they are it is not actually low cost, the people are forced to eke out a living in these areas and slums.
As a matter of concern, environmental NGOs and government parastatal have come on board encouraging people to leave these areas due to health concerns but it is impracticable as these people have nowhere else to go. Some of them were born there and others have no memory of where their families originally came from to settle.
The case with Otodo Gbame is that the water-situated community has been served eviction notices time and again. It has amounted to three occasions when the people were told to leave the area but in the abundance of the wisdom of the state government, no alternative was proffered. It is thus the case that one should question where 30,000 people were expected to evict themselves to. Based on a purported clash in 2016 between local area boys and the residents of Otodo Gbame, the police invaded the area and were reported to have participated in burning buildings. This happened in 2016 and the state Government denied having ordered an eviction at that time.
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On May 17, 2017- four people were reported dead due to the actions of police in seeking to evict the residents. A particular David Aya was hit on the neck by a stray bullet. Monday Idowu, 17, shot during the violence and needing hospital treatment said “I was trying to help my mother carry our things to the waterside when I was hit with a bullet in my side. I told my mother to run. Some other boys carried me into a boat and from there to the hospital”.
The above-mentioned instances amount to human rights violation and crimes against humanity. They also amount to an infringement of the right to life as provided for by the 1999 Nigerian constitution in section 33 thereof which provides: Every person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.
The Banjul charter to which Nigeria is a signatory in Article 4 stipulates that Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person. No one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right. The same principle holds in Article 5: Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man, particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.
It is also provided similarly in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 3 and 5. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person; No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The eviction of the residents were on January 26, 2017 forbidden by a court order. The Lagos State High Court said the purported eviction of the Otodo Gbame residents constituted “cruel and degrading treatment”. The court also ordered for mediation but the forceful eviction was carried out before mediation began with Otodo Gbame and other 13 settlements being represented by the JEI (Justice Empowerment Initiatives).
Amnesty International, the worldwide body that sees to the enforcement of Human rights has also decried this attack stating that it “condemns forced eviction in any form and calls for a halt. The affected community are entitled to Right to Housing. Forced eviction without consultation, relocation or compensation is a violation.”
It is thus of utmost importance that the government sequel to its aim of securing the welfare of the people shall provide an alternative for these people or a form of compensation if at all they are to be evacuated. It is not only a matter of natural law but also the constitution provides in particularly section 17 of the constitution with emphasis on 17(2) b, c, d and 17(3) a. Which is stated herein after
17. (1) The State social order is founded on ideals of Freedom, Equality and Justice.
(2) In furtherance of the social order-
(a) every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law;
(b) the sanctity of the human person shall be recognised and human dignity shall be maintained and enhanced;
(c) governmental actions shall be humane;
(d) exploitation of human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons, other than the good of the community, shall be prevented; and
(3) The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that-
(a) all citizens, without discrimination on any group whatsoever, have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment;
The actions on Otodo Gbame and the eviction came up following a purported order from the government to its agencies after 3 eviction notices had been served on the people. There is thus no controversy to the identities of those who violated the inhabitation of these people. They were armed and were also policemen.
The Otodo Gbame evictions and the torture that took place are pointers to human right violations which one cannot turn a blind high to due to the propensity of its spread. They reek of foul odour particularly with the court order that banned such an action and rather ordered for mediation and that the parties should appear before the court after having arrived at compromise. The action of the Lagos state government has however bungled this mediation process and the buck stops nowhere else than at the table of the Governor- Akinwunmi Ambode.
It is common knowledge that the earth is the heritage of man. Wealth and lack of it should not determine a peoples survival. The arguments for the evacuation may be good at least based on the living conditions, but compensation and alternative are a necessary essence that cannot be disregarded. The state must not harm those it intends to protect.
As an appeal, the Emperor of Lagos state and other agencies should be more humane in their action. History is a silent recorder. It lists and takes notes concerning every action carried out. The residents of Otodo Gbame must be compensated, the injured must be taken care of at the expense of the government and if the evacuation must continue, an acceptable alternative to the people must be provided.
Koye-Ladele Mofehintoluwa Oluwadetan writes from the Faculty of Law, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. He has won several awards in recognition of his efforts in activism and Legal writing. His views have been published on popular mediums such as Sahara Reporters, Premium Times(Campus Reporter), Punch, Nairaland. He has also granted publicized interviews on issues of national interest.