by Tina Armstrong-Ogbonna
LAGOS – NIGERIA “If I was told that I would again be evicted and rendered jobless I would doubt that. But look how I have been brought to square-one”. This was the lamentation of Mrs. Kemi Moshood, one of the many business operators at the Kuramo beach in Lagos, Nigeria. On the 18th of August 2012. The Atlantic Ocean charged into Kuramo community that hosts one of the popular beaches in the Lagos, Island-The Kuramo beach. The Ocean surge occurred at about 2am when most residents in the community were sleeping. The beach is an anticipated tourist center for the Lagos State Government but until the recent ocean surge, it was home to fun seekers, miscreants and urchins.After the surge no fewer than about sixteen people were declared missing but one body was recovered that day. Later that day the Lagos state government ordered all occupiers of the beach to vacate, according to government this was to prevent further loss of lives.
Mrs. Moshood said this announcement was shocking and devastating. “When we heard of it, we wondered how could the state government just order us to leave?Was that the solution to the problem? As at then we were still looking for those that the water carried, believing they would be rescued or a miracle would happen. The next day the government officials arrived, we thought they came to carry the corpse of three people whose bodies were washed ashore at the nearby bar-beach. But low and behold, we saw bulldozer demolishing our source of livelihood. No notice, no time to savage our properties. I own a fun spot here at this Kuramo beach where I have about ten young boys working for me. My shop is always bubbling with tourists who usually visit the beach. I just stocked drinks for this Ramadan festive season with the believe that there was going to be a bee-hive of activities. I have not finished paying because as a regular customer the brewery distributor supplied the drinks and I promised to pay my balance on Wednesday morning after the Ramadan celebration. My sister I am tired of all these?”
The present administration in Lagos state, in a bid to create a megacity status, for Lagos has been involved in different phases of development. Among the development agenda is the eradication of street traders who are considered environment nuisance because their activities result in dirt littering areas where they sell their wares. Towards achieving this, many illegal shanties and street market structures are being demolished and the occupiers evicted. Mrs. Moshood is being affected by this development exercise for the second time and she narrated her ordeal in one of the affected street trading areas. “I was a trader before at Oshodi market selling clothing materials, the government said they were doing megacity and chased us out of where we were staying to sell our goods. According to them we were illegal occupiers but the local government council officials used to collect fee from us before we could make use of the place. Here at Kuramo I also used to pay monthly rent to the management of the beach. Is the Lagos state government trying to tell us they were not aware, we were occupying this place and paying rent for using the space allocated to us? She questioned. She also expressed worries about how to cope with the eviction. “I have children whom I cater for through sales I make from this place and the boys working for me are now jobless”. She said, later the government would say armed robbery is on the increase. Why won’t that happen when they are rendering people homeless and jobless, she stressed. She pointed out that people were living in the structures demolished and asked, where would all of them now live?”
During the demolition, General Manager of the Lagos State Emergency Management Authority LASEMA Dr. Femi Oke-osanyitolu told the media that the residents and business operators on the beach were illegal occupants and not meant to be there. Dr. Oke-Osanyitolu said the demolition and eviction of the residents were done for their good because the state government doesn’t want more casualties due to the ocean surge. On the issue of compensation for the displaced people, he emphasized that there would be no compensation or relocation as he advised them to go elsewhere to look for a better place for accommodation. He claimed the people were sensitized a long time ago on the need to leave the area but they chose to erect structures and make them permanent place of living. Mr. Bola Ogunmuyiwa a business operator at the beach observed that in a civilized society, before government would carry out an eviction or demolition, it would organize a meeting with the affected people and let them know what they are about doing. They plan with the people and prepare them for relocation to another area. This was not our case. They came with their bull-dozers and started destroying the whole place. How can a government be maltreating her own people? I am an indigene of Lagos state not a foreigner but in my own state and country, I am not treated like a citizen. Is this the dividend of democracy? When the military were ruling us they used force and had no respect for human rights.
According to a Gender expert and climate change activist Miss Titi Akosa the continuous eviction and demolition of structures by the government could affect the socio-economic development of Lagos. Lagos is the economic capital of Nigeria; all these homeless and jobless people would possibly pose security challenge to other residents of the state. Miss Akosa said women and children as vulnerable groups would be further exposed to danger and insecurity due to the eviction. The government keeps saying these people are illegal occupants, what was government doing when the people were occupying the place? It is not enough for government to use that as excuse. It is time the issue of illegal occupation of government lands is addressed in Lagos state. She added that climate change is a global environmental challenge and the Lagos state government should put in place mechanism that would help the people adapt to the effect of climate change. The early warning signal for disaster being announced by the government is not enough. If you instruct the people to relocate due to expected excessive rain and its effect in flood prone areas, where do they relocate to? All these are issues the Lagos state government should begin to work towards. All these demolition and eviction is not good for the image of the state and even Nigeria as a whole. This would affect growth and development.
The Chairman Nigeria Environment Study Action Team NEST and Former President of the Nigerian Academy of Science Professor David Okali said ocean surge occur at this time of the year due to water current from the Western Atlantic as a result of El-nino and it is not peculiar to Nigeria. Also supporting this position, a Climatologist and Lecturer from in Department of Geography at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Professor Emmanuel Oladipo stressed that temporary solution would not ease the effect of ocean in Lagos or Nigeria. Professor Oladipo called for a comprehensive study of the nation’s coastline that would help understand the marine morphology of the country. He posited that climate change effect due to sea-level rise would be better tackled, through a marine research on an integrated coastal management zone. Professor Oladipo urged the Federal Government to put in place an effective adaptation mechanism and advocate more finance in the area of research to enable the Nigeria Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research NIOMR function effectively. According to him Nigeria would be able to combat the effect of, climate change due to sea-level rise which causes ocean surge more effectively through proper marine research.
But some of the residents who were evicted believed that the ocean surge was caused by the Eko Atlantic City project of the State government. According to them, the sand filling at the Atlantic Ocean for reclamation of land is putting pressure on community along the Lagos coastline. Most of the communities along the Atlantic Ocean are all being affected, they alleged. Another group of residents speculated that the government has been trying to evict them because they have plans of selling the land to private investors.
Kuramo beach that used to be a place of fun, business and homes to many no longer exist as all the structures have been demolished and the area is now a bare land. The questions begging for answers include; what would happen to these displaced people, would they be compensated or relocated? Would the speculation that the land is been proposed as a property for private investors be true? Twenty-two years ago residents of Maroko community were displaced and the area was converted to a choice property for the rich. Would this episode be replayed in the Kuramo community? Sustainable Development according to the United Nations is defined as a development that considers future generation in its development plan. Is the Lagos state government development agenda a sustainable development that considers the poor and the homeless? Only time can proof.