The Lagos State Government yesterday described the Amnesty International (AI’s) report as “bias, inaccuracies and exaggerations.”
Commissioner for Information and Strategy Steve Ayorinde said the inter-ethnic clashes that led to the burning of the settlement has nothing to do with the government.
Ayorinde said: “The main area of focus in the report – Ilado (which visitors to the State often refer to as Otodo Gbame) has always been a private land and subject of a law suit, which has been decided in favour of the family owners. Otodo Gbame was one of the 39 waterfront settlements that took Lagos State to court over its plan to rid its prime waterfront areas of illegal shanties that constitute security and environmental threat to the public. The court judgement in favour of the plaintiff has since been appealed with related applications for stay of action.
“Lagos State Government insists that Otodo Gbame was used as a temporary fishing outpost. The fishermen had their permanent homes in Badagry, Cotonou (Benin Republic) and Lome (Togo). Indeed, many of such people have returned to their homes since the unfortunate fire incident of November 2016. The rest should be encouraged to do likewise rather than spur them on to play the victim, fight legal owners of the land or to demonise govt.
“The Lagos State House of Assembly did carry out an independent investigation and published its findings, stating clearly that Otodo Gbame was a temporary fishing outpost on the waterways which wanted to illegally appropriate the land that welcomed them on a temporary basis. It is an illegal settlement that should not be allowed to use emotionalism and sensationalism to forcibly take over a private property.
“Lagos State Government has no interest in the land whatsoever since it’s a private property. The interest of the state is to rid the prime waterways of shanties and illegal structures, particularly when security intelligence has shown clearly that they are either safe havens or gateways for armed robbers, kidnappers and militants.
“Lagos State Government sees a correlation in the reduction of kidnappings through the waterways and creeks of Lagos Island, Ikorodu, Epe, Ojo and the removal of illegal shanties from our prime waterfront areas.
“The position of Lagos State Government has been consistent. While government is demonstrably compassionate to the plight of the less privileged and the urban poor and has continued to engage them in useful talks in line with international conventions and treaties, we urge Amnesty International UK to appreciate the fact that government was elected to protect the people and promote livable environment.
Our report, by AI
Amnesty International (AI) said no fewer than 11 persons died and 30,000 displaced in Otodo Gbame.
The international group in its report called on Federal Government to halt a violent, unlawful campaign of demolitions and forced evictions of waterfront communities in Lagos State.
The AI’s report tagged, The Human Cost of a Megacity: Forced Evictions of the Urban Poor in Lagos, detailed repeated forced evictions of the Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin communities carried out since March 2016 without any consultation, adequate notice, compensation or alternative housing being offered to those affected.
Some evictees drowned as they fled police gunfire, while at least one was shot dead.
“These ruthless forced evictions are just the most recent examples of a practice that has been going on in Nigeria for over a decade in complete defiance of international law,” AI’s Country Director Osai Ojigho said.
Ojigho added: “For the residents of these deprived communities, many of whom rely on their daily fish catch to make a living, the waterfront represents home, work and survival. Forced evictions mean they lose everything – their livelihoods, their possessions and in some cases their lives.
“The Lagos state authorities must halt these attacks on poor communities who are being punished for the state’s urban planning failures. The instability and uncertainty created by forced evictions is making their lives a misery as they are left completely destitute.”
AI said it spoke to 97 evicted people as part of its research, all of whom told a similar story of being made homeless and losing almost all their possessions.
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Author: Tajudeen Adebanjo