Emma Maduabuchi, Independent Daily
The issue of forced eviction of Nigerian citizens from their places of abode by governments, sometimes without prior warning, has been a touchy issue in the country. From Abuja, to Lagos, Port Harcourt, and elsewhere, forced evictions have been carried out by governments to the pains of the victims.
Many concerned Nigerians and groups, as a result, have had reasons to ponder on how best the issue could be treated to save Nigerians the miseries associated with such forced eviction.
In Lagos State recently, some concerned Nigerians found opportunity to come together to ex-ray the issue and proffer solutions. Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), the foremost civil rights group in the country, made this possible with its hosting of the maiden edition of its Colloquium, at Ikeja, Lagos on Tuesday, April 30.
The Colloquium which went with the theme: “Forced Evictions and Demolitions in Nigeria under the Democratic Experiment: our laws, respect for human rights and the hope for the common person”, was hosted at CLO headquarters.
Present at the occasion to do justice to the subject was Ibuchukwu Ezike, Executive Director of CLO; Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director (ED) Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC); Emmanuel Nwagbadoh, Staff Attorney at SERAC; Megan Chapman, another Staff Attorney at SERAC; and others. Government representatives as well as prominent journalists were part of the panel.
Some victims of one of the most recent forced evictions in Nigeria (that of Ajeromi Badia in Lagos State) which took place this year, were also present at the occasion. One of them found it hard to believe that the suffering and hardship inflicted on them was done by the government of Babatunde Fashola, the governor they enthusiastically trooped out in large numbers to vote into office twice.
A cross section of panelists at the meeting, agreed that governments across the country have been unfair to the people. They implored governments to stop thinking and seeing citizens as numbers, but as human beings like them who deserve decent living and should be helped to attain it.
Ezike, during his opening speech, said the Colloquium became necessary since the civil dispensation which started from 1999 has given the ordinary Nigerian nothing to cheer about. He recalled how CLO and other human rights groups, and individuals, fought the military to a standstill in their desire to enthrone democratic rule in the country, and declared that the politicians who came on board have failed the people.
“As the people that acted the scenes that chased the military away’ he said ‘we shall not go to sleep today because the desires and objectives of our struggles cannot be in vain.”
He declared that it was in search for answers that the Colloquium was instituted, to act as a periodic meeting with “various thematic issues affecting the people” to discuss, challenge and mobilise the people “to challenge the notorious conditions”.
“All over the world, emphasis are being focused on how to reduce poverty and address the social problems of the people, not increase them; on how to use the people’s resources to accord joy to the them, not to loot them; and on how to provide amenities and reduce agonies, not augment them and make the people unhappy” he added.
Reading the position paper of SERAC on the subject, Nwaghadoh described forced eviction as “The permanent or temporary removal against their will, of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of access to, appropriates forms of legal or other protection.)
Taking an overview of forced evictions in the country, Nwaghadoh explained that it had followed a given pattern of illegality, impunity and brutality. He said the worst aspect was that both the Federal and state governments have been guilty of brutal eviction of citizens and in the most brazen manner. He equally stated that current democratic dispensation has not been different from dispensation of the military when impunity was being used against the people.
He compared demolition practices in Maroko (1990), under military administrator Adisa; and Makoko (2010), under incumbent Lagos Government, and concluded that the modus operandi were the same.
He said also that the carnage visited on Badia in Lagos State; Abonnema in Port Harcourt, Rivers State; or even Chika, Bukasa, Piwoyi and Cuchingoro in Abuja, all followed the same pattern. The pattern, he noted, was of illegality, impunity and brutality, by the evicting authorities.
He equally spoke on reasons often given by governments for granting forced evictions orders against community of citizens, which were noted and analysed by the panel. For instance, the governments were said to have often used the excuse of combating crimes and terrorism to evict citizens from some places, as was the case in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
It was also noted that some governments, both in the past and present, have tried to explain its actions away by claiming to be enforcing environmental sanitation laws, as well as other laws. Some governments used the argument of combating flood and drainage blockage challenges to evict citizens. It was specifically noted that Lagos State government had acted by claiming to be achieving its “mega city” project; while the Federal Government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo had done same under the guise that it was implementing the Abuja master plan.
It was not only government that was found culpable in the inhuman treatment of citizens with forced evictions. Some private interests were also fingered to have used governments in removing people from lands they were interested in. Among such interest were landowning families. They were said to have often nudged government agencies to evict people occupying their family lands with view to selling same land to higher bidders.
SERAC alleged that landowner families in Lagos, Meranda/Coker/Olotto had hands in the Makoko, Ojora in Badia, Oniru in Maroko evictions. The body explained that even Corporations, both in Port Harcourt, in Ogoni land, all in Rivers State, have played similar roles. Added to those were allegations that indigenes, large-scale property developers in Abuja and elsewhere had equally lent hands in evictions.
Majority of the participants at the Colloquium condemned the idea of forced evictions, insisting that governments should make arrangements at rehabilitating the people and resettling them to other places if they most force-evict at all. They argued that government exposing citizens to the vagaries of the weather, under whatever excuses is callous.
According to Nonso Uchegbu, Chairman of the occasion, the phenomenon has been observed in many countries of the world, and has been roundly condemned by good people. He argued that the least any government could do was meet the minimum requirement of providing food, shelter and clothing, if it wished to dislocate any people through forced eviction. Even at that, he argued that governments should follow due process before eviction of any people.
“Even if a person is occupying your house illegally, you still have to follow the due process of law. But that is not what we have seen in Nigeria” he said.
It was generally agreed that forced eviction was wrong and runs contrary to many laws such as contained in the fundamental human rights, which Nigeria is signatory to; and even the Nigerian constitution.
Chapman during her presentation listed strategies that could be employed in challenging the issue of forced eviction. She listed such as petitions to important local and international bodies; the use of media and video evidences; engagement with government; community education; advocacy to change policy; and others.
She believed however that citizens have a part to play on the issue of forced evictions by making sure that they obey tenancy laws and obtaining the necessary documentations needed in ownership of lands and property.