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“Homeless In An Instant” – New York Times Report on House Demolitions in Lagos Highlights How the Homeless are Paying the Price of Progress

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On Saturday 23rd February 2013, the Lagos state government demolished over 500 dwellings at the Badia East Local Government making homeless perhaps 10,000 of Lagos’s poorest residents and destroying a decades-old slum.

Without any notice given to the residents, the demolition exercise was carried out, with some of them saying they were given only 20 minutes to pack their belongings. Within a period of six hours, the community was reduced to a heap of rubbles.

New York Times visited the demolition site and spoke to some residents who have now been rendered homeless. See excerpts from the report below.

Click here to read the full story.

The demolition exercise

The scene Saturday was classic: a black police vehicle pulled up early, armed, uniformed policemen sprang out to quell any restiveness, and the backhoes went to work under the eyes of dismayed residents, slashing through thin wood and concrete block.

Street toughs — called “Area Boys” in Lagos, and often employed by the state government’s demolition squad for around $10, activists said — got busy where the backhoes could not penetrate, smashing flimsy structures with sledgehammers and, Mr. Momoh and others said, stealing residents’ possessions.

Many said they were given 20 minutes, at most, to pack up their belongings.

“Everybody was running helter-skelter,” said a resident, Femi Aiyenuro, adding that those who went back in to retrieve possessions risked being beaten with rifle butts and batons. “They started beating people.”

What little that could be salvaged was piled along a railway line running along Badia’s edge.

“They were flogging me,” said Charity Julius, 27 and pregnant. She said she ran into her dwelling to fetch her baby boy, and once he was safely out, she ran back to gather as many possessions as she could. The police did not like that and beat her, she said, showing a bruise on her right arm as evidence.

Residents count their losses

“We don’t have anywhere to stay,” said Joy Austin, a mother of three. “Everybody is outside now. We don’t have anywhere to go.” Her sleeping accommodation is now a filthy foam mattress placed on cardboard, in the mud; her children sleep under low torn mosquito nets.

“I lost everything,” John Momoh said. “We are trying to bring out some sticks, to look for our daily bread,” he said, poking the rubble. “We don’t have money to eat.”

A 30-year-old cook, Kingsley Saviouru, said: “They demolished everything. They didn’t give us anything. We are here, suffering.”

“I don’t know the reason why they do all this,” said Ms. Austin, as other residents crowded around. “I don’t know why they break everything. We don’t expect it, now. People were still sleeping. We didn’t pack up anything.”

Human Rights Activists react

As for the new housing, “there’s not a chance they can afford it,” said Felix Morka, executive director of the Social and Economic Rights Action Center, a local economic rights group, adding that Badia residents earn under $100 a month on average.

“They want a Lagos that looks good, that feels good, that glitters. But they are well aware that Lagos is Lagos because of the people that live here. They are doing this without regard for the people who live here.”

***

Lagos state under the leadership of Babatunde Fashola has been lauded in the international financial media, especially with new projects such as the Eko Atlantic City. But despite this international recognition, the state which is home to perhaps 21 million people still has a number of sprawling slums with a large percentage of the population in dire need of proper living conditions.

As the report says: Two-thirds of the city’s residents live in “informal” neighborhoods, as activists call them, while more than one million of the city’s poor have been forcibly ejected from their homes in largely unannounced, government slum clearances over the last 15 years, a leading activist group says.

What are your thoughts on the recent demolitions and housing deficit in the state?


Photo Credit: New York Times

Adeola Adeyemo is a graduate of Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from University of Lagos. However, her passion is writing and she worked as a reporter with NEXT Newspaper. She believes that anything can be written about; anything can be a story depending on the angle it is seen from and the writer's imagination. When she is not writing news or feature articles, she slips into her fantasies and creates interesting fiction pieces. She blogs at www.deolascope.blogspot.com

28 Comments

  1. cathy

    March 4, 2013 at 9:34 am

    Goodluck Jonathan, see what you would hv use the money for, if you did not show mercy on this homeless people honestly God will not forgive u, He will pay u bk in hundred folds

    • Iris

      March 4, 2013 at 10:22 am

      As much as I’d love to bash GEJ here I actually I think this is a Lagos state thing. This is what I’ve been saying about Eko Atlantic. They should be working on slums and informal housing, not grandiose projects for people who already have homes. What we should remember is that the investors in the Eko Atlantic project need to make their profit back with crazy rent so this will not in any way benefit the poor or even middle class. Even the things they are promising sef…no power interruption, working traffic lights…as if they intend on building a city you can run to to be safe from the problems of Lagos – nothing about fixing the problems of Lagos itself. Are the residents there planning to live in complete isolation then? Because we know how Nigeria is…everything infiltrates eventually.

  2. Peachy_mo

    March 4, 2013 at 9:38 am

    hmm….how can good and bad work hand in hand? It’s so sad! How can the means justify the act? what other provision has been made? why can’t Governors of different states come together and promote whatever resources each state has to offer thereby promoting jobs and education? Dear Governors, you know what to do and the right way, it might take time and be expensive but it is the right way. God will be with the displaced, grant them the wisdom and strength to surge forward in this time oh hardship…good will strengthened us all to take the cue and lead on the right part (Amin)

  3. Heartbroken

    March 4, 2013 at 9:43 am

    All due respect to the gov of gidi but this is not how things should be done. E.g a few years ago my friend lived in south london with her fam in an estate that was run down. The council wanted to demolish the building and rebuild the houses. My beatie and her fam was put into temporary accomodation till their home was rebuilt now they live in a house in the same area and location. You cant just leave pple homeless its heartless. Mr gov if you wana do something do it well and proper. God will judge!

  4. adetola adeyinka

    March 4, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Posterity will judge. The members of society you do not take care of today, will haunt you tomorrow.

  5. Me2me

    March 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Not to seem harsh but is there truly that much homeless peeps in naij? Maybe in lagos sha, as people come from all over for greener pasture.

    I want to believe most of these people have villages where they come from and in the Nigerian Igbo culture that I know of, there is something called “abata obi” or “OBi”. This simply is the family home which is often at your state of origin. At least you must have a bed or something to lie on while you hustle.

    I know its not everyone that has this opportunity but still. I also know some of these people are not from Nigeria, which even makes it really difficult. Anyways I hope the govt or an NGO can help.

    In other news, why do some pictures look staged??

    N:B- I have a cousin who has a family house, a good job if he wants it but has subjected himself to going to really far places to hustle by stealing and running home wen the robery goes bad. Now this is the problem, even wen he comes back he stays in the bush close to the house and not in his room. One who sees him will feel sorry for him, yet we all dont know the genesis. Let the govt figure out there state/ country of origin and send them to there governors to help. In the case where their country is at war, they should be handed to the federal government for Asylum.

    • Ms Brown

      March 4, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  6. NIRA

    March 4, 2013 at 10:04 am

    In as much as I sympathize with the ppl,we’ve to be objective here! The Govt gives notice before demolition,but typical Nigerians,we ignore it till late. If people occupy a place illegally,and make a mess of the environment,should they be allowed to stay just so they’ll say that the Govt is nice???

    • Ms lala

      March 4, 2013 at 10:14 am

      Good point..it’s true but at the same time the pictures are heartbreaking. I remember when i came home 2011 they used my pops foundation wall to make makeshift mama put joint, all because the owner of the house was not in at the moment. within one year the whole stretch of wall had been turned into a small mamaput joint and other shops using our foundation wall as their own wall to put a shop. when the matter got out of hands they started crying. Nigerians love to build and occupy illegal spaces. they know its illegal but they turn deaf and still occupy those areas. look at Makoko, its really sad. Fashola should provide a sub place for these people if he’s going to keep displacing youths women and children. It’s truly unfair

  7. The Watch Collector

    March 4, 2013 at 10:22 am

    This is not terrible!
    I am frightened!
    there needs to be paradigm shift.
    You cannot displace people, there has to be alternatives before any such steps are taken.

  8. The Watch Collector

    March 4, 2013 at 10:22 am

    *This is terrible!

  9. AJ

    March 4, 2013 at 10:45 am

    wow…its as though to be poor in Nigeria is a crime…why are these people being punished just because they are poor?

  10. Bleed blue

    March 4, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Wow! I’m looking at the faces in these pictures and I feel like taking them all in one swoop and giving them a decent roof over their heads but that’s just a pipe-dream. I’m so saddened 🙁

  11. felicia

    March 4, 2013 at 10:49 am

    I feel sorry for most nigerians on her saying good job to the government. The fact is the government dont care for the people, for if they did they would have provided them with money or housing while they demolish their place. I never believed how inhumane and apathetic some nigerians are towards their neighbors. A friend told me that one of the biggest problem in nigeria is that people dont care for their neighbors , people who suppose to come from a culture that believes in a village and community raising a child, have become so self centered. Yes these people have a village, but they built those houses with their money, and they have the right to sue the government if they want or have a good lawyer who is willing to do it. I hope they sue, and charge nigeria and Lagos state to international court for abusing human rights.

  12. brownie

    March 4, 2013 at 11:14 am

    This is simply outrageous! It is insensitive of the Lagos state govt. to destroy people’s homes without providing alternative accommodation for them. This is typical of the Nigerian mindset – we are so caught in our international image at the expense of the ordinary man who’s living from hand to mouth.

    If Fashola really wanted to appear like the hero of Lagos and pioneer of change – he should have started with building affordable housing for the poor! I’m so upset by this news.

  13. Lolly

    March 4, 2013 at 11:55 am

    I pity them but is it compulsory dey all live in lagos? Some can afford to live comfortably in dere villages..but dey prefer to live like slaves in lagos..dey shld all go back to dere states. I’m sure fashola gave dem notice b4 doing so..nd I’m sure he told dem to go bak to dere states…

    • chaz

      March 4, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      How are you so sure, was you there? And there home states can they get anymore than they are getting in Lagos apart from a bed in their family homes. The whole of Nigeria is in a bad state and things don’t always go the way they should so don’t be so sure that people received warnings and they have better in their villages.

    • Lolly

      March 4, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      Pls work on the English …can hardly understand you

  14. chaz

    March 4, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Truly sad!, I’m planing on returning home, to Lagos to be precise even though its not my home state and after reading this my mind started working out how I can avoid returning, not because I wont find work but actually because this type of bull really upsets me, it makes me so angry at being a Nigerian and especially mad at our leaders. After reading the comments I change my mind somewhat. I’m trying to see the other point of view on how Nigerians are fond of taking up space that isn’t theirs which happens all over Nigeria and how its possible they had a warning. However the facts are, without alternatives nothing changes, they will go elsewhere and do the same and when someone is ready to invest in the land that’s being occupied Lagos state will come and do the same thing to them. Nothing changes until change comes into place and building fancy homes that no real Nigerian can afford wont change a damn thing. The poorest of Nigerians will always be a constant reminder that the country is not doing as good as it thinks it is. As far as the west is concerned its still a third world country and as much as i love it the love comes from being born there and the alternative things the west never sees from the country but like I said the real issues will not just disappear without hard work from everyone. I am aware that if things go sour I can run back to where is a little more comfortable in someway but not in many other ways but its truly unfair that most of the nation only knows continuous suffering all year round.

  15. Aibee

    March 4, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    All of you saying they should go back to their villages, did it occur to you that some of them are 3rd or 4th generation migrants who know no other place as home except Lagos? And yes, even if the structures are illegal structures, government still out to give them adequate notice to move out and temporary/transit accommodation before levelling down their homes.
    Lagos is a mix of highbrow areas and slums. Practically every city in the world has its slums and ghettoes but no one should demolish a slum without due process just because the people do not have a voice. Besides, even if Government wants to demolish the place, did they need to manhandle the inhabitants? A warning announcement and a few canisters of tear gas would have done the trick. But using batons and sticks on unarmed civilians? Not right at all.

  16. Cjay

    March 4, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Foreign journalists never report on all the good coming from Africa, all they report and are concerned about is portraying Africa as bad and continously poverty stricken, more blame is on govt because if there is a plan for construction, people wouldnt wake up one morning and start constructing houses on pipes and all,

  17. someone

    March 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    thanks Lolly. Nigerians are quick to blame people for their misfortunes. check out the no. of pple that come into Lagos each day for greener pastures. hw can you come into a place u kno no one and expect to live in a mansion witout income? many of these families came on a journey of no hope and end up living with their families in slums. the living conditions in these slums are not suitable for even a dead rat but they subject themselves to these condtions each day. i think we need to draw a line of pity..take a look at these pictures, no concrete structures, all planks and most of these woods are recycled. this is horrible. these people can afford to go back to their villages and live way way better than they do. they have no jobs here; they are forced to do petty jobs, even steal and kill all for survival.. this is unacceptable. Everyone cannot build mansions or ride porche cars or do white collar jobs or even finish university…i am not killing pples aspiration here but lets call a spade a spade…let them go back to their states and fend for themselves and live beta than dis…i am not in support of bullying if it is true they were forced out but i am sure that they were given notice before now and they probably thot they could have their way (i am just saying)

    i pray that God gives them wisdom to go thru this period and provide for their needs….

  18. molly

    March 4, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    hmmn it seems fashola’s vision is to make lagos a home for the rich, as the welfare of the poor arent taken into consideration.

  19. Omoba

    March 4, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    This is painful…..

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to a place you know no one to seek greener pastures…People come to America everydayyyyy where they know noone….

  20. Godheart

    March 4, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Truly sad and dishearting to say the least,even though it the ghetto or slum that doesn’t warrant the government to send them away without any type of compensation. In America if gov’t want to demolish a area they give the ppl notice and also offer a buyout plan to buy there property on give some type of grant to them. Why must Nigeria always be the one giving us headache with no rest or peace of mind and land that has so much but offers it citzen so little,now the families will be living on street with no place to go because Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola thinks it okay,to think i was giving this governor thumbs up for his performance this just goes to show he only cares about the RICH and very WEALTHY of LAGOS state which shouldn’t be so!!!!! His Term is EKO Oni Baje!!! but Lagos is already messed up in every aspect. I think the federal gov’t should provide adequate structures and more jobs so that ppl can benefit from it, so far they keep LOOTING the money into there pockets and foreign bank acct the entire mass will heed the consequences. I love Nigeria even though i wasn’t born there but just hate the way ppl view Nigeria and God needs to deal with all these bad eggs that stealing and not doing anything good for that country.

  21. nich

    March 4, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    The question is what will the poor do to be rich in nigeria………………one thing i know is that knowledge will help many…………..the beggining is to find a local pentecostal church and be attending………the only community in nigeria i know and believe in is the church……..in times of trouble they could help

    no leader listens in nigeria…………..but however i still think that the eko atlantic city is the only future for the black race……………nigeria’s image can never change until such level of developement comes to africa………

  22. NNENNE

    March 5, 2013 at 2:27 am

    Sad story but our people have to rethink. Everybody cannot live in Lagos. If life is getting hard there, go back to your village. This is where we are better than the white people…we have ancestral homes.Lands that were passed down from generation to generation.The villages are even cleaner than the so called Lagos. Even if you have to build a mud house,that is better than being homeless.

  23. NNENNE

    March 5, 2013 at 2:34 am

    Because there are no social security number, no control on immigration, if the government house these people ,others will troop in and the cycle continues. Lagos will become the center for all the poor Africans.
    The beginning of everything is to know who is a Nigerian, how many are working, how many are paying taxes as they should, the birth rate and death rate. Without these, how can you plan?

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