It is the elite versus the people

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In this article, Carel Grol, a Dutch journalist writes about the mass demolition of informal settlements and replacing them with luxury villas… (Original article in Dutch published in Het Financieele Dagblad. Translated to English)

 

Aderemi Ilawole is dead. He was 74. He owned seven houses in Badia East, a small neighbourhood
alongside the railway lines somewhere in Nigerian megatown Lagos. In the middle of June, the
police demolished the neighbourhood. Shortly thereafter, Ilawole died. Because of a broken heart,
says his friend Sehinde Ebiesuwa. ‘Everything was gone. What else could he do?’
Ebiesuwa lost everything as well. He lived in Badia East since 1973. And he is, like everyone in
Lagos, a jack of many trades. Drawer, grafic designer, trader, football coach: anything to make a
living in the margin of this relentless city.
One day a notice appeared at their community. The inhabitants of Badia East had three days to
vacate their houses. Then the bulldozers came. ‘There hasn’t been any counselling, any talks or
discussion with us’, says Ebiesuwa. ‘And there is a court case still going on.’
It took three days to bulldozer the neighbourhood. Ebiesuwa lost his house, his wife her vegetable
shop. ‘This is where we live. This is where we work. We have nowhere else to go.’ Badia East,
where some 15.000 people live, was demolished while it rained.
The bulldozers did their job well. Destruction everywhere. People sleep outside, with mothers
protecting their infants with parasols, to keep the mosquito’s out. There is garbage all around,
mixed with broken wood, planks, and other leftovers of what once were normal houses. It smells
in some places, the water in pools being dark.
Yet even here, trade has resumed. Women carrying baskets on their heads, there are stalls to buy
water in small plastics, and outside in the heat, a small butcher hits with his axe in slimy meat on a
wooden block.
And everywhere there is construction. Houses are being rebuilt. People are returning. Ebiesuwa, bold and
a little beard, has made a new kiosk for his wife. That’s where they sleep. ‘The more they want to
chase us, the more persistent we are in staying here’, he says. But his perseverance cannot
camouflage the sad look of Badia East.
‘There is a systematic strategy of dispossession’, says Gbenga Komolafe, from the Federation of
Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON). According to him, the procedure is simple. A
project developer buys land from the state (Komolafe: ‘Politicians are corrupt’), and chases the
people living there. ‘People become schizophrenic.’
The first part of Badia East got demolished in September 2015. Next year it’s Ilubirin turn to be
demolished in favour of a big building project. In March, there was the eviction of Otodo Gbame
and Itedo, two small fishing communities.
Tens of thousands of people lost their homes. Where they lived, luxury villas will be built.
According to statistics from an organisation that specializes in informal settlements, Lagos has at
least forty of this kind of small communities that risk being demolished. Hence, homelessness
looms for 300.000.
Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is director of Spaces for Change. She leads the court case against the
eviction, on behalf of the people of Badia East. The core of the problem is simple, she says, in her
modest office in a narrow street in one of the seemingly endless neighbourhoods of Lagos. The
government makes all kind of fancy plans, but forget to consult the inhabitants. ‘It is the elite
versus the people.’
Some twenty million people live in Lagos. The vast majority takes part in the informal economy.
Builders, street vendors, car mechanics: they are the face, and the backbone, of this city. ‘These
people live in those kind of informal settlements’, says Ibezim-Ohaeri. ‘They are in constant
danger. And we are talking about millions of people.’

 

Biliki Adeoye is one of them. When Badia East was evicted, she got teargas in her face. The police
beat her. Standing on the railway line where the neighbourhood het sheltered around, Adeoye
shows the bruises on her knees. ‘I just wanted to get some of my belongings.’ Her house was
teared down. ‘I’ve lost everything.’

 

She got a loan. So the exact same spot where her demolished house once stood, she’s now
building a new one. A decent plank costs up to 2000 naira. A wooden house with corrugated roof is
100.000 naira. That is a lot of money for most people living beside these railway.

 
Adeoye didn’t have an alternative. ‘Where else can I go?’, she asks. Last year her mother passed
away. She lost her possessions with the evictions of September 2015. ‘She couldn’t handle it
anymore’, says Adeoye with a soft voice. She appears crest-fallen. ‘I don’t feel well since the tear
gas.’

 

Komolafe from Fiwon principally rejects the evictions. However, at this moment, it is extra painful.
The Nigerian economy is in a recession. Inflation is high, prices for basic goods have spiked. More
and more common people have difficulty to make ends meet.
‘Such an environment is definitely not the right time for forced eviction’, says Komolafe. People
lose their job and fall from the formal into the informal economy. But now people are even being
pushed out of the informal economy.’ He lost his office last year because of an eviction. ‘Now I
have a virtual office’, he says with a somewhat bitter smile.
Evctions are always a display of power. A neighbourhood is surrounded or shut down, and the so
called ‘black Maria’s’ appear, as they are being called in Lagos: police vans to lock and deport the
arrested. They were being used during the demolishing of Badia East.
Several people were arrested and detained. ‘We called for protest on social media’, says Ibezim-
Ohaeri. Thanks to these protest, the detained were quickly released. But Ebiesuwa knows: ‘people
die during these evictions.’
The eviction and demolishing of the communities isn’t a solution. ‘The government is only moving
the problem’, says Ibezim-Ohaeri. ‘Nothing changes.’ East Badia is being rebuilt.
The court case between the inhabitants of Badia East and the federal government is months away.
There are four parties involved, all claiming the land. The federal government, the regional
government, a family that claims to be the owner and the people that are chased away. The plans
are to build flats on the land that once was of Badia East. The type of housing that the people who
lived there, surely cannot afford.
‘Maybe a small part of the flats can be reserved for the poor people’, says Ibezim-Ohaeri hopeful.
That would be a compromise. ‘It is common here in Lagos for families of multiple generations to
live in one room.’
But Ebiesuwa doubts if that will happen. With a sad face does he look at the left overs of the
neighbourhood where he lived for more than forty years. He might sue the government. ‘But in the
end, I just want to have our land back. We have nowhere to go.’

 

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