SPACES FOR CHANGE hosted Ms. Leilani Farha, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, at a community meeting with displaced Badia residents in Lagos, when she visited Nigeria in September 2019. Through the special mission to Nigeria, Ms. Leilani aimed to understand the challenges and opportunities facing Nigeria with regard to its implementation of the right to housing” as well as “… learn more about programmes and policies put in place to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11.1, which commits governments to ensuring access to safe, affordable and housing and basic services for all by 2030.
Over 80 displaced residents of Badia-East, representatives of the community organizations and community movements—like the Communities’ Alliance against Displacement (CAD)—participated in the private session with the Special Rapporteur. Meeting with the displaced Badia residents who continue to face recurrent forced evictions on the orders of state and non-state actors not only offered the Special Rapporteur an opportunity to learn more about the struggles of the urban poor for housing justice, but also created a space for constructive and frank dialogue around the numerous socio-political and economic factors constraining access to affordable and decent shelter in a mega-city like Lagos.
Kick-starting the interface between the locals and the Special Rapporteur, S4C’s executive director, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, shared a brief history of Badia-East, providing detailed insights into the convoluted land disputes and legal tussles arising from the Federal Government’s compulsory land acquisition and resettlement of Badia residents on the land. After that, community leaders, men, women, young and old took turns to share experiences regarding their stay on the land, the living and housing conditions in the area, the growing official narratives criminalizing slum dwellers, the frequent raids by security operatives, the ongoing court cases challenging the forced displacement of residents and the series of advocacy meetings held with diverse stakeholders, including state policy makers, aimed at resolving these multifarious issues.
As the testimonies make clear, Badia-East has been the theater of repeated forced evictions and large-scale displacements of predominantly urban poor populations in Lagos. Displacement exercises in Badia-East orchestrated by successive administrations of the state peaked in 2003, and resurfaced year after year in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017 up to 2019. The evictions persist because the Lagos State government does not recognize the inhabitants’ right of stay on the land. With the emergence of powerful private actors laying claims to the same strip of land where the locals dwell, the community is now caught up in a vicious web of power tussle that increases the residents’ vulnerability to oppression, more evictions, police brutality, dehumanizing treatment at the hands of all comers. During the frequent mass eviction campaigns, scores of residents sustain varying degrees of injuries or may have their properties destroyed. Several attempts to seek redress through the legal and administrative mechanisms of dispute resolution have not yet yielded desired outcomes.
The situation in Badia is replicated in other informal settlements across the Lagos metropolis. In other words, the travails of forced displacement facing Badia residents is equally happening in other slum communities inhabited by the urban poor. Community efforts to communicate and engage with relevant government bodies through letters, petitions, court actions, are often unsuccessful. And limited communication and engagement between city inhabitants and city planners have fostered exclusion from decision-making. SPACES FOR CHANGE [S4C] is making strident efforts to bridge this gap by galvanizing and organizing communities, providing free legal representation and facilitating regular engagement between the government and community groups.
In 2018, S4C approached the Lagos State High Court seeking legal redress for the evictees vide two actions which consolidate a previous lawsuit which S4C filed on behalf of the community in May 2016 at the Federal High Court in Lagos. The first suit is a Fundamental Human Right (FHR) action seeking the enforcement of human rights of Badia evictees and the second is a civil suit seeking declaration of title to the land. Series of correspondence have been exchanged between the organization and scores of government departments to discuss the issue of forced displacement of urban poor communities. In the same vein, a ton of meetings have been brokered with designated government representatives and stakeholders, but all these have not yielded justice for the evictees.
The meeting ended with a guided tour of Badia community. During the tour, Leilani inspected the Nigeria Railway Corporation’s rail line expansion project criss-crossing the community and the building construction sites, particularly the luxury housing estate (Jubilee Housing Estate) springing up on the disputed land. She also interviewed construction workers on site as well as the residents living in and around the area. One key message S4C harped on at the meeting is the sustained request to the Lagos State government to allocate at least 25 percent of the units in the Jubilee Housing Estate to the evictees on a mortgage scheme that gives house owners some time to pay up for the housing units in instalments. Despite send numerous petitions and reminders to state executives since 2017 till date, the government has not responded or made any commitment to provide housing for the evictees.
The office of the Special Rapporteur is set up by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since her tenure started in June 2014, Leilani has presented reports to the UN on homelessness, the connection between the right to housing and the right to life, and the financialisation of housing. She is a vocal proponent of the shift to ‘housing as a human right and not a commodity’. With just over a decade before the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved, the Government of Canada (her home country) has shifted its approach to the right to housing to one that recognizes housing as a fundamental human right essential to the inherent dignity and well-being of the person. As reported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), by this new housing policy, the Canadian Government has set a global example that embraces human rights as the most effective framework to address homelessness and inadequate housing: “Canada’s new model contains the hallmarks of a human rights approach. Not only does it include a legislated right to housing, it also establishes in law creative mechanisms to monitor and hold the Government accountable and ensure access to remedies to address systemic barriers to the enjoyment of adequate housing. This model can serve as an example for countries all over the world.”