“We are NOT Criminals,” Badia Evictees Tell Ojora Family

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20151007_104515With a view toward the exploration of a lasting solution to the recurrent forced evictions in Badia, the Lagos State Government facilitated an urgent dialogue on Wednesday, October 7, 2015, involving relevant state agencies, specifically, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Land, Department of  Civic Engagement, the Ojora Chieftaincy Family, legal counsels to the royal cabinet council, Badia evictees and their legal representatives.

 

Spaces for Change (S4C) is providing free legal representation to over 1,000 displaced families in Badia, rendered homeless at the peak of torrential rainfall on 18 September 2015 on the orders of the Ojora Chieftaincy Family, and aided by the bulldozers operated by officials of the Lagos State Government. The forced eviction of thousands of Badia residents has left thousands of people including women and children homeless, and exposed to inclement weather conditions.

 

Prior to the meeting, Spaces for Change had written to the above-named state ministries and agencies, including some federal government establishments to object to the Family’s land ownership claims, the due processes breaches and human rights violations that characterized the September 18 demolitions.

 

The controversial question regarding the legal title and ownership to the land in Badia featured prominently in the discussions. The Ojora family contends that it authorized the Badia evictions in execution of a March 2014 judgment of the Lagos High Court that upheld its land ownership claims.  Making strong legal representations on the community behalf, Spaces for Change’s Victoria Ohaeri informed state authorities about the varied public and private interests in the land situate at Badia: the diversity of landholdings and the historical underpinnings of the evictees’ various titles and interests in Badia.

 

The displaced families were at all material times, owners and tenants of properties of various types, comprising brick, concrete, block and makeshift structures in Badia community, having acquired titles to the land from a variety of sources dating back to the 70s and beyond. Pursuant to a land acquisition order gazetted on January 28, 1926, several portions of the land in Badia are still under the full control and management of the Federal Government of Nigeria. More specifically, some of the evictees benefited from a compensatory exchange of land for affected communities following the Federal government’s compulsory land acquisition to build the National Theater in 1973. Consistent with the diversity of landholdings in Badia, several residents in Badia pay rent to the Nigeria Railway Corporation and built block structures with the approval of Railway Property Co. Ltd. Some paid Temporary Occupation License Fees to the Economic Department at the Lagos State Governor’s Office and the Ministry of Works and Planning (Lands Division).

 

Spaces for Change has taken steps to furnish Lagos state authorities and the legal representatives of the Ojora Chieftaincy Family with the proofs of these claims.

 

Recognizing the legitimacy of their stay on the land, the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development initiated the Badia East Urban Renewal Programme in 2004. The said federal ministry has regularly consulted local residents, including the evictees, in stakeholders’ meetings and discussions pertaining to the development and sustainability of Badia communities since 2004. As recent as 2013, the Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, with the cooperation of the residents, including the evictees, conducted a house ownership survey to take stock of all the occupiers and structures in Badia. There are however, a number of evictees that purchased or rented land from the Ojora Chieftaincy Family, and the disputed titles have been the subject of protracted litigation.

 

Particularly objectionable is the due process deficits that characterized the September 18 demolition exercise, particularly the absence of adequate notices and alternative accommodation, non-consultation and non-payment of compensation to evicted families. On September 17, 2015, at about 2.p.m., certain persons holding themselves out as court sheriffs, judicial officers and agents of the Ojora Chiefaincy Family invaded Badia, pasting notices on the walls, and raucously asserting ownership of the entire Badia land. By evening of the same day, a bulldozer was already stationed at the community’s entrance. The arrival of the bulldozer was not preceded by timely notice to occupants to vacate their buildings or remove their personal belongings from the buildings or structures marked for demolition.

 

The human right safeguards that must precede an eviction was discussed considerably, provoking an intense debate between the evictees’ legal representatives, state officials and the legal team of the Ojora Family.  Key issues highlighted during the arguments relate to whether all Badia residents had notice of the legal disputes in court and the resulting court judgement; whether the evictees could be bound by a judgement that they were not parties to; whether the parties to the previous court proceedings were the true representatives of the community; the adequacy of notices preceding the September 18 evictions; and the legal requirement for compensation and provision of alternative accommodation under the statutory laws in force in Nigeria.

 

Of course, the evictees took a strong exception to His Royal Highness Kabiyesi Ojora’s description of their community as a “den of criminals” and this caused a rowdy session.  Community spokespersons like Mrs. Ogunyemi and Pastor Aworetan decried the blanket labeling of Badia east residents as criminals, clarifying that they have amongst them, graduates and professionals from diverse fields who were only unfortunate to be poor. Such insidious depiction of informal communities as haven for criminals provides incentive for state officials to tear down the hovels of the poor. Consistent with this framing, the Lagos State Government demolished parts of Badia in 2013, displacing over 9,000 people in a bid to make way for a housing project built under the Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme (HOMS). Also, when a mysterious fire gutted parts of the community in January 2015, the police prevented them from rebuilding their homes.

 

After engaging and listening to the parties to the proceedings, the Lagos State Government issued a directive mandating the Ojora Chieftaincy Family, Badia evictees, Badia residents and their legal representatives to:

  1. explore and utilize an integrated approach, including identifying and putting in focus viable democratic options for implementation by all sides to the recurrent land infractions and forced evictions in Badia, within a 30-day time-frame;
  2. That the stop-order directive on further evictions in any part of Badia issued by the Lagos State Government be respected, until a mutual resolution is reached and adopted by all the parties.
  3. That while the above legal, administrative and political opportunities for the resolution of the demolition crisis are still being explored and considered, the State Government shall take steps to ensure that there are no further evictions in any part of Badia.

 

You would recall that Spaces for Change mobilized 18 concerned citizens and civil society organizations under the auspices of the Friends of Badia to take joint action to stop the demolitions and challenge the implicated human rights violations arising from the forced evictions.  In a September 22, 2015 joint press statement signed by 18 organisations and persons comprising the Friends of Badia, they strongly condemned the eviction of Badia residents, demanding that those rendered homeless, especially women, children and other vulnerable populations, be given immediate humanitarian assistance, including adequate temporary shelter while long-term solutions are in process.

 

The meeting ended with the evictees and the Ojora Family members mutually agreeing to be bound by the outcomes of the mediation facilitated by the Lagos State Government.  Spaces for change is committed to the peaceful and final resolution of the recurrent demolitions of Badia communities, and is facilitating the discussions with all parties concerned in the issue.

 

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