They came while we were asleep’: Lagos residents tell of brutal evictions

Pastor Ashegbon amid the ruins: ‘Our pleas fell on deaf ears.’ All photographs: Andrew Esiebo for the Guardian

Three times in the past six months, the waterfront slums of Lagos have been forcibly – and often violently – evicted by the government. Thousands have been displaced and some killed. Here, eight former residents tell their story

The Otodo Gbame and Itedo communities of two of the largest informal fishing settlements in Lagos, with an estimated population of 40,000 people living on the waterside. On 17 March, in the early hours, the Itedo community was forced to flee when government bulldozers arrived to destroy their neighbourhood.

Officials have variously cited environmental concerns as well as security against “militants” as the reason for the demolitions, which have now evicted at least 35,000 people and have continued despite a January court injunction ordering they be halted. Few Nigerians doubt that the appropriated lands, located on choice waterfront property, will be used to build luxury enclaves.

Journalist Ijeoma Joy Ike and photographer Andrew Esiebo asked eight of the residents to describe what happened.

Pastor Ashegbon, 48

“We woke up and saw about four caterpillars [bulldozers] entering the neighbourhood. The baale [local leader] and I went out to inquire what they wanted inside our neighbourhood. They told us that they have come to demolish our homes, and when we asked why, they said it was an order from the government.

“We tried pleading with them and they told us to wait for their boss; when the man arrived he ordered them to continue with the demolitions. Our pleas fell on deaf ears. We lost all our properties and even recorded a loss of two children on that day – the children were still sleeping inside when the demolishers started tearing their house apart.

“They came here as early as 7am, without any notice while some people were still asleep inside their homes. We need help because we have been left stranded with no shelter or food. The government needs to do something. More than 30,000 members of our community were forced to flee from our homes.”

Omolayo Ikumola, 45

Omolayo Ikumola

“I am a widow with eight children. I have just come back from burying my husband and it wasn’t even a week before this demolition took place. Before my children were in school, I had a small business through which I sustained my family and me. But now we don’t have any other means of livelihood.

“We sleep inside this shanty, the nine of us. When we wake up, whatever we see we eat, and then we wait without knowing where the next meal will come from. We are human beings with rights and we are also citizens of this country. The government has to do something for us.”

Pastor Mallon Agbejoye, 70

Pastor Mallon Agbejoye

“We have inhabited this land for over 45 years now and they just destroyed our community like that; we were not given any notice, they just arrived with their bulldozers and started tearing down our homes. We don’t even know the people behind this, whether it is the state government or the traditional leader (Oba of Elegushi).

“We sleep in these piles of ruins. When it gets dark we make tents of mosquito nets and sleep inside them with our children. We are stranded with our family with no money and no shelter. Accommodation inside the city is expensive and we cannot afford it.”

Bisola Adewale and her son-Adebayo Oyegbade

Bisola Adewale and her son-Adebayo Oyegbade

“They cannot leave us like this with our children; the only crime we committed is that we are poor people.”

Omotuale Emmanuel, 58

Mr Omotuale Emmanuel

“Before now I was a fisherman and I could sustain my family on that, but during the demolition they destroyed some of our boats; I have no boat to go fishing with. I have been feeding my family on the little savings I had before this crisis. We are without shelter and no money to go into town to rent houses because the cost of living there is very high.”

Igbekele Akali, 53

Igbekele Akali

“This demolition has displaced my family and me. Today I had to stay in my place of work [Igbekele is a security guard], while my wife and children had to stay in other places as we don’t have the money to pay for rent.”

Modupe Alade

Igbekele

“We illajes like to settle near the waterfronts because we are mainly fishermen. On this land where these ruins lie were once structures of schools, churches, homes and markets. We were not given any prior notice before this demolition, nor has the government provided any shelter. They destroyed our boats and left us with no other means of livelihood. It is true that our community is among the poor in the city of Lagos, but we had been able to sustain ourselves through what we built for ourselves.”

Igbekele

Modupe Alade

“Before this demolition, I had a store where I sold fish. I was able to feed my children and pay their school fees, but now there is nothing. My family haven’t had anything to eat since morning, nor do we have anywhere to go from here. All I have on me is 700 naira (£1.75) and we cannot rent a house with that. We need assistance; this is wrong. I voted for this government during the elections – and this is what we get for voting them in.”

Source: theguardian