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17 July 2017

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OTODO GBAME: Ambode/APC Government Renders Thousand Homeless on Behalf of Rich Property Tycoons

By Chidinma Ibeh, DSM, Ajegunle

The unfortunate and brutal invasion of the poor waterfront slum community of Otodo Gbame in Lekki by the Lagos state government has once again brought to light the plight of the poor against an insensitive government. It will be recalled that some few years ago it was the rural community of Idasho in Ibeju lekki where citizens were forcefully evicted from their homes and displaced of their means livelihood in order to satisfy the interest of Aliko Dangote, Africa's richest capitalist, in his acquisition of large parcels of land for the building of a private refinery.

As with Idasho, the officers of the Lagos state taskforce and marine police bulldozed the helpless community of Otodo Gbame despite a restraining order by Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo halting the demolition, stating that it was not only unfair but also cruel to demolish citizens' structures at such a short notice without palliative measures or alternate resettlement. This time around, the Ambode-led Lagos state government is acting on behalf of the Elegushi family which is laying claim to the land upon which the slum community is situated and has been trying for some time now to dislodge the residents of Otodo Gbame. The community has been invaded at least 3 times by police and armed thugs linked to the Elegushi family.

Not only were over 4, 700 residents displaced, they were shot at with one reportedly killed. Women and children were chased and tear gassed out of their homes into boats on the open lagoon and doomed to a fate of gloom which was further compounded by a downpour placing them in a dangerous situation. The slum houses and properties they left behind were set on fire. Also schools and churches were razed. In a country where more and more working class and poor people including women are increasingly forced to engage in dangerous and menial labour to survive the harsh realities of an inequitable capitalist economy, this attack on the Otodo Gbame community and the attendant loss of means of living will further impoverish many families.

However the fact that poor people of Otodo Gbame were chased out and left out in the open sea by the very government that was elected and swore to guard their interests is a clear revelation of the anti-poor and pro-rich character of the Ambode government and the All Progressive Congress (APC). Since 1999, the agenda of the ruling party in Lagos is to build Lagos into a mega city for the rich alone. The forceful eviction in Otodo Gbame is similar to the demolitions in communities like Makoko, Ijora-Badia etc. The agenda is to reclaim more lands to sell to estate developers and property tycoons to build luxurious estates, villas and mansions for the rich. The lands around the lagoon are prized real estate, and for that reason top on the priority of Lagos state anti-poor government, because of the waterfront/beaches and the rich opportunities they have for tourism and building of hotels, clubs and holiday resorts for the stinking rich elite.

The action by the Lagos state government should be condemned as it is not only anti-poor but also borne out of clear intentions to enable greedy capitalists grab lands and situate luxury homes and facilities while dispossessing poor people of their homes, schools and livelihoods. The irony of all these is that before elections, votes are sought from the poor and lofty promises are mouthed but as soon elections are over, the anti-poor government reverts to bullying citizens whose votes were good enough to elect them but not enough to protect them from the injustice of an insensitive government.

Continuous victimization of citizens should not be encouraged and the Lagos state government must respect the fundamental rights of the people and also the court order on this issue. The government approach to displacing citizens without a plan to resettle or rehabilitate is not only unacceptable but also dangerous to the society at large. The Lagos State government has claimed that its action was a security measure because militants and kidnappers were using the community as a base. First this is an insult because by saying this, the government is trying to insinuate that all those who live and work in riverine communities are criminals. Again, it also shows how blinded the Ambode/APC government is by its pro-rich agenda that it is unable to realize that its actions will create the opposite effect. This is because those displaced and impoverished as a result of loss of livelihood will react in many ways. Many will fight back by joining mass struggles but some may also join the ranks of armed robbers and kidnappers thus creating more insecurity.

If people have to be displaced at all for reason of development, Socialists believe that this must be a product of democratic discussion with the people affected and government must be prepared to provide alternative settlement for them without any loss of material benefit and comfort on the part of the people. Unfortunately, this is not on the agenda of the Ambode/APC government. As a capitalist government defending the interests of the rich, its priority is profit, not the interests of poor working people.

The Otodo Gbame eviction shows the need for working and poor people to unite and begin to organize to fight to defend our interests. Without this, the capitalists are prepared to go to any length to oppress and exploit the poor. However while fighting evictions, we must also fight for an end to the capitalist system and the enthronement of a democratic socialist system which places value on human lives over profit. Such a society will not fall ready made from the sky.