Aftermath Of Makoko Demolition …Uneasy Calm Trails Momentary Respite
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· Evictees Now Sleep In The Open, Inside Canoes
· Civil Rights Activists Flay Govt’s Action
· We Are No Foreigners, Insist Residents
WITHOUT much ado, the 12-year old boy who gleefully introduced himself as the ‘pilot’ plunged his paddle into the water. With uncommon dexterity, he began steering the canoe through the unpleasant looking water of the lagoon. An overpowering smell of human waste enveloped the air, mingling with thick smoke rising from fireplaces, where women could be seen smoking their fish. From some of the stilt houses, children as young as four years, could be seen diving into the water for a swim, and from the way the splashed, it seemed apparent they were having a time of their lives.
On the water, there were close to a dozen boats contesting to earn their passage through the narrow, but crowded channel. The scores of paddles made a unique splashing sound, as the agile looking men and women manning the rudimentary water vessels cheerfully went about their businesses. As the canoes navigated through the heavily polluted water, the buying and selling of a vast array of edibles went on. Women in hats also paddled their wares towards buyers in the shacks built on stilts. Money, as well as food items and other forms of provisions promptly changed hands in the shanty town that some Nigerians have euphemistically described as “the Venice of Africa.”
After the initial siege by an invading force ordered by the Lagos State government to pull down their shanty dwellings, the people of Makoko are currently enjoying some momentary respite. Following the killing of a community leader by a trigger-happy policeman last week, the government called a unilateral ceasefire. When The Guardian visited Makoko at the weekend, there were tell tale signs of the government expedition, which came in the form of the razing of the homes of the poor, with no alternatives provided even on humanitarian grounds.
But the spirit of the people seemed unbroken. At the weekend, The Guardian encountered many Makoko residents, who had shrugged off recent State onslaught by simply taking their plight with philosophical calm. They also continued to plead their case, insisting that the government treats them with the minimum human dignity.
Residents of the fishing community whose houses were destroyed by the State officials are however licking their wounds. A good number of them have resorted to sleeping in the open air as well as in their canoes almost two weeks after the demolition squads brought down their homes.
It was gathered from some of the displaced persons that they were seeking new places of abode in other riverside areas where they could have access to water and continue with their means of livelihood. Some of the displaced fishermen and women were seen on the wooden-houses trying to salvage their properties as well as care for their young ones. Some of the women have been relocated to other relations while the men stay in their canoes through the nights till dawn.
On the case of their leader who was killed by a policeman, it was learnt that the fishing community was awaiting a coroner inquest on the body of the community leader before making final plans to bury him.
Many still in shock
UNLIKE?their slain leader, however, there are scores of Makoko residents who have remained in a state of shock on account of the events of the last two weeks. These set of evictees, who have mainly lost their homes, and most of their belongings have continued the difficult struggle to come to terms with the realities on the ground.
One of such pathetic story is that of Mrs. Veronica Awadi, a nursing mother who was said to have given birth to her baby through a Cesarean operation, about three weeks before the onslaught by the government. Veronica who managed to speak with The Guardian through an interpreter said she knew nothing about the 72-hour quit notice given by the government because she could neither read nor write. She said she was right inside her home recuperating from the painful Caesarian operation when, when the demolition squad swooped on her dwelling place. She narrated that those in charge of the demolition were already pulling down the structure when she shouted for help.
Residents who witnessed the incident informed that Veronica almost lost her life. It took the timely intervention of other residents to rescue Veronica and her baby from the bowels of the lagoon, into which they had fallen, after the demolition squad brought down the structure right on top of them. As at the weekend, the seriously traumatised woman who repeatedly complained of an unusually faster heartbeat as a result of this close shave with death was taking refuge in one of the schools in the community. Like many other victims of the eviction, no one has deemed it wise to provide medical attention or shock therapy for the woman, who has continued to stare into the vacant air around her.
Meanwhile, while the likes of Veronica grapple with the burdens thrust on them by fate, what seemed an attempt on the part of the government to dialogue with the community was stalled last week. The State Government had invited the community leaders for talks, but the invitation letter did not get to the leaders who were part of the protests against the killing of one of the community leaders until about 2pm. As such the meeting could not take place at the government secretariat at Alausa, Ikeja because many of those who ought to attend were not around.
‘Fishing is the only thing we know’
The Head of the fishing community, Emmanuel Shemede in an interview, reiterated that the occupation of the residents of Makoko is fishing, although he added that some residents had gone into other vocations. Shemede said that any relocation of Makoko residents to a place with no proximity to water would a big handicap that would deprive them of their means of livelihood. He said that contrary to government’s position that there are lots of criminals in the area, there are neither armed robbers, nor other felons in their midst. Shemede added that if the government has records of robbers and criminals from the fishing community, it should be made public so that the community can confirm that they are true residents.
“The truth is that fishermen only work on water and do not engage in criminal activities,” he said, adding that one of the reasons they wanted to be close to water is for the safety of their life, job, boats, canoes and other equipments.
Shemede said, if the government is going to relocate them, it should be to a place close to water adding that the people fish at regular intervals, and work with patterns that are traditionally peculiar to different water bodies and estuaries in the Lagos coastline which they have mastered.
On the sanitation and beautification of the area, the community leader explained that the people are ready to cooperate with the government in all its ramifications. Shemede also rejected government’s claim that majority in the community are foreigners, adding that most of the fishermen are largely from Badagry in Lagos State while very few are from Benin Republic. He noted that the poor sanitary conditions in Makoko was because of the constant threat of evictions, which made the people of the area reluctant to build the right kind of structures as dwelling places. “The fear government created in the people over the years has prevented the people from building good structures to replace the existing ones built on stilts by their forefathers.”
Threat To Makoko children’s Education
School children were seen returning home from their schools after closing time last Friday when The Guardian again visited Makoko, but community leaders say all is not well with their education. At Progress Nursery and Primary School, one of the few places of learning in the area, the pupils welcomed the reporters with the words; “education is the light of humanity,” but their teacher, Lantefo Martin, agonised that the demolition was taking a toll on them.
Martin who hails from Badagry, and has lived in Makoko for the past eight years, said he started the school in 2005.
He recounted how the student population of 85 pupils had dwindled significantly as a result of the demolition, and the fear that now pervades the area.
He said: “In this school, I teach them in French, but from Primary 3 upwards, I introduce English, so they can speak both English and French. At the end of the day, the students from this school can speak two languages. But this demolition has affected everybody here; since last week, the students have not been coming because their houses have been demolished.
Martin continued: “As a result of the demolitions, the students have reduced in number. I don’t collect school fees per term; I collect N40 or N50 per day from the children, just to help them because we have no sponsor to help us in this school.
“In fact, if there is a sponsor that can pay the administrative costs, I won’t mind teaching these children for free. These children here are Nigerians from Badagry. They can speak Egun, some can speak Yoruba, but here in school, they learn in French. The children are not feeling okay at all because of the demolition. Many of them have told me they are not sleeping well because they are scared that people are coming to destroy their homes. Whenever they hear any voice, they begin to run. Like when the demolition started, they were always running away; I am the one who talked to them, telling them not to be frightened.”
Said Martin, “I read that they are saying we are foreigners; we are not foreigners. Look at the example in America today; everybody knows that Barrack Obama, the President of the United States is from Kenya. In a country where you have lived for many years, like for 10 years, and you have the right to vote, you cannot be said to be a foreigner. Fashola that is there today, we voted for him. So they should stop saying we are foreigners; we are from Badagry. Although there are foreigners, but those of us from Badagry are more in this place”.
Asked what he wants the State governor to do for him, one of the students Ahissou Josue pleaded: “Please, Governor Fashola should let us stay here; he should not demolish this place. Our parents only know how to catch fish, they won’t be able to pay our school fees and feed us, if you put them on land. They cannot live on land,” he said. As for some of the boat makers in Makoko, it was a hard time because their workshop, which The Guardian saw about two weeks ago, had been demolished.
They were seen trying to make a living a living from the remains of their old shed.
Activists Take On Government
CURIOUSLY, the National Human Rights Commission statutorily empowered to serve as the line of defense against perceived violations of the rights of Nigerians has maintained a deafening silence with regards to the demolition at Makoko. The commission’s website was also not functioning when it was visited last week. The responsibility of ensuring that the people of Makoko at least have their rights respected has thus fallen on the shoulders of rights groups like the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) and the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC).
In a strongly worded press release, which described the evictions as a “crime against humanity,” the CLO through a public statement signed by its Executive Director, Ibuchukwu Ohabuenyi Ezike, stated: “The actions of the government is a serious threat to right to life and a flagrant infringement on both local and international human rights instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory”.
It continued, “CLO makes bold to state that this government had embarked on several anti-people policies and actions namely the unprovoked attacks on the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of the Lagos state University, Ojo and its students by over 300 percent increase in school and service fees as well as the Medical Doctors’ Guild and Okada riders who recently crushed him at the court. No government, we have consistently maintained and will continue to maintain, has a right to oppress and dehumanise its citizens.”
The CLO called on the Lagos state House of Assembly, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), and the national leadership of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to rise to the occasion by calling the state government to halt the inhuman treatment of fellow Nigerians.
“CLO notes that Lagosians did not vote for ACN to chastise them with adders and scorpions but to provide them with good governance and respect their constitutional rights.
“Lastly, we demand the immediate stop of this criminal eviction without alternative place or adequate compensations and the use of excessive force to muscle harmless citizens protesting against the violation of their human rights. CLO requests the urgent intervention of the Federal government, the National Human Rights Commission, the National Assembly and international community to save the life of Makoko community and preserve the rights of the people to a community.”
The Akinsemoyins Have Owned Makoko Since 1820s — Baale
High Chief Raymond Adekunle Olaiya Akinsemoyin, Baale of Makoko told The Guardian in his palace that there are two Makokos. According to him, there is Makoko where people live on land and Makoko where people live on water. Chief Akinsemoyin who spoke on the origin of the area, as well as his ideas towards developing the community narrated that the Olaiya family, now known as the Akinsemoyin family, owns the two Makokos. He said the land was inherited from the matriarch of the family, Madam Ramotu Manuel who inherited it from her father Pa. Adamu Manuel. Pa. Adamu Manuel is said to have bought the land of Makoko from the Oloto family around the 1820s, who used to own the whole stretch of Makoko.
According to Chief Akinsemoyin, in those years, Madam Ramotu Manuel, a trader travelled for about 25 years and allowed a caretaker to take charge of the area for her and in the process the land was encroached on. On her return, she approached the caretaker to take her land back. He said the said encroacher gave birth to a son who contested the ownership of Makoko land in court and in the end Madam Ramotu Manuel won the case at the Supreme Court.
The Baale revealed that Makoko stretched from Adekunle, Herbert Macaulay, Casino area Sabo, and Iwaya streets in Lagos. He said there was a survey done on this and he has all the evidence. The Baale who was a journalist, a politician and is currently a lawyer said that Madam Manuel was married to Kadiri Akinsemoyin, the grandson of Oba of Lagos, Akinsemoyin, and that Kadiri Akinsemoyin was the great grandson of Baba Onigbakere.
According to Chief Akinsemoyin, it was Madam Ramotu Manuel that decided to invite the ancestors of the current fishermen occupying the waterfronts, to assist her in her fishing trade in about the 1930s and they (the Fishermen Eguns) were asked to work for them and they were paying rent.
“The legitimacy of the ownership of Makoko was settled with a Supreme Court judgment,” said Chief Raymond Olaiya Akinsemoyin.
He regretted that the waterfront that could have beautified Makoko over the years had been destroyed. According to him, Madam Ramotu Manuel stated in her will that the rents paid by the Eguns should be used for the maintenance of the area.