With a population of more than 23 million, Lagos is one of six megacities in continental Africa that continues to struggle with finding appropriate measures to cater to its growing urban population. And although the former Nigerian capital has coupled its urban policy with a number of novel and innovative measures, Amnesty International is calling the Nigerian government out on the forced evictions of thousands of residents of informal settlements.
Amnesty International released a report last week detailing the forced eviction of Lagos’ urban poor living in informal settlements. In what they have dubbed the “human cost of a megacity,” Amnesty claims that 30,000 people were uprooted from their homes violently and unlawfully between the months of November 2016 and April 2017 from the areas of Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin.
Close to 70% of Lagos’ population – approximately 15 million people – is thought to be housed in informal settlements in the megacity. Among the nearly 100 informal settlements in Lagos, the residents of Otodo-Gbame and Ilubirin have been facing almost systematic evictions over the past two years. The two areas provide waterfront housing, allowing residents access to creeks and other bodies of water as a source of livelihood.
The report released by Amnesty International also details a number of residents who have fled their homes but remained in the settlements themselves, leaving residents to sleep out in the open or in canoes in the water. The evictions in some cases were written notices, whereas in other cases were verbal and, in one case, gave residents two days to vacate their homes. Proof of ownership or court-issued permission to continue living in the settlement were ignored by police as they continued to evict residents.
The Nigerian police has denied any involvement in the evictions, blaming them on “unidentified masked men” from nearby settlements. No compensation or any form of alternative housing was presented to the evictees, leaving many of them vulnerable to further attacks.
According to a report by the BBC, in June of this year, the High Court of Nigeria deemed these evictions unconstitutional and demanded that police provide monetary compensation for the damage inflicted on the residents of the Lagosian settlements. The state of Lagos blamed the leveling of the slum on a fire, while Amnesty International has reported that houses were set ablaze as bulldozers tore the homes down.
These evictions are another challenge that Lagos faces in the face of a crippling housing crisis. According to Amnesty’s report, the Nigerian government requires residents to provide 13 documents to prove ownership of a residence, which is difficult for Lagos’ urban poor due to the time and money the process requires. Additionally, there are two million housing units in excess that the majority of Lagos’ population cannot access due to unmet demand from middle and high income makers in the city. Since slums in Lagos are in close proximity to these middle and high income areas, they have become attractive for real estate developers, adding to the list of reasons for the forced evictions in Lagos’ slums. The Lagos State Development Plan (LSDP), which aims to “turn Lagos into “Africa’s economic hub” by 2025,” has vowed to provide affordable housing to low-income Lagosians; however, these houses have proven to be too expensive for the city’s urban poor.
An estimated 55% of urban residents in sub-Saharan Africa live in slums. Informal settlements are often a first stop for those looking to escape rural poverty, and, in spite of government crackdowns on slums, approximately 50% of all Africans are expected to live in a city by the mid-2030s.