Early Tuesday morning, Nigerian naval forces stormed into the murky waters of Tarkwa bay to forcibly evict thousands of poor inhabitants.
Gunshots rang out as soldiers fired into the sky, causing widespread pandemonium and confusion. Residents scrambled around frenetically to pack up as many of their belongings as possible before their homes and entire lives were demolished.
Tarkwa Bay, population around 5 thousand, is a water locked community located Southwest of Victoria Island. It is essentially an artificial sheltered beach that can only be reached by boats or water taxis. In recent years, the area has become a bastion for informal settlements that are not sanctioned by the state government.
Informal settlements are an increasing problem in the Lagos metropolis and pose a persistent set of problems for residents and government agencies alike. These “illegal” dwellings, are not constructed to any local code nor do they meet any basic standard of habitable accommodations.
“These impoverished residents really have no choice”, explained Emanuel Adebola a Nigerian lawyer who seeks justice on behalf of poor and exploited citizens. “The government can not provide the mere basics in the way of housing or shelter, so people have to do what they have to do to survive.”
Nigerian authorities asserted that they gave residents notice before the forcible evictions, but our sources on the ground contradicted these claims.
Speaking to a Nigerian official, he explained that illegal activities -mainly oil pipeline tampering and siphoning had been going on in the area for a long time and it needed to be addressed. Evidence of such activities was found in some locations, and the officials were quick to point them out.
That being the case, normal governing bodies would target those individuals responsible for the crimes, rather than a blanket approach of dismantling the entire community.
This is a problematic dilemma. On the one hand, it is prudent for the government to tackle the scourge of informal settlements, but they need to do it fairly and humanely.
What good does it do to destroy the homes and belongings of your citizens and not provide them with any social safety net to fall back on? They will inevitably have to migrate to another area to set up camp and hopefully avoid the bulldozer’s wrath for a few more years — if they are lucky.
As night fell in the area long lines of worried families were jostling to get on crowded boats to head to the mainland to seek shelter and a new beginning — we pray that their journey will contain mercy.