PRINCE Segun Oniru is the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Lagos State. His ministry is responsible for the demolition of shanties on the Lagos lagoon along the Third Mainland Bridge which has rendered thousands of the inhabitants’ homeless and even led to the death of one of their leaders.
ENCOMIUM Weekly spoke with the Commissioner, who told us why the government is demolishing the shanties. He said the government has stopped the demolition now in order to allow the people to move.
What will you say informed the government’s demolition of houses in Makoko?
We are not demolishing any building. What we are doing is clearing that water body of shanties. That is different from demolition. What informed that is the prevailing situation in the environment. We need to protect lives of those people. We need to protect the life of every Lagosian. We also need to look around us and make sure that the environment that we live is befitting of any human being. It’s as simple as that.
For some time now, these people have been living in this place and have been getting government support. At what point did government realize they constitute environmental nuisance?
The people of Makoko and Iwaya have never gotten any government support as you put it to encourage them to stay there, not in anyway. There are people such as human rights activists, NGOs, who go to foreign bodies with the pictures of the place, saying that people are suffering, they need money to survive, they need money to develop the place. They are just benefitting from these people without a kobo going back to the people concerned. You can verify everything I am telling you.
Don’t you think that government should arrest and prosecute these people that are exploiting them?
We have to take a step a time. Let me go down to the nitty-gritty why we are doing the clearance. We have global warming, rise in water level, there is flood all around the world. We need to start taking charge of our own environment and our own people so that overnight flood won’t just come and wash them away. Rise in water level won’t just come and wash them away. If you also look at that environment we are talking about, there is electrical pillion across that entire area. We’ve witnessed thunderstorm, we’ve witnessed high intensity of rain in the state. One single strike of thunderstorm that hits that electrical pillion and sparks on to any of these shanties, the whole area will disappear. That is guaranteed.
For all these reasons, we need to do something about that place. We need to get them away from there.
Were the people told of all these reasons before their shanties were demolished?
Yes, we have record of meetings. We have records of the governor talking to them years ago, that, you need to move from here. The saw millers are there too. Those ones have agreed with government that they are moving. They said we should provide them with a place where they can move to and they will move. Those ones are moving to a place called Ejirin now. But these ones with the shanties on top of water were very adamant. They don’t want to leave. They did not want to cooperate with the government. Government will not sit down and allow you to endanger your life and that of others. If a disastrous thing happens in that place, it is the same government that would be blamed by the same people.
But some lawyers are claiming that the government has committed contempt of court by dislodging these people.
There is no truth in it. Let them show you the court injunction that said we shouldn’t do what is right for the state. Let them show you the court injunction that said that a fixed address is on a water body for anybody. Let them show the court injunction that showed the certificate of occupancy for those people to occupy that water body. There is nothing like that. I haven’t seen it and the governor hasn’t seen it. Until they can show it to you, please take whatever you hear with a pinch of salt.
Some people are also of the opinion that the government cleared the place to avoid terrorists using the place as hide-out. What is your take on this?
I don’t know about that, all I know is that during the process of clearing the place, we got some ammunition from there. We got some things that could have harm people in that environment. I also know we have criminals living within that community. Within that environment, we have about seven communities with their own traditional rulers. We called them to a meeting about two months before the exercise commenced. Those who are saying that we only gave them 72 hours notice are certainly not saying the truth. We had meetings with all the communities’ leaders in my office. We also had meetings with the LCDA official.
Is it the same situation that is applicable to Kuramo Beach?
Yes, Kuramo Beach had to be shut for a while. It is shut now. We have to bring some sanity into Kuramo Beach. The ministry is working with the Iru/Victoria Island LCDA to carry out the clearance at Kuramo and shut it. All sort of vices was going on at Kuramo Beach. Prostitution, drugs, etc. We had to put a stop to all these vices. Things cannot continue like that. Eventually, Kuramo will be opened again, but only to the people that have the legal and proper permit to be there. The cabins were brought there for foreigners who came to Nigeria during the Under-16 FIFA World Cup hosted by Nigeria years ago. It was meant for their enjoyment during the tournament. But after the tournament, those cabins were turned into something else and I think it is only fair we bring sanity to the place.
What is government going to do about the killing of the Deputy Baale at Makoko?
The incident is very unfortunate. On behalf of the government and the good people that we represent in Lagos State, we are deeply sorry for the incident. But it will not be fair to hear one side of the story and jump into conclusion. There were more things that happened that day before the shooting than what people are saying. But we can’t be talking about that now. We pray for the repose of the soul that was lost in the incident. The government will do whatever is to be done including investigation to make sure justice is done and that the man was not killed unjustly.
Now that the shanties have been cleared, what is government doing for those displaced?
The clearing has not been completed. It is an ongoing process. Government has stopped for a while to give them an opportunity to actually move themselves. Only on Monday, July 23, 2012, they came to the governor’s office and the governor addressed them. He told them that there are boundaries they cannot go beyond. He said they cannot continue to construct these shanties towards the Third Mainland Bridge. They were almost under the Third Mainland Bridge. Anyone that visits Lagos and passes the Third Mainland Bridge will see what an eyesore it is, an example of how not to live. Something has to be done. They cannot pretend not to know that this was coming. Three months back, we did the clearing of Bariga and they knew they were the next. Meetings were held with the leaders. The 72 hours they were talking about was just a notice that government was coming to do its work.
- TOLANI ABATTI
This story was first published in Encomium Weekly edition of Tuesday, July 31, 2014