Amnesty International has urged the Lagos State authorities to provide alternative accommodation for over 30,000 residents of Otodo Gbame community in Lekki, whose houses were demolished in contravention of a court order.
Isa Sanusi, AI Media Manager, in a statement made available to DAILY POST said although it was unclear who ignited the fire on the morning of Wednesday 9th November, eyewitnesses told the organization that policemen present at the scene did not attempt to stop the fire.
“Instead, they were chased away by police officers when they attempted to put it out. After the fire stopped in the afternoon, the police and a demolition team returned overnight with a bulldozer. Eyewitnesses say that the police then started the fire again, forcibly evicting thousands from their homes. At no point were firefighters seen.
“Thousands of residents of Otodo Gbame watched in horror as their homes and possessions were destroyed literally overnight, and their futures plunged into uncertainty. What makes this especially shocking is that on Monday this community was granted an injunction preventing the Lagos State Government from proceeding with the planned demolition of the informal settlements along the State’s waterfronts – the authorities involved in this destruction are in flagrant violation of the law,” the statement quoted Amnesty International Nigeria’s Researcher Morayo Adebayo, as saying.
“We are therefore urging the Lagos State authorities to immediately establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the shocking incident at Otodo Gbame, and provide adequate housing and compensation to all those who have lost their homes.”
“Eyewitnesses reported that the chain of events began on Monday 7th November with a ‘scuffle’ between youths in Otodo Gbame and youths in a neighbouring community. The scuffle escalated on Wednesday morning and resulted in a fire. A statement by police said they had intervened at that point to “restore calm”.
“A 22-year-old woman said that on Wednesday morning, she saw youths setting fire to the homes, and that the police had prevented them from intervening or collecting their belongings. According to her ‘We tried to pack our things but the police [stopped] “By the afternoon of 9th November, approximately a third of the community was already destroyed by the fire. A witness told Amnesty International that the fire stopped around 1.30pm, although there was still smoke in the community. Later that night, at around 11.30pm, the police returned with a bulldozer and began demolishing the remaining houses. “Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that they also set houses on fire as part of this forced eviction, which continued into late in the afternoon on 10th November. One witness told Amnesty International that after the bulldozer demolished their houses, the police set the rubble on fire. Other eyewitnesses also said that the police were setting fire to houses that were still standing.
“A 39-year-old Otodo Gbame resident described to the Amnesty International the chaos that ensued when the destruction unexpectedly resumed overnight on Wednesday: ‘Police were firing guns [into the air], everybody was running helter-skelter so they had to run for dear life… They did not allow anybody to rescue his property, everything was burnt. I was only able to rescue a few items. Most of the property that was burnt is my wife’s property, clothes and children’s clothes. I have a TV and other things; they were burnt down.’
“The same man also reported that he saw people falling into the water in the panic, including young children who were apparently unable to swim. Other residents also told Amnesty International that several people drowned, although the organization could not verify this.
“Amnesty International confirmed with the Public Relations Officer of Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) that the agency was part of the demolition team sent to Otodo Gbame.
“A police statement made on 10 November also confirmed that the ‘State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development would move in to demolish the remaining shanties and clear the rubble caused by the inferno.’”