by Chinaza Onuzo
As expected, both articles created a firestorm of protest, and the now familiar accusations of the overly negative emphasis of the foreign press.
A key part of the controversy centred on the assertion that Lagos State did not make any resettlement provisions for the inhabitants of the slum prior to the demolition. In the NY Times article, the State Housing Commissioner spoke of 1,004 housing units, but considering the slum apparently houses forty thousand inhabitants, it is hard to see how that provision is adequate.
It is possible that the Commissioner envisages that 40 people could share each of these units that they are building. After all they are “slum-dwellers”, so being cramped like sardines may be an improvement in their living conditions.
A lot of “Very Serious People” were sympathetic to the Lagos State’s plight, and went on social media to explain the need for the hard choices that the State had to make. They sympathised with the poor, and understood the need for resettlement planning in theory, but felt that the lack of the plan should not derail the “rehabilitation of Lagos”. After all the Lagos Mega City is coming and all must accept that the process will naturally create winners and losers.
However the discussion of Lagos State wanting to compensate the inhabitants of Ijora Badia is somewhat moot. Even if the government had developed a conscience and decided to do that which obtains worldwide, it could not afford to. As mentioned above there are an estimated forty thousand residents in the neighbourhood. If like most responsible governments, this one had chosen to resettle them, it would have to spend a minimum of N40 billion.
To put this N40 billion in perspective, it helps to know that the total budget of Lagos State for 2013 is N485billion. It also helps to know that the state is already borrowing 10% of that sum. It is hard to imagine a state government in Nigeria willingly putting itself further in debt to the amount of 10% of its budget to properly cater for the poor.
Furthermore if it needs to displace another forty thousand residents in the future, it will not want to set that sort of precedent.
The poor must understand that their sacrifice is necessary to create the Lagos that the upper and middle classes dream of. The Lagos Mega City is coming and nothing must stand in its way.
To buttress the point, and hint about the policy of Lagos State, in a recent interview given to Channels the Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development said the following “The Lagos State Government does not recognize any structure in the state that is not registered on a database in the laptop used by Olutoyin Ayinde, the Commissioner of Physical Planning and Urban Development. What happened at Ijora Badia then was not a demolition but a clearing of a refuse dump.”
The policy is simple. Lagos State will continue to resist any and all attempts to make the State financially responsible for the costs of resettlements of the inhabitants of these slums. The State will also rely on its rights and powers under the Land Use Act and our weak legal system to ensure that this state of affairs is maintained.
The Lagos State government and the Very Serious People will continue to get their wish; a Lagos State development agenda uncontaminated by the needs of the poor. The Lagos Mega City is coming, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
With these policies, Lagos State is also trying to develop a precedent; that the needs of the state are paramount when it comes to development. It is easy to envisage a future when Lagos State will take the bulldozers to the houses and offices of the rich and famous in order to allow for further development. The need to widen the Lagoon around the Lekki axis to allow for larger ferries, to demolish houses to make way for monorail in Victoria Island, or to destroy offices in Lagos Island to widen the roads are easily seen.
Hopefully when the time comes all these structures will be found on the Commissioner’s laptop, to avoid them being demolished as refuse sites. However if the demolition does occur, the owners of these properties should be rest assured that the Very Serious People will be on hand to tell them that it is for the good of the State. The Lagos Megacity is coming, and nothing must be allowed to stand in its way.