A Nigerian Fishing Community Just Fought Gentrification and Won

Lagos state officials claimed the waterfront neighborhood was an environmental hazard.

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Jun 22 2017, 3:34pm

Residents of Otodo Gbame, locked out of the Lagos State High Court. Image: Leke Alabi-Isama

In early April, the Nigerian government ordered police to storm informal neighborhoods built on the shores of Lagos. They used tear gas and fired bullets to force almost 5,000 people from their homes in the fishing communities, and demolished their homes, likely for the lucrative waterfront properties.

The government tried to justify this mass eviction in Otodo-Gbame, a combination of makeshift and low income housing, by saying the communities posed an environmental risk local waterways. But this week the 300,000 people impacted won back the rights to their homes when a Lagos High Court decided they had been unconstitutionally and illegally evicted.

Globally, this kind of sweeping displacement happens often, in the name of development and gentrification. It's all too common for communities living in shantytowns in countries like Brazil and India to be pushed off of their land, even if they've been there for generations. In the US, families are quietly sidelined through hiked up rents and eviction.

The Otodo-Gbame case, then, is not just a win for the communities in Lagos, but a new precedent for fighting back. When Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo delivered the case's decision this week, there were literally hundreds of residents from these communities waiting outside the courtroom, many of whom were now allowed inside.

"His Lordship said that he found evictions without adequate notice and resettlement to be cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," said Megan Chapman, director of Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, an advocacy group in Nigeria in a statement.

Residents asking for justice outside the courthouse. Image: Leke Alabi-Isama

The judge ruled that this move was unconstitutional based on Article 34 of Nigeria's constitution, which requires that any sort of resettlement be done with adequate notice and compensation. He also said the "environmental risk" the Lagos officials claimed was unfounded. The ruling also required the government to compensate the families who have lost their homes and livelihoods thus far.

The fate of the Otodo-Gbame residents is far from secure. The government and developers could plan to push the communities off the land in the future to build up their waterfront. But if the laws are enforced, the families will not live under the threat of sudden and violent eviction.