The Lagos State government arrived Otodo-Gbame fishing community with guns and bulldozers. It left behind a community in ruins.
Moments later, the slum of over 5,000 inhabitants had been reduced to rubble.
When Pulse visited Otodo-Gbame on Monday, March 20, 2017, the displaced residents were in anguish.
"The policemen and MOPOL (mobile police officers) arrived all at once and started shooting sporadically. There was a helicopter hovering overhead. Trucks moved in and began bringing down our homes and people ran in different directions for their lives”, said Geoffrey Shimave who was spotting an Arsenal kit and who looked every bit as harassed as the next guy.
Shimave said he has lived in the now levelled settlement for a decade.
Otodo-Gbame community stands as a paradox--it is a slum of shanties, peasants, mat-weaving fishermen and divers who are just a few meters away from the wealth, interlocked roads and high-rise buildings of Lekki Phase 1 and the rest of highbrow Lagos Island.
As we strode the length of the demolished settlement, posh cars made the rounds a few blocks away.
Here in Otodo-Gbame, living from hand to mouth is totally a thing.
And the folks here had no qualms until last Friday, they told Pulse.
“Is it a crime to be poor?”, one gentleman dressed in a T-Shirt asked Pulse repeatedly.
He had lost his once thriving bar in the demolitions, he said.
“We were completely taken by surprise”, said Bamidele Friday, who introduced himself to Pulse as the spokesperson of the community.
“There is a court order asking the Lagos State government to stay action and not to move in here with bulldozers. We are not illegal settlers. Our parents have lived here since the 17th century. They emigrated from Dahomey. Our children were born here. We have lived here all our lives.
“It is the Ikate-Elegushi people who are behind this. They asked the State government to come demolish our homes. When we went to Alausa, the Lagos State government denied that it was behind the demolitions. So who brought all those policemen and MOPOL?”, Friday inquired, incredulously.
One after the other, the displaced residents told Pulse that the Ikate-Elegushi folks “who are wealthier, are now after our land. Let the Lagos State government stay out of this and let’s handle these Ikate-Elegushi people, man to man".
Everywhere Pulse looked on a sandy terrain, were piles after piles of demolished shacks, fallen standard buildings and a community that is yet to recover from last Friday—that may well never recover from last Friday.
The Friday from hell.
“The excuse was that we were building shanties around here. And then we started building standard buildings made of cement. When they arrived here with guns last week, they spared neither shanty nor standard buildings. They brought everything down”, said Tony John who said he earned a living as a ship captain when he's not fishing.
“They brought down our churches and mosques. They brought down our schools. They brought down everything. All without warning”, said John.
He was wearing a white singlet that had now turned brown from overuse.
“It’s the only item of clothing I have left”, John told Pulse. “All our belongings are now several feet under or in the sea. We’ve been treated worse than dogs.
“When they arrived that Friday morning, our mothers, fathers and children scampered for safety as fast as their legs could carry them. Most ended up in the Atlantic and got drowned. As I speak with you, we can’t find some members of our families. Akinwunmi Ambode (the Lagos State Governor) sent the Police to kill us”, John lamented.
It was lamentation all around what was once a bustling community as Pulse interacted with residents who have no idea where there’ll be spending the night.
All they had were the clothes on their backs.
The roofs over their heads have been taken away from them in the most cruel way imaginable.
"This is hell", a lad screamed from a canoe floating on the creeks.
“The government should protect the poor. But our government detests and kills its poor. Our only offence is that we are not as rich as our Ikate-Elegushi neighbours who now want our land.
“The Lagos State government is using Ikate-Elegushi as front to seize a land that belongs to us. For hundreds of years, we’ve lived and fished here. Now they call us illegal settlers.
“They destroyed our shrines too. The gods we worshipped with the Elegushi people were also destroyed. Our gods that kept us safe”, John moaned with a vigorous shake of the head.
Pulse was conducted round shrine after shrine of gods whose heads have now been chopped off by bulldozers; amid the smell of smoked fish wafting in the still air.
The wells from where the Otodo-Gbame people once scooped water to drink and do their laundry, was now submerged in filth and earth.
The children were in tears. They were literally eating from the dustbin. The livelihoods of their parents have been imperiled.
Mama Owhe Dansu, the Imam and Alhaja of the mosque that once stood as a place of worship, took turns to swear and curse the Lagos State government and the Elegushi people.
Everyone here had terrible things to say about the Elegushi people—"the wealthy neighbours who now want our land and who are being backed by the Lagos State government to seize our land for the developers".
There were a few misty eyes as Pulse walked round beaches of shanties and poverty.
A few residents of Elegushi on the other side of the lagoon declined comments for this story when approached.
A day before the backhoes moved in to demolish the fishing settlement, a High Court had barred the Ambode led Lagos State government from bringing down all illegal waterfront communities like the Governor had threatened to do.
Megan Chapman, who is the co-director of Justice Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a community-based legal and empowerment organisation, told Premium Times that the demolition job was illegal.
“As you are probably aware, there is a case going on right now between 15 waterfront communities including Otodo-Gbame in which JEI is representing the community as counsel.
"The Lagos State High Court gave an interim ruling on the 26th of January saying that this type of demolition without an opportunity for people to find alternative shelter or without provision of alternative shelter constitute cruel and degrading treatment.
“The court ordered the state government to go into a mediation with us.
“We started the mediation process last week and it is still on-going and we were supposed to report to the court at the beginning of next month.
"The court also ordered that the parties should maintain the status quo until the ending of the mediation and the subsequent judgement of the court. So this is in direct violation of the court order,” she said.
Pulse did reach out to Commissioner for information and strategy in Lagos State, Steve Ayorinde, but he wasn’t immediately available for comments.
Calls placed to his cellphone were neither answered nor returned at press time.