By Lajuwon Lasisi
How would you determine or classify the illegality of occupancy of Makoko land which has been domiciled by the evicted people for more than two centuries ago before the great, great grandfathers of the Lagos State Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructural Development, Mr. Adesegun Oniru, were born?
We put it to Fashola government that the occupation of Makoko land by the predominantly fishermen from Ijaw, Ilaje, Egun and Yoruba extractions, predated the coming of British colonial masters, when Lagos became one of the British protectorates before the amalgamation of the West, East and North, as one geographical expression of a country called Nigeria in 1914. The idea of law of occupancy might have emanated since the establishment of Lagos as a protectorate.
Nevertheless, for Mr. Oniru to declare in July, 2012, that Makoko people are illegal occupants of the land, is a crime against history. We presume Dr. Felix Morka of SERAC would use history and the law of occupancy to defend the rights of the people. The forceful ejection or eviction of the entire people of Makoko community from their ancestral land, followed by demolition of their shacks and properties, has created a refugee status for the victims. The dislodgment has turned them to destitute even in their own state, particularly at this period of rainy season.
The Commissioner in charge of the destruction of Makoko was said to have revealed that no alternative accommodation would be provided for the forceful eviction of Makoko people. It is wickedness bordering on man’s inhumanity to man to deliberately sack the entire 300,000 Makoko people from their own ancestral place for the sake of waterfront development.
The way you are going about this issue of environmental protection, which is devoid of human face is unacceptable to mankind. The ruthless execution of this project in Makoko would definitely destroy certain cultural heritage of Nigerian fishermen who are known to live on waterfront anywhere you find them along the littoral seashore of the southern part of Nigeria. Time will come when our children, your children, and your co-travellers’ children in the destruction of this culture will regret that their parents denied them the right to know and learn about the culture of fisher-men – the culture of living on water, fishing around and far away from their shacks, and patronizing their cultural trade on the water.
What the government of Adesegun Oniru should have done is to turn Makoko slum to another Victoria garden, or rather, a miniature Atlantic City, for the Makoko people after completion. But how are we sure Oniru would allow relocation of the Makoko people back to the place, particularly when he has already declared them illegal occupants, even on their own ancestral land of more than two centuries? No wonder Oshipona, a Chief of Makoko land, was killed by the gun shot of a policeman, to show the world that Makoko people are mere destitute, and wretched of the earth, who could be mindlessly around because the commissioner wants to protect the environment, rather than the people, who by nature, have been destined to live and ply their trade on water.
Another innovative dimension was brought to the crisis by Lagos State governor Fashola on Tuesday, 23rd July, 2012, when he promised to provide alternative accommodation for the people. This is a cheery news for the people, but the governor should go further in his promise by making sure that after the development of Makoko, it should be reverted back to the evicted people who are the original occupants of the land. Because our sad experience on Maroko village should not be allowed to happen at Makoko. Under the pretence of protecting the interest of Maroko people who were living on the beach, from the threatening ocean surge of tides and waves, which could swallow them anytime, the Ibadan-born Military Governor of Lagos State, Raji Rasaki, lured the residents of Maroko village from their homes, and allocated the land to the rich. Whereas the original ejected wretched of the earth were given inadequate accommodation, many of them were not commensurably compensated. The struggle for better reprieve from the government is still in progress 25 years after. Our premonition is that God will judge the former governor accordingly at the appropriate time for throwing uncountable number of families and individuals into the mouths of the shylock landlords.
What we are trying to say is that Makoko people should not be treated like Maroko people, but to develop Makoko as a mini-mega village for the evicted people of Makoko. That is the best way to compensate the aggrieved people who were already declared illegal occupants, even in their own country. In 2007, we assumed Fashola’s government was all about welfarism. He took over the political arena from his boss like a colossus, executing various projects that touch the life of mankind. His road infrastructural project was unequalled, culminating in the 10-lane Lagos/Badagry expressway, which is still under construction. The light rail project between Okokomaiko and railway terminus at Iddo is on course, so also is improvement on the water ways to transport people to their place of work.
We can also talk about his effort to improve health care delivery in Lagos State, and free education up to high school level which are also on course. His employment strategy has provided jobs for thousands of our youths, apart from the informal sector of the economy, where various artisan associations are exposed or have access to micro finance loans from micro finance banks to empower them in their trades and improve their standard of living. All these feasible achievements contributed to some state governors from other states to visit Fashola, including the former speaker of House of Representatives, in order to learn about the magic he used to achieve a lot. Also to be mentioned is the beautification of Lagos with grass and flowers. A typical example is the Oshodi major bus stop, and its environ, and coming from Jibowu to Ojuelegba, where the appearance of the environment in the two places portrays Orlando environment in USA.
However, in recent times, it appears the government of Fashola is fast derailing. The governor should quickly halt this derailment so as to have a brighter political future in the scheme of things. For example the increase in the LASU school fees from N25,000 to about N285,000 is regrettable and unacceptable, and should be reversed. What the governor should aim to achieve is to make education free from primary to university level. In fact, all Yoruba speaking states, including Edo state, have potentials to make education free, as the only legacy they could bequeath to our children. If governor Okorocha of Imo state could make education free, Governor Fashola and others should also make education free in their states.
The other issue is the collection of toll on Lekki-Epe road which has not been completed. In fact, it is about one kilometre of the road at Lekki-Maroko side that has been completed. It is not fundamentally right for any government to allow such to happen. If those whom government of Fashola gave the contract to lack money to execute the project, they should not be allowed to exploit the people before doing their work. That is pure extortion of the common people who are being forced to cough out the toll for the road which is far from being completed. In a civilised society, this type of contract cannot be allowed to take place. The best thing that Governor Fashola should do to buy back the people’s confidence is to stop forthwith the toll being collected at the toll gate. It is detrimental to the interest of the entire people of Lagos.
Unfortunately for the government, the genesis of the contract is known to many people who are skeptical about the initial promise of the governor to serve the people and not the other way round. As a matter of fact, we were opportune to write articles on some of the achievements of the Fashola government, like on health care delivery, his employment drive to create jobs for the youths, declaration of automatic employment for the graduates of LASU, and taking care of informal sector of the economy by empowering it through micro-finance loans, etc. which are highly commendable to be considered as real achievements.
However, his 2nd coming appears suspect, due to certain reactionary and extraneous measures or steps which are not in consonance with Fashola’s ideological technocratic posture in carrying out his programme of welfarism, which showcased the young governor as the best administrator in his first coming.
•Lasisi wrote this piece from Lagos