By Emmanuel Udom
Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON), at a recent press conference in Lagos, called on the Lagos state government to stop recent spate of destruction of 24 water-front communities and the whimsical ban on okada and keke marwa operators in the state.
Gbenga Komolafe, general secretary of FIWON, stated at the conference that his NGO was speaking on behalf of the teeming population of working people in the informal sector of Lagos State which comprise of over 80% of the adult working population of the State, the Federation of Informal Workers’ Organizations of Nigeria (FIWON) which is a platform of representation for working people in the informal sectors of the Nigerian economy wish to use this opportunity to call on the Lagos State Government of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to reverse itself on some of the extremely damaging steps it has taken in recent weeks.
According to him, in the past one month, about twenty-four communities including Okun Ayo, Okunglass, Abule Elepa, Tarkwa Bay, Abagbo, Ajakoji, Akaraba, Bobukoji, Ebute Oko, Fashola, Idi Mango, Ilase, Inangbe/Ilado, Kopamy, Ogunfemi, Okun Alfa, Okun Babakati, Okun Gbogba, Okun Ilase, Okun Kobena, Sankin, Sapo Okun and Tokunbo communities, mostly in AmuwoOdofin Local Government as well as the Ibeju Lekki Local Government areas of the state have been leveled by men of the Nigerian Navy working in collaboration and tacit approval of the Lagos State Government.
Scores of thousands of families have been rendered homeless by a government that swore to provide basic security for them.
Not only have homes and ancestral landmarks and monuments been destroyed, thousands of livelihoods providing basic subsistence to the residents of these communities have also been destroyed at a time that so many Nigerians are sufferingthe consequences of mass unemployment.
Thousands of children can longer go to school because their schools have been leveled. The major reason given for this action is that residents of these communities have been engaged in illegal, criminal activities such as oil bunkering and vandalization of NNPC pipelines.
We find this excuse specious, if not outrightly wicked. How can so many communities including the elderly, women and children all be involved in bunkering?
How many of these people have been arrested and prosecuted by law enforcement agencies, if this allegation were true? If indeed some residents of this community were involved in criminal activities, would the solution lie in wholesale destruction of their homesteads without any plan in place for resettlement and rehabilitation of innocent people including the elderly, women and children?
Were this spate of latest eviction the first of its kind, maybe we would have taken this excuse seriously. Rather, we see it as part of the campaign of dispossession of the poor of their ancestral land, a campaign that has been on for decades in Lagos State.
Still very fresh in our memory is the daylight storming and destruction of the OtodoGbame community in 2017 by armed hoodlums while security agencies looked on.
It is also within this context that several markets, mechanic villages and informal working clusters have been demolished without any attempt at resettling those displaced.
The destruction of the Babs Animashaun Mechanic Village with thousands of mechanics displaced is a case point. The popular Katangowa market has also been leveled throwing thousands of traders into the unemployment market. We wish to state that Lagos State cannot continue to trample on the basic rights of poor working people like this without dire social consequences both in the short term and in the long run.
The Ban on Okada and Keke Marwa
The Lagos State government announced a ban on motor cycle and three-wheel vehicles known as Keke-Marwa used as popular taxi in Lagos neighbourhoods from February 1, 2010.
The ban has been effected not only in the Apapa LGA and ApapaIganmu LCDA, Lagos Mainland LG and Yaba LCDA, Surulere LGA, Itire-Ikate and Coker-Aguda LCDAs, Ikeja LGA, Onigbongbo and Ojodu LCDAs, Eti-Osa LGA, Ikoyi-Obalende and Iru/Victoria Island LCDAs, then Lagos Island LGA and Lagos Island East LCDA, but also in areas and neighbourhoods not covered by the ban.
Some of the reasons given for the ban are that the keke and okada are responsible for so much accidents on Lagos roads, that these modes of transportation aid and abet crimes etc. Some of the apologists of the ban have also alleged that so many young people from the Northern parts flocking into the okada business in Lagos are actually agents of destabilization primed to detonate bombs at an appointed time. Because of the gravity of these allegations and their security implications, we shall attempt to respond in some detail to these allegations.
While we admit to the reality of the fact that okada are easily prone to fatal accidents on highways, we hasten to add that allowing okada on these major highways is a failure of regulation on the part of law enforcement agencies saddled with the responsibility of road traffic management in Lagos.
The motley crowds of traffic police, LASTMA and Federal Road Safety officials on these roads simply ignore to control and restrain okada and indeed other commercial public transport operators and commercial drivers on these roads.
Apart from the fact that the Keke Marwa has not been known to ply highways, extending the ban to inner roads and neighbourhood transport routes is whimsical and ill thought out.
Even in highbrow gated communities such as Omole Estate and Ikeja GRA, residents, who have all the leverage to restrict Keke Marwa from entering their gates into the communities, allow them because they are aware that not all the residents are car owners.
Now residents of these estates and hundreds of other out of the way neighbourhoods across the local governments are groaning in pains as they are forced to trek impossible distances to the major roads where they can catch buses to their destinations.
Not only that, many car owners who only make use of their cars occasionally, and who rely on okada and keke marwa to transport from their remote neighbourhoods and communities to major bus stops, are now forced to use their cars leaving most Lagos neighbourhood and major roads clogged with cars resulting in terrible traffic gridlocks since the commencement of the ban. If there are alternative means of transport to be provided by the state government like we are being made to believe, why not come out with this first, before the blanket ban?
Lastly, we wish to stress that the level of ethnic profiling that has accompanied this ban in itself pose a serious security threat.
If indeed Northern youths have been armed with okada and bombs to unleash mayhem at an appointed time as being alleged in some quarters, just how does a blanket ban now stop them from detonating their bombs?
Do they need okada to detonate bombs? We believe this allegation deserves very serious investigation by the authorities rather than a mere ban on a mode of transportation in some selected local governments.
More importantly, on this issue of security, we want to use this opportunity to warn about the grievous security threat posed by the observed gross underfunding of Lagos State public education system which is still largely understaffed and overpopulated by children of the poor.
Too many of these children and young people are dropping out of these schools and getting recruited into dangerous cult groups en-masse. This is perhaps the number one security threat faced by Lagos today!
- We call on the Lagos State government to unveil its much talked about transportation policy for input by informed members of the public because we believe policies are toserve people and not the other way. There is a necessity for a sustainable multi-modal transport system incorporating safe water transportation, completion of abandoned rail projects and integration of keke and okada transport modes in the inner communities of Lagos.
- A reasonable and sustainable transport system should reflect the primitive transport infrastructures and predominant informal economy status of Lagos State. New Delhi, a bigger megacity with far better transport infrastructures than Lagos, allows the use of tricycles as taxi.
- A stop to the criminalization of poor communities and the wanton eviction and destruction of water front communities as well as work places.
- Rehabilitation and resettlement of displaced residents of evicted communities.
- Displaced mechanics at the Babs Animashaun Mechanic Village should be allowed to return to their workshop which has been under armed occupation of land grabbers aided and abetted by operatives of Lagos State government. Displaced traders of Katangowa must also be given an alternative space to their business. This is the least we would expect of the Lagos State Government.
- Lagos development plans must incorporate the needs for informal work clusters and affordable social housing and urban development strategies that compensate and rehabilitate those evicted from their homes and communities.
We wish to reiterate the fact that development is evolutionary and organic within the frame work of overarching socio-economic realities. If the vast majority of the working people of Lagos State are forced to survive in the low paying, highly precarious informal sector, then it goes without saying that development must commence from this reality. This corresponds with extant international conventions and covenants such as:
- Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economy growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
- Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
- ILO Recommendation 204: Promote local development strategies, both rural and urban, including regulated access for use of public space and regulated access to public natural resources for subsistence livelihoods.