A series of brutal, government-ordered evictions that left more than 30,000 Nigerians homeless were deemed unconstitutional in a landmark decision by the Lagos High Court on Wednesday, activists said.
The judge ordered a stop to future evictions in a move that could prevent an estimated 270,000 other residents of Lagos from losing their prime waterfront homes to development.
The court case against the government, launched by the Lagos-based human rights organization Justice and Empowerment Initiative (JEI), was run on behalf of dozens of waterfront communities throughout Lagos state.
“People were dancing in the streets afterward. The judge began reading his lengthy ruling at about 11:30 a.m. and finished around midday,” Megan Chapman, JEI co-executive director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo ruled that the rights of the residents had been violated and ordered that the state government stop further evictions and discuss re-settlement.
The government had no immediate comment on the ruling.
Ruling hailed as victory for the poor
Campaigners hailed the ruling as a vindication for poorer residents, whose prime land in Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, is cleared to make way for luxury flats.
“It is a great victory,” Chapman said. “It issues an injunction against the government carrying out any further evictions. They must also consult and arrange for re-settlement if they are to continue with any further eviction.”
One man was shot dead and another wounded when the Lagos state police launched the fourth wave of forced removals from the Otodo Gbame waterfront communities in April.
Bulldozers in the night
The Lagos state government announced its intention to demolish all waterfront slums last October, saying it was for public safety.
A month later, bulldozers accompanied by police escorts arrived after midnight and set fire to a community, forcing residents to flee into their canoes and leaving an estimated 30,000 without shelter.
Chapman said most had moved in with friends or relatives, although many were still living in their canoes.
“For most, conditions are terrible: if they are lucky they are staying in the homes of relatives or friends, with 10 or 15 additional people in a single, family home,” she said.