West Africa in its pursuit of mega city projects is displacing its citizens and rendering the urban poor homeless. In Nigeria, Lagos state’s demolition of the Badia slum rendered 10,000 persons homeless. A frightening report from Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), an organization in Nigeria, shows that over 2 million Nigerians lost their homes to demolition. In a similar revelation, Violations of Human Rights Global Survey No. 10 shows that 800,000 inhabitants lost their homes to demolition in Abuja as a result of city beautification. In the same vein, 15, 000 persons lost their homes in Ago-Egun Ilaje area of Lagos; over 100,000 in Makoko, and 10,000 at the Agip Waterside Community in Port-Harcourt. In Njemanze waterfront, over 17,000 persons were forcibly evicted from their homes when River state demolished the area as part of the state urban renewal programme for the city of Port Harcourt. Zamfara has concluded the plan to demolish 800 houses in order to build an airport. The government holds that the slums were not built according designated town plans.
The urban poor in Liberia have also lost homes to city beautification projects. Montserrado District 7, in central Monrovia was pulled down and over 10,000 persons lost their homes. The May 2011 Norwegian Refugee Council Report shows that a greater part of Monrovians live in slums. The case is not different from Ghana where in Accra, the state capital, the Metropolitan Assembly pulled down over 1,000 houses at Odawna, rendering over 80,000 persons homeless.
After carrying out demolitions and rendering thousands of the urban poor homeless, governments in West Africa build houses that are too expensive for the poor to afford. Lagos state for instance, plans to build 1,008 housing units at Badia after the demolition. However, it is apparent that the poor cannot afford to live in the government proposed buildings as the displaced inhabitants in Badia earn below $100 a month.
In as much as mega city projects appear pleasant to the eyes, the fundamental question is what shape the future of the majority of the urban poor that are rendered homeless should take. In Lagos state, Nigeria with an estimated population of 18 million, 11.55 million (64.2%) live below the poverty bracket. More worrisome is the fact that the Lagos state population grows at 8% yearly, and going by government estimates, Lagos is likely to have a population of 25 million by 2015.
Governments in West Africa must ensure that as they construct mega cities, the majority of the urban poor ought to have decent inexpensive abodes. The welfare of the urban poor must not be sacrificed on the altar of aesthetics. Development must not be seen as building attractive hotels, office mansions, supermarkets and beautiful roads. Sustainable economic development ought to commence with human development. Demolition of any kind ought to involve a broad process of engaging the victims on relocation and compensation entitlements.
West Africa in its mega city project should put in place suitable policies and programs to handle land and housing challenges. Building low cost housing estates in the satellite towns will adequately decongest the cities thereby reducing the number of victims when carrying out demolitions for mega city project.
Women, children, the poor and those without legal security of tenure bear the brunt of demolition the most. Most of the victims become landless, jobless, homeless, food insecure, ill, and impoverished.
Demolition and displacement of the urban poor is likely to continue in West Africa due to the region’s rapid urbanization rate. With the abuse of respective Land Use Acts by government, allocation of land to private estate developers at the expense of the urban poor the future of the urban poor in West Africa is not guaranteed.
By Audu Liberty Oseni