Megacity Project and Mega Demolition Spree
By Adeola Soetan
To make life more abundance for the people is the fundamental essence of government and governance. This is corroborated by Section 14(b) of 1999 Constitution of Nigeria which states that, “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. And for life to be more abundant for the people, particularly the vast population of vulnerable poor masses and the working class, it is the social and constitutional responsibility of government to provide them with the basic needs of life, food, clothing, housing directly and or guarantee the conducive environment for people to engage in activities to achieve these basic needs of life among others.
While individuals must do all they can to realize their rights to food and life, governments that have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have three levels of obligation. They must:
Respect the right, meaning they cannot take any action that would prevent people from realizing their right to food and adequate welfare.
Protect the right, meaning they have to ensure that no one deprives anyone else
Fulfil the right in two ways; governments must facilitate actions that will strengthen people’s access to and use of resources; and when people are unable to realize this right for reasons beyond their control, governments must provide the means to do so.
The mega city project of Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State severely falls short of putting people at centre piece of its development plan. Notwithstanding how plausible some of the programmes of the mega city are, like the efforts at cleaning up and beautification of the major streets, the mode of implementation is simply objectionable and condemnable. This is as a result of its negative social and economic consequences on thousands of poor masses who are the main victims of this mega demolition whose market stalls and houses are destroyed on daily basis without prior provision for alternatives or compensations from government which they were alleged to have voted into power.
This ruthless, anti-poor exercise is a sad reminder of the military era when brute force was always engaged in dispossessing people of their means of livelihood under the guise of beautifying the city but only for the land acquired ending up with government fronts. The shylock developers, who in turn rebuild, price the property beyond the reach of the initial occupants of the markets and houses. It has also been alleged that some desperate developers go as far as burning down markets and shanties occupied by the poor in order to acquire such for erecting ultra modern market complex. This at times is done in connivance with the roughish state officials. Little wonder that any time a market caught the “usual mysterious fire” always at night, government is ever ready to acquire the land and give to developers, without allowing the original market associations/cooperatives to rebuild such markets. The practice has since continued unabated.
Any mega city project that does not intend to massively build and equip public schools and give free and quality education to citizens for human capital development is a mega farce. Any mega city that does not have well equipped hospitals in all the wards and effectively staffed can only be a cosmetic show. Any mega city that is only adorned with flowers at various roundabouts while the interior and access roads are deplorable is a big sham.
A mega city government should have projection for millions of jobs to be created for millions of youths roaming the streets through efficient allocation of state resources and development of real sectors of the economy. Rather than destroying means of meager livelihood, a mega city governor should put in place economic policies that would promote access to income and provide social security nets in form of unemployment benefits to the displaced and unemployed. Or else the mega city will end up with mega criminals
Mega city should also be pro-poor and not just creating a clean haven for the rich and business class alone. The planning should be systematic and devoid of attempt at pushing people to crime in order to survive. Nothing is wrong with transforming Lagos into a mega city, at least the present governor is trying to do something concrete, a seeming departure from the “chop-up” corruption-friendly eight years of wasteful tenure of his predecessor in power. But such transformation should not be anti poor and drive people into further anguish.
While Fashola revels in the applause of those who have gained something in the mega city project, he should also listen to the wailing of several thousands of distressed victims as exemplified by these two women whose means of livelihood has been eroded.
Iya Mayowa was a foodstuff trader in Oshodi before the mass demolition, she said with tears rolling down her cheek when speaking with the Guardian as reported on January 31: “I am tired of Lagos and life,.. how do I pay my children’s school fees and feed my house? Oh I have lost everything and very soon the money I use for my petty business will be exhausted” she lamented.
Another agonizing voice of Bilikisi Olaomo should not be a sweet song to the governor’s ear, hear her: “I don’t understand what they are saying, they have destroyed my counter and I do not know what to do. Since January 4, till date, I have not sold anything and I have no such money as they for here to rent a shed. I need help and I am calling on the government to come to my aid before the situation overwhelms me”
Paradoxically, these women might have voted for Fashola in the rigged 2007 elections. What a contradiction! However, the situation calls for a critical response by the labouring, poor masses. Elections time must henceforth be used to vote for only those that would implement pro-poor people policies. At the same time, there must be organised mass struggles to fight all anti-poor policies of both federal and state governments.