April 9, 2013
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RIGHTS ACTION CENTER
LAGOS STATE JUDGE CHIPSAWAY AT STATE’S DEMOLITION PRACTICES
Demolitions: Not Authorized Under Environmental Sanitation Law
For years, Lagos residents have watched their homes and businesses demolished – with little or no warning, no compensation and no resettlement – purportedly in enforcement of the State’s environmental sanitation laws. Any structure dubbed “environmental nuisance” by the Ministry of Environment would be issued a 48-hour “abatement notice” and its owners could then expect to see the Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences or the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) Brigade at their doorsteps with bulldozers, armed police, and “area boys” ready to demolish.
Countless Lagos communities have experienced such horror – from Ijora Badia in 2003 and again in February 2013 to Makoko in 2005 and 2010 – and thousands of Lagosians have been left homeless and further impoverished as a consequence.
In a judgment issued on March 5, 2013, Justice O. O. ‘Femi Adeniyi of the Lagos State High Court has put the first judicial dent in the State’s ruthless demolition practices. The judge reinforced the fact that the Environmental Sanitation Law of 2001 does not authorize demolitions. Rather, a person who fails to comply with an “abatement of nuisance” notice can only be penalized with a statutory fine. And such a penalty can only be imposed after a fair hearing before the Special Offenses Court.
The clear implication of the recent judgment is that countless of demolitions carried out by the Lagos State Task Force and KAI Brigade following issuance of “abatement of nuisance” notices over recent years are patently unlawful – and courts may be ready and willing to subject the lawlessness of executive agencies to scrutiny.
The judgment was rendered in a matter, Agbodemu & Ors v Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Enforcement Agency & Ors (M/710/2011), brought by the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) on behalf of four Ebute Metta communities threatened with demolition
that would have rendered hundreds homeless. In the aftermath of major flooding in July 2011, the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment marked houses and business places in Otto Rail Line, Otto Central, Otto Ilogbo, and Ilaje Otumara for demolition and issued a handful of “abatement of nuisance” notices. No attempt was made by the Government to consult with residents or explain their intentions.
Anticipating what would inevitably follow – indiscriminate demolitions without proper notice, consultation, compensation or resettlement – SERAC filed suit on behalf of affected residents for enforcement of their fundamental rights. The suit sought to protect residents through a variety of injunctions, declarations and orders. Sadly, in March 2012, the Lagos State Government proceeded to demolish Otumara Market in Ilaje Otumara, in flagrant disregard for the ongoing litigation based upon which both parties should have respected the status quo.
In the face of such rampant impunity, SERAC sees the recent judgment a small but meaningful achievement in the struggle to protect the social and economic rights of all Lagosians, uphold the rule of law, and curb executive lawlessness.
Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC)
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