Impoverished fishing communities in Nigeria’s financial capital, Lagos, celebrated a court ruling on Wednesday that said government demolitions of their homes were illegal.
Residents went to court in October to protest the Lagos state government’s plan to demolish their waterfront communities on the pretext of cutting crime in the megacity.
The government went ahead with the demolitions in a series of raids across the city that saw security agents bulldoze homes to the ground and in April shoot people with live ammunition.
Judge Adeniyi Onigbanjo, sitting at the Lagos State High Court, on Wednesday ruled that the demolitions were unconstitutional and violated the residents’ rights.
He ordered the state government to hold consultations with the communities before any further evictions and provide compensation for the destruction of their property.
“We are mostly relieved, finally we have a decision,” the residents’ lawyer Omotayo Enujiugha told AFP outside court, where over 100 community members had gathered for the verdict.
“We really appreciate the fact that at the end of the day the judge ruled that rights were violated,” he added.
The case has cast a spotlight on how Nigeria is wrestling with rapid urbanisation and population growth in its major cities such as Lagos, which is home to 20 million people.
It is also being seen as a test of Nigeria’s graft-plagued judiciary, which has a reputation for siding with the wealthy and famous.
The residents have been given legal support from the non-profit group Justice and Empowerment Initiatives.
Its co-director Megan Chapman said: “It (the court) found that any demolition or eviction without adequate notice and provision of adequate shelter or resettlement to another location is unconstitutional.
“They ordered that the government must enter into consultation with the residents if they intend on carrying out any further evictions.
“The court gave a clear court order that no further evictions are allowed until that consultation process continues.”
While the residents acknowledged the Lagos government may still try to go ahead with demolitions in the future, they said they were relieved the court had ruled in their favour.
“I’m very grateful. The fear of our people was that the whole community would be torn down,” said Oladipupo Aireomiye, a 38-year-old living in Ebute Ilaje, a community that was handed its eviction notice earlier this year.
“The judgment gives us hope. At least for now we can sleep with our eyes closed.”