The men in naval uniforms charged into the Nigerian waterfront village of Okun Glass in the morning, chased out the residents, then called in bulldozers.
De facto village leader, 75-year-old Dauda Musa, said he fled as the men fired guns into the air. “They demolished our homes,” he said, standing in the rubble of what was once home to 3,000 people down the coast from the megacity Lagos.
Nigeria’s navy said it had moved in to clear an illegal settlement – and accused some of the residents of vandalising nearby pipelines to steal crude. “This operation was not conducted in secrecy,” naval commander Thomas Otuji said.
Musa said his fellow villagers were farmers and fishermen, not thieves. And rights groups say the raid on Jan. 3 was part of a much wider trend where the government, backed by the military, clears informal settlements to make way for luxury housing and other developments.
The accusations and counter-accusations highlight an increasingly fraught confrontation between officials, activists and small communities, exacerbated by the dramatic expansion of Nigeria’s cities, most of all Lagos – a coastal giant that dwarfs the capital Abuja inland.
“There have been persistent evictions across Lagos. Dozens of communities on the island have been evicted,” Akinrolabu Samuel, a campaigner with the Nigeria Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, said at a rally against the evictions this week.
“It’s because of real estate,” he added. “It’s for real estate development.”