Last week, I received my copy of the premier edition of the Irin Journal, a bi-annual African culture and travel magazine which seeks to discuss African culture, people and communities. I was captivated by the piece ‘Finding Home’ on Wale Silva, an artist and a Tarkwa Bay resident and I was struck by the timing. Whether or not you believe in coincidences, it is curious that the interview conducted in mid-2019 is published and of particular relevance at a time when Tarkwa Bay residents were forcibly evicted from their home on the 21st January 2020. Wale Silva brought a real sense of the journey to find home, however that is conceptualized. From his childhood in Lagos – did you know that you could get Christmas trees from Ikoyi Park, now Parkview Estate, an estate without a park. Wale spoke of his childhood, weekly visits to the National Museum in Onikan where there were free Saturday cultural classes for films and art. For me, it shows that to some extent Nigeria used to work and this is encouraging because the decay happened over time and the rebuilding, must happen over time.
Wale described his travels around the world and his decision to eventually settle in Tarkwa and by so doing he painted a vivid picture of a community that was vibrant. Not without its struggles but vibrant, residents who sought a calmer pace of life and wanted to be close to Lagos and contribute in some way, to the experience of life: the surf school to develop the surfing community in Lagos, the work residents had been doing to stem plastic waste and the last time I visited Tarkwa as I loved to do, I remember remarking on its cleanliness and was told that the residents really put an effort to clean up the beach, clean up the waste that comes in from Lagos.
And now, all that has vanished.
Evictions are not new, and beachfront evictions particularly so. On Tuesday, the 20th of August last year, residents of Wxlacodji beach in neighbouring Cotonou were forcibly removed from their community with 160 houses demolished. The residents had been given two weeks’ notice to vacate their homes. In July 2019, representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development together with the Mayor of Cotonou had visited several waterfront communities along the Cotonou lagoon and Lake Nokoue to mark some houses for eviction. They provided no information about subsequent resettlement. Following this notice, federation members of six waterfront communities under threat quickly organised to write to the Ministry, the representative of the Littoral Department, and the Mayor of Cotonou in search of a reason. They received a response: the residents of the waterfronts of Cotonou were uncivilised and were at the risk of public health. There is no documentation on the current use of the site which was once known as the Wxlacodji beach community.
If only this had been the case for Tarkwa Bay residents. Tarkwa Bay is an island along the coastal cove which became a settlement for thousands of Lagosians for over three decades and provided a relaxation area outside of Lagos. About two weeks ago, on the 21st of January 2020, the residents of Tarkwa bay were forcefully evicted with disregard according to news outlets for the safety and security of the residents. The manner of the eviction by the Navy who shot and assaulted residents. No notice was given to the 4,500 residents who were rendered homeless. The reason given: pipeline vandalism.
Understandably, cities evolve and as the infrastructural pressures of a congested city such as Lagos rise, city officials are given the task of how to address the requirements of the population. Many times, only a segment of the population is focused on, explanations given as always – the trickle-down effect.
The trickle-down effect does not work. Rising economic growth results in rising inequality, one need only to look at the inequality rates in emerging economies to see that trickling down brings only a trickle, leaving a significant proportion of inhabitants dispossessed, marginalised, feeling increasingly hopeless. And it is this hopelessness that we must focus on and address. Because when a man has been pushed to the wall, and realises there is nowhere else to go, he becomes fearless. Fearlessness and hopelessness do not mix well.
So, is there any hope, what can we learn from this and what does this all mean? My point of view tries to see how the experience of life in our society can be enhanced, how we understand the way of life and what can be done to advance this for economic, social and environmental gain. This issue is quite complex and difficult to unpack in a single article. To be continued.
- Dr Adun Okupe is a researcher focused on socio-cultural development in Nigeria. She focuses on leadership as a tool for sustainable development wi