Takwa Bay, a slum in Lagos where illegal petroleum activities and other illicit businesses boom was recently demolished and many former residents rendered homeless. In this report, OGUNTADE ISMAILA takes a cursory look at the reason for the demolition.
Tarkwa Bay Island is a slum community in Iru/Victoria Island local council development area of Lagos State. Generally referred to as Atlas Cove Communities, the place is perceived as one of the many voiceless, under-served and neglected riverine communities in Lagos State which is only relevant to politicians when campaigns are near.
This slum was notorious for crimes and criminality of all sorts. However, not less than 300 points used to illegally siphon petrol were recently discovered along the NNPC’s pipelines in this settlement by the Western Naval Command in Lagos.
The ancient community made up of six villages, Tarkwa Bay, Okun Ayo, Agbagbo, Ebute-Oko, Store and Ogogoro, has existed for over 100 years and yet there are no roads for movement in and out of the community which houses hundreds of thousands of people. This situation and a plethora of other challenges including rural-urban migration and lack of government presence, over time, forced Tarkwa Bay to transform into a shantytown.
The dwellers in this community are people from different tribes in Nigeria and foreigners. They speak Yoruba, Pidgin and English as common languages for communication and they are predominantly fishermen, coconut farmers, petty traders, boat drivers, chandlers and tour guides although, there are few residents of the community who work or do their businesses at the uptown of the state.
A lot of illegal activities go on in this community that can only be reached via the waterways beginning from Mekwe jetty, near Bony Camp, on Lagos Island, using boats and ferries. Investigations revealed that sex is hawked without guilt here and living healthy appears to be a mirage all thanks to the availability of drugs such as Indian hemp whose whiff perpetually hangs in the air as both men and women puff the stuff in the open, all day and night. Cocaine is also freely sold and used here for N200 a pinch. In fact, it is near impossible to see a youth who is not an addict of one drug or another here. Gambling is also a pastime done in the open as people bet on card games or snooker. Some of the men also pimp girls to customers.
With all these activities thriving, there no doubt that Tarkwa Bay is a haven for criminals, serving as hideout for anyone who are on the run from security agents.
Some residents of the bay, especially the men, are also known to be neck-deep in pipeline vandalism. Here, 50 litres of diesel sells for N2,000. And the place has no presence of as few as a single policeman or a police post.
To halt the infamous criminality in this slum, officers from the Nigerian Navy recently evicted residents of the community after just an hour notice. The exercise came as a directive from the Lagos State government after the tour of different communities which host the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) pipelines, especially where oil wells were dug to siphon fuel.
Speaking on the development, Operation Commander of AWATSE and Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command in Lagos, Rear Admiral, Oladele Daji, said not less than 300 points were discovered along the NNPC’s pipelines used to illegally siphon petrol were dismantled by the members of the operation during the exercise.
He said Operation AWATSE, would be sustained under Operation KUROMBE and the reason that Operation KUROMBE is different from the ongoing operation was that after this phase, it will enter the stabilisation phase and that is to ensure sustenance of their presence.
“We’re always going to be adequately present both at the water-fronts and also on the Islands so that we can make it difficult for criminals to gain a foothold on the Islands. I want to say never again will we allow them to perpetuate the kind of economic sabotage that they have been perpetrating in the country.
“It is just a few criminal elements that have thousands of jerrycans stored in their backyards; they have wells dogged around their compounds and concealed them were those we removed.”
Noting that not only Nigerians reside in this slum, Daji said that most of these criminally-minded people are Ghanaians, Beninese and Togolese citizens.
Consequently, he advised that the good and law-abiding citizens should go about their lawful businesses without fear and assured them that they would not be intimidated by anyone. Adding that, operation began on December 21, 2019, and the areas enumerated for demolition include; Old Akinbo which has 12 structures, five structures at Aditu, Phase 2 has 17 structures, Ikate has 22 structures, Upstairs has five structures while Virgin Land has three structures.
He noted that the operation was conducted in line with its mandate and rule of engagement which is to curb pipeline vandalism, crude oil and petroleum product theft, anti-kidnapping, anti-robbery, and anti-cultism.
It is also to curb other related criminal activities that could impact negatively on the security of Lagos and Ogun; particularly Epe and Ogun waterside.
The mandate entailed the protection of the critical NNPC pipelines, within the Right Of Way from Atlas Cove to Mosimi were billions of naira had been lost to the activities of pipeline vandals.
Meanwhile, a group under the auspices of Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, and Justice and Empowerment Initiatives has condemned the demolition and forced eviction of Okun Ayo and Tarkwa Bay communities in Lagos.
They recalled that the residents of the two communities were evicted by the Nigerian Navy acting on “orders from above” recently.
The groups held that the eviction was carried out in brazen disregard for due process of law and other fundamental rights guaranteed the residents by the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other human rights laws.
According to the group, ‘‘personnel of the Nigerian Navy stormed the communities, shot sporadically into the air while giving residents one hour to pack their belongings and exit the community.’’
In a statement jointly signed by Megan Chapman, Mohammed Zanna, Akinrolabu Samuel, Bimbo Oshobe of Justice and Empowerment Initiatives, and Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation posited that forced evictions were a gross violation of international human rights law binding on Nigeria.
The statement reads in part, “Several persons reported violence and that at least one resident was shot in the leg and excavators reportedly began working in Okun Ayo community bringing down buildings, with military stationed to stop any entrance to that area.
However, the director of Technical Services, Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, Lagos State, Mr. Muritala Adekunle-Balogun said that the state government would not fold its arms while the country was being sabotaged by saboteurs.
“The government cannot fold its arms were illegal occupants are sabotaging the economy of Nigeria, the Lagos State government will not be part of it,” he said.
He said that most of the structures in the areas the team visited were illegal and did not have any approval from the government, saying that those that had permits were not demolished.
“Lagos State has not licensed anybody to occupy this place so, most structures found here are illegal structures, their owners never got any permit or approval from the Lagos State government.
“The relaxation centers were not affected by this Operation because they have our permit. But those that did not have a permit are the ones carrying out illegal activities and they are the targets of the government.
“Those are the ones sabotaging the economy,” he said adding that the Lagos State government has a master-plan that covers all parts of the state.
The director said that with the recent update, the state would put strong machinery in motion to ensure that there was compliance with the physical planning law by citizens of the state.
The general manager, Land and Assets Administration, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Mr. Yusuf Ahmed, said that the demolition of illegal structures along the NNPC’s pipelines was an interesting and right development.
“I will say it is an interesting development for me because these people have been on NPA’s property without its permission, they have been squatters and we are interested in seeing them off.
“So, it’s a right development. For us, it has been difficult to send them out, now that they are out, we are happy.
“They have been there, but we have been unable to eject them. And since they have been engaging in illegal activities including oil bunkering, carrying and removing fuel, it has become necessary for the security agencies to come and eject them. And we are happy about it,” he said.
Ahmed said that since the Operation had helped to demolish the illegal structures, the NPA would move in to secure its land.
“We are moving in to secure our lands, we will take over and make sure that nobody comes into trespass. We will use the land for the purposes to which it was acquired (port-related development). They are Nigerian Ports Authority acquired land for port-related activities and that is what you will see coming up there,” he said.
According to Joseph, a guard at the Pipeline and Products Marketing Co. Ltd. jetty near Tarkwa Bay, alleged that most of the disputes between the officials and residents were mainly wife or girlfriend snatching.
He said that in Tarkwa Bay, stealing is a taboo or rather very rare. According to him, everybody knows everybody. Moreover, nobody has anything that could be stolen because they are all in need.
“Life in Tarkwa Bay is expensive. Perhaps, this has to do with the location of the place. On the island, a bottle of beer is sold at N250. Sachet of water (pure water) costs N10 each. Gold Circle condom is sold at N50 a pack.
Our tour guide Samuel (surname withheld) for security purposes described the situation, in impeccable English, saying thus: “Really, it is suffering and smiling. I don’t believe that anyone is living in this community willingly, saying it is a matter of lack of choice or a conducive place to manage.”
He said, “The task of living in Tarkwa Bay presents a huge challenge. I think the situation here reflects the picture of the Nigerian society, where everyone is for himself. Tarkwa Bay is a manifestation of system failure, it is a manifestation of the failure of the government to live up to its responsibility; we are living in the worst condition, but we are managing to smile.”
Expressing her grief, 21-year-old Peace James, who is a commercial sex worker told our reporter that she was not happy with the development.
She lamented that the most painful part is that it will affect her business.
Explaining how she join prostitution she said: “I was tricked into prostitution by my aunty. She brought me to Lagos, promising to give me a good future. But things changed when I got to Lagos and she put me in a hostel at Apapa, where men come to sleep with us after paying to her.
‘‘I had to run away from there and came to this place because I reasoned that if I must be a hustler, I have to be my own boss. I am afraid that if she catches me, she could take her pound of flesh, that’s why I am hiding here and now that government has evacuated everybody, I hope to learn a vocation, like fashion designing, with little money I have saved.”
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