LAGOS, NOVEMBER 10, 2016 – Some 30,000 residents of Lagos have become homeless because of state-ordered demolitions and riots among slum dwellers competing for jobs and space, residents and a rights group said on Thursday.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, but that economy has slumped oil revenues fell and hard currency reserves dwindled, forcing the closure of plants unable to import raw materials. Every day, thousands of villagers head to Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, seeking work in a city of 23 million.
A spokeswoman for Lagos police said officers had arrested several people for setting on fire makeshift houses in the affluent Lekki island district. She denied claims by a Lagos-based rights group, the Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), that the police had demolished buildings.
Trouble started when riots erupted this week between local slum settlers and job seekers from Benin Republic, a poor nation located just west of Lagos, residents told a Reuters reporter at the scene, where rows of shanty buildings had been burned down. Some were still burning.
Bulldozers escorted by police arrived late on Wednesday to raze the makeshift housing, JEI said in a statement. It published videos showing people fleeing in boats, an account confirmed by residents.
“Police came at 11 p.m. and ordered us to go. We left by boat,” said a worker called John, who said he had fled with his family after their house had been destroyed. “We have nowhere to go now.”
Lekki is a prime site for investors, who have been building luxury apartments, skyscrapers and waterside restaurants, attracting poor Nigerians and workers from Benin Republic.
In August, the Lagos state government gave residents who lacked building permits two weeks to move out of Lekki and other up-market districts. JIE said officers had gone ahead with demolitions despite a court order to stop such plans pending a hearing.
The Lagos state government could not be reached despite calls to the governor’s press secretary.
The overcrowding in Lagos looks likely to continue. By 2050, Nigeria’s population is set to more than double to 400 million, making it the world’s third most populous nation after China and India, according to U.N. estimates.