For hundreds of people living in Tarkwa Bay, Tuesday morning began in a fairly routine manner. Children going to school, families having breakfast, prayers being said, and tentative but important decisions being made about their lives. By the end of that day, life as they knew it would have ended and a new potent threat will face them; one that will rock their existence and change life as they know it.
Tarkwa Bay: The community
Located a couple of miles from Lagos Island, Tarkwa Bay is an important part of tourism in Lagos; a sheltered beach located near the Lagos harbor, it is removed from the frenetic pace of life in the economic capital of Nigeria and is a ubiquitous part of social life in the country. Couples, friends, and family can escape to the island for a fun getaway on the sandy shores of the community during the weekend.
Tarkwa Bay has a resident community – roughly estimated to be over 5000 people – that plays host to visitors catering to their needs from a number of shops and shacks that dot the community. A small but active surfing community is also active in the Bay and has blossomed over the years. For the most part, the community has had to be self-sufficient, relying on donations to meet its need for social amenities.
On Tuesday, January 23rd, officials of the Nigerian Navy invaded the Tarkwa Bay. The officials came to the waterfront location with one specific mission: to displace its resident community. Residents were ordered to exit the island within the hour despite being given no notice of the proposed action. An accurate number of people displaced has not been arrived at but it is estimated that over 4500 people were affected by Tuesday’s forced evictions. Residents said that they had not been given notice of the eviction action and were shocked when the forces shot sporadically in the air ordering them to leave.
Why did this happen?
The official reason for the eviction is that it is part of the government’s effort to stop the looting of nearby oil pipelines and vandalization of exploration infrastructure belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), a spokesman for the operation, Commander Thomas Otuji, confirmed this and added that residents had been advised to leave since December. “We found at least 300 illegal spots and dug out pits where oil products were being tapped and sold illegally, even to neighboring countries,” Otuji said.
Recent fatal cases of fire incidents caused by pipeline vandalization give weight to this view but there is a much more sinister twist to this eviction that makes the public distrustful of the pipeline vandalization angle. In recent years, Lagos has visibly positioned itself as aspiring for megacity status and a byproduct of that bid is the gentrification of the city and its elusive spaces. One of the worst sufferers of this gentrification process has been waterfront communities in the seaside city. A few years ago, Ilubirin, an ancient fishing community in Lagos, was knocked down to give way to a multi-million building project. Residents have been locked in a long and frustrating legal battle with the government since then. Since that time, another popular waterfront community has come under threat; Makoko, overlooking the Atlantic, has been branded a public health and safety concern. Residents of that community – believed to be in the range of 300,000 – are living with the threat of eviction hanging over their head. The distrust of the government has been reflected in the conversations on-going about the forced eviction of the Tarkwa Bay residents. Users of micro-blogging platform, Twitter, have rationalized the evictions as a ploy by the government to grab premium real estate and build new, fancier structures that are bound to have juicier economic value.
Where do the residents of Tarkwa Bay go from here?
As it stands, there are no official resettlement plans for those forcibly displaced from Tarkwa Bay. Eyewitness reports say that residents openly lamented their lack of options while some took to crying. Whichever way this is surmised, the future seems bleak for ex-residents. Many of them stayed till past midnight trying to find boats to ferry them into the city where they will navigate their way to other communities or, as widely reported, join the homeless percentage of the city. It remains unclear if the displaced persons would be seeking redress in the court of law but that path has not always yielded positive results in the past and it remains to be seen how effective it could prove now.