THE Lagos State government recently uncovered a several dwelling places beneath the Dolphin Estate bridge in Ikoyi, Lagos. These under-bridge apartments comprised 86 partitioned rooms, measuring “10×10 and 12×10” in size, with occupants paying an average annual rent of N250,000 each. Tokunbo Wahab, the Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources,  through his official  X handle [formerly Twitter, disclosed that the ministry’s enforcement team had effectively dismantled all structures, including a container being utilised for illicit activities beneath the bridge. The illegal residents were forcibly evicted. Kunle Rotimi-Akodu, the Special Adviser to the state government on environmental affairs, also confirmed that “squatters in that vicinity have been paying an annual rent averaging N250,000.” The squatters residing under the bridge linking inward Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi, were promptly removed by the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps. Rotimi-Akodu emphasized: “These individuals established an unlawful settlement beneath the bridge, endangering vital infrastructure with the potential for imminent deterioration. To date, 23 individuals have been apprehended, and oversight of the location will be ongoing. Justice will be served in accordance with the law.”

The narrative evokes profound sorrow. The fact that individuals are now compelled to reside and subsist underneath the bridge serves as a stark indicator of the prevailing poverty within the country, underscoring the deplorable deterioration that has befallen human existence in the state. It is a disgrace that, in this contemporary era, individuals are enduring such destitution. The duration of this distressing situation remains unknown; nevertheless, the prevailing sentiment suggests its persistence over several years. The existence of such settlements is a grave affront to human dignity. Furthermore, these settlements are likely to be infested with criminals and delinquents who assert control through coercion and extort the reported rents from residents. Consequently, these areas have become breeding grounds for a myriad of criminal activities. Regrettably, the children in these settlements are inevitably exposed to a plethora of immoralities and criminal behaviours. The question arises: where were the government officials who are now vociferously decrying the situation when these purported structures were being erected?

A considerable portion of the population in Lagos has resided in this impoverished areas for an extended period. The individuals posing as “landlords” and demanding exorbitant rent should be apprehended and subjected to legal consequences. The state government has initiated an investigation into this issue, and it is imperative that it does not overlook it, but instead disclose the findings to the public. Hopefully, as stated by officials, actions will be taken to rehabilitate the most impoverished individuals identified, and children will receive assistance from the state government to relocate to more suitable environments conducive to their education. Those children currently not attending school should be enrolled in schools.  Furthermore, state officials have indicated that some individuals have shown a willingness to return to their respective home states.  We urge the Lagos State government not to simply send these individuals back without involving their home state governments. It is necessary for it to collaborate with the relevant state governments to ensure they are actively involved in the efforts to rehabilitate these individuals. This is the basic obligation of states to their citizens, and they must not shirk this responsibility.

Residing under the bridge for an extended period, as these unauthorised occupants have done, could potentially compromise the structural integrity of the bridge. It is imperative for the government to conduct thorough assessments to verify the condition and stability of the bridge, and implement any essential corrective actions. Government must also put measures in place to prevent the return of those taken out of the place or prevent fresh settlers who are currently in other streets of Lagos. This story showcases governance failures: the unmet housing needs and the government’s inability to regulate the physical landscape of Lagos have resulted in numerous uncontrolled areas where various factions, such as criminal groups and cultists like Million Boys and Badoo, operate with impunity. The communities beneath the bridges represent yet another unregulated territory occupied by non-state entities, highlighting the deficiencies and shortcomings of governance, a prevalent issue across many states. We urge state governments to prioritise urban and city planning. In numerous states, including the capitals, informal settlements constitute over 70 percent of the urban space. This poses challenges in incorporating these informal settlements into governmental planning and development schemes, as well as integrating them into the formal economy to foster inclusive prosperity. Consequently, the country’s cities are often characterised by the proliferation of shanty towns and slums.

State governments have a substantial workload ahead concerning social development matters, economic planning, and mobilisation of local governments to engage in intervention initiatives. The conditions of secondary schools, housing, neighbourhoods, and poverty illustrate that only a handful of state governments, if any, are fulfilling their obligations adequately. The incidents in Lagos should serve as a clarion call for them to fulfill their duties towards their citizens and residents.