By Matthew Ponsford
LONDON, Jan 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 300,000 people living on the edge of Lagos' lagoon may be spared eviction after a court ruled that planned demolitions of waterfront slums would be "inhuman and degrading", campaigners said.
A Lagos State High Court ruled Thursday that the state government must enter into mediation with dozens of eviction-threatened communities that ring the lagoon at the heart of Nigeria's largest city to discuss their fate.
Lagos-based legal campaign group Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI) said the ruling was unprecedented in Nigeria.
"We've never before had a ruling like this that forced eviction and demolition constitutes a violation of the rights of dignity," Megan Chapman, co-director of JEI, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
JEI said the ruling could mark a turning point in the battle over housing in the fast-growing city of 23 million people, obliging the state government to find alternatives to demolitions.
In November, demolitions and what police said was fighting between rival communities forced more than 30,000 people from their bamboo homes in Otodo Gbame, a waterfront slum in Lagos' Lekki neighbourhood.
The clearance came a month after Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode announced plans to evict all waterside shanties.
Lekki is a prime site for investors, who have built luxury apartments, skyscrapers and waterside restaurants.
Witnesses filmed fires and bulldozers being used to destroy makeshift homes as police forced residents into the lagoon, where hundreds spent the night sleeping in wooden canoes.
JEI said it had documented 11 people killed during and in the aftermath of the evictions, including two children. The state government and police did not respond to a request for comment from the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Leilani Farha, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation she was pleased the court had taken forced evictions seriously.
"To read about an order preventing an eviction where dignity relationships are being taken very seriously - human dignity, human life, torture, cruel and unusual punishment - it brings the weight of the situation to light," said Farha.
"Forced evictions are used in the name of development - and the grave human rights implications are so often lost."
The government, police, and lawyers for slum communities have been ordered to meet again in court after an initial dialogue lasting a month, during which time all evictions will be halted.
Nigerian Slum and Informal Settlement Federation, an NGO working with slum communities, said in October it had identified 40 communities threatened by the eviction plans and said more than 300,000 residents risked being turfed out of their homes.
Governor Ambode said evictions across the city are necessary to protect Lagos residents from kidnappers and criminals hiding in the slums.
JEI said it had demanded the state withdraw "ridiculous" suggestions that the slum communities are sheltering militants from Niger Delta extremist groups and Boko Haram.
Charities have provided emergency aid to Otodo Gbame's residents as they begin to rebuild their homes on the burned site of their previous dwellings, JEI said.