By Eromo Egbejule
LAGOS, March 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The demolition of homes in a shanty town in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, in defiance of a court order, has left thousands of people homeless and raised eviction fears among a further 300,000 slum dwellers, residents and activists said on Monday.
The homes of nearly 4,700 people in the Otodo Gbame waterfront slum were destroyed on Friday by bulldozers as security forces used teargas and gunfire to clear the area, said several rights groups, including Amnesty International.
The razing came less than two months after the Lagos State High Court ruled that planned demolitions of waterfront slums would be "inhuman", and said the government must enter into mediation with dozens of eviction-threatened communities.
The demolition has sparked alarm about the fate of more than 300,000 people living around Lagos' lagoon as the state targets dozens of illegal settlements on prime waterfront land to make way for luxury redevelopment in the megacity of 23 million.
"We are afraid for the people of Otodo Gbame and other informal settlements we work with across Lagos," Megan Chapman, co-director of the legal campaign group Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The ongoing court process was just beginning to give birth to a seed of hope among the urban poor that the courts might protect their rights and that they might be able to find win-win solutions in dialogue with government," Chapman added.
Emails and calls to the Lagos state government were not answered on Monday.
Some residents of Otodo Gbame saw their homes destroyed for the second time in five months, following state-ordered demolitions and fighting between rival communities in November which left an estimated 30,000 residents homeless.
Many are rebuilding their homes yet again, using scrap material from the demolition, as they have nowhere else to go.
"This is our land, our forefathers' land ... we are in sorrow" said Isaac Azim, a community leader in Otodo Gbame.
"I have six children, two are missing and we do not know where they are. So many people lost their money, their livelihood and everything," added Azim, explaining how people have been forced to sleep in the open on the razed land.
Leilani Farha, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said she was shocked to hear that the state government was "actively ignoring the rule of law."
"It has defied the High Court Order and international human rights law by proceeding to evict - in the most brutal manner - individuals and families living in the Otodo Gbame community," Farha told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.