Nigerian waterfront evictions highlight oil, land squabbles

Naval officers inspect an illegally dug oil well at Ilashe in Lagos, Nigeria. The country is rich in crude oil and is Africa’s largest petroleum producer. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 January 2020

Nigerian waterfront evictions highlight oil, land squabbles

  • Residents, rights groups rap ‘illegal seizure of precious building space in Lagos’

LAGOS: The lagoon waters at the port entrance to Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, are usually teeming with small fishing boats.

But the bustling waterfront slums of Lagos are now quiet after the navy evicted tens of thousands of residents from their homes in recent weeks.

The evictions are highlighting tensions over real estate in the megalopolis of 20 million where building space is an increasingly rare commodity.

The operation has also exposed the stark contrast of shantytown fishing communities in the shadow of Lagos’ Ilashe beach with its villas for billionaires and expat executives.

Nigeria is rich in crude oil, an OPEC nation and Africa’s largest petroleum producer.

Its army says the operation stopped residents tapping into pipelines to illegally siphon off fuel oil that is pumped from the port.

But locals and rights groups say the brutal evictions are an illegal seizure of precious building space in a city where the population is booming.

On Snake Island, a small community transformed by rural exodus into a huge shantytown, motor boats — often the investment of a lifetime — have been abandoned.

A few kilometers away, toward the Atlantic Ocean, the fishing community of Tarkwa Bay has become a ghost village.

Brick houses, nestled under palm trees, wait empty for the bulldozers to claim them while a handful of locals sleep on the beach.

“I’m so confused. Where do I start from?” said one local father, sitting on a mattress in the middle of a pier. Just a week earlier, the small community had welcomed hundreds of beachgoers, surfers and Sunday revelers to their piece of the Lagos coast.

On Tuesday, naval forces arrived and gave Tarkwa Bay residents a morning to pack up their lives and move out. Like a scene from a war, household goods and belongings were hurriedly abandoned.

For Nigeria’s army, tens of thousands of residents had to be “evacuated,” without alternative housing, because the communities participate directly, or indirectly by buying fuel, in siphoning oil from pipelines which skirt the lagoon.

Between Ilashe and Tarkwa Bay, along the pipeline that supplies petrol throughout western Nigeria, the landscape is one of polluted desolation.

The stench of gasoline catches in the throat of visitors. The few palm trees still standing are no more than trunks and the water is slicked with pollution.

The ground is pockmarked with holes where vandals have dug down to pipelines filled with shiny oil and water.

Scores of oil installations sit next to homes and Nigerian navy posts, a testimony to the impunity with which “fuel thieves” have pursued their activity for years.

“These vandals are becoming more vicious and more sophisticated by the day,” Admiral Oladele Daji said during a tour of the area to justify the recent evacuations.

“As you can see, this is high-organized crime. They don’t farm, they don’t fish. They are criminals. Nigerian economy saboteurs.”

He brushed off questions about why the military had not stopped the illegal activity before, and how thousands of residents could be involved in the vandalism and fuel trafficking.

“It’s for their own security. The pipeline can explode at any time. And these people were here illegally,” he said.

The admiral said Nigeria’s government had the legal right to seize land in the interest of the nation.

Authorities are stepping into a confusing grey area where private investors, ancestral communities, the state and the army have all disputed strategic areas of Lagos for decades.

Amnesty International has already urged Nigerian authorities to halt the forced evictions of waterfront communities and respect safety and housing rights.

Local residents and critics see a cynical land grab in a city where building space is highly sought after.

“The waterfront communities are valuable real estate,” said Megan Chapman of the Nigeria Slum/Informal Settlement advocacy group. “They haven’t been formerly developed — electricity, roads — and the communities are fishermen communities, less educated.”

Sprawling Lagos has grown by one million inhabitants a year for the last decade, making every square meter of real estate a precious commodity.

The city’s seaside and lagoon edges are even filled in to reclaim more land and create more building space to be sold to wealthy investors.

One official with the Lagos State Ministry of Urbanization, who did not want his name to be published in the media, said Tarkwa Bay should become “a place of tourism as beautiful as Eko Atlantic.”

Eko Atlantic is a 10-square kilometer area of land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean that is planned as a gleaming, high-end residential and business city.

But the site is still virtually empty and barely three skyscrapers have emerged from the sand.

“Now everybody wants to build his own little Dubai,” says Muhamed Zanna, a Tarkwa Bay resident, in front of the house he was about to abandon.

“We made recommendations to the government, we asked them to investigate crime and go after the criminals,” he said.

“But now, what will happen to our children? It’s a time bomb.”

Swiss bank giant UBS posts best Q3 in a decade despite pandemic

Updated 20 October 2020

Swiss bank giant UBS posts best Q3 in a decade despite pandemic

  • The world’s largest wealth manager saw net profit jump 99 percent year-on-year to $2.5 billion

ZURICH: Swiss banking giant UBS said Tuesday it nearly doubled its net profit in its best third quarter in a decade, the latest in a string of global lenders to report better-than-expected results despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The world’s largest wealth manager saw net profit jump 99 percent year-on-year to $2.5 billion, it said in a statement, handily beating analyst expectations for $1.5 billion.
The rise comes after net profit dropped by 11 percent in the second quarter to June as the firm stepped up provisions for bad loans with the global economy in a tailspin due to the pandemic.
UBS’ profits received a one-off, third-quarter boost from the $631 million sale of a majority stake in its fund platform Fondcenter to Clearstream, a subsidiary of the Deutsche Borse group.
Its operating profit increased 26 percent to $8.9 billion, also surpassing analyst expectations.
CEO Sergio Ermotti said he was proud of the third quarter results, his last at the helm, with ex-ING group chief Ralph Hamers taking over as chief executive officer on November 1.
“UBS has all the options open to write another successful chapter of its history under Ralph’s leadership,” Ermotti said in the statement.
But UBS did not give any estimate of its outlook, due to a “high level of uncertainty.”
“Going forward, the pandemic and political uncertainties may lead to periods of higher market volatility and could affect client activity positively or negatively,” it said in the statement.
Other global banking giants to report surging profits this earnings season include Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup.