LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - The bulldozers came at dawn to this neighborhood of shanty homes and concrete buildings in Nigeria's largest city, followed by riot police carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles.
The police banged on doors, corralling the thousands who live in Ijora-Badia off to the side as the bulldozers' blades tore through scrap-lumber walls, their tracks grinding the possessions inside into the black murk of swamp underneath. Days later, children picked through the field of debris, their small hands dodging rusty nails to pull away anything of value left behind.
The demolition of this slum neighborhood follows others in Lagos, a city of some 17.5 million inhabitants where a dozen can sleep in a single room and more flock to every day from the countryside. While the city continues to grow, the government has started programs to improve roads and railways, but target poor neighborhoods for demolition and street traders for arrest.
Activists say Lagos' government continues to lay sod for parks to beautify a city long thought of as a nightmare of urban planning, but the facelifts often come at the expense of the poor without a thought about what will become of them.
"A megacity is not about its physical size or its beauty, but its people," said Felix Morka, executive director of the Social and Economic Rights Action Center, which is contesting the demolitions in court. "The poor also live here."
Poverty is difficult to escape from in Lagos, even on its islands, home to its political and business elite. Those missing limbs or with facial injuries approach cars idling at intersections to beg. People bathe naked alongside highways or use ditches for toilets. Even those considered as being in the middle class live in crowded tenements or in informal settlements that spring up in the corners of abandoned properties and even on stilts over the Lagos Lagoon.
Ijora-Badia, alongside a road leading to Lagos' main port and across from its major brewery, sits on marshy soil. The first settlers were moved here when the government started constructing the nearby National Theatre in the 1970s. In the time since, Ijora-Badia grew along the railroad tracks and is now home to thousands of people