By Jimitola Onoyume
PLANS by the Rivers state government to demolish water fronts in Port Harcourt has become a very topical issue in the state . It would be recalled that this issue first gained currency in the state under the administration of deposed governor Celestine Omehia. Omehia had adduced security reasons then for why he wanted slum settlements and shack houses in these water fronts removed and replaced with what then he styled descent accommodation.
As soon as he came up with the idea the media became awash with calls and appeals on the government to beat a retreat on the plan. Opponents maintained that water fronts contrary to the view of the government was not the only hiding place for hoodlums and miscreants, that the government only came up with the excuse to conceal its hidden agenda. Debate on the issue over heated the body politic then to the extent that it was almost reduced to a matter between the Ijaws of the state and the government.
It is now left to speculation if the government would have had the courage to go ahead with the idea because a Supreme Court judgment aborted the live of that administration and installed a new political leadership in the state with Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as governor.
For many one of the first steps Amaechi took to endear his administration to the Ijaws of the state was to halt the planned demolition. And this was received with wild jubilation in all the water fronts.
Almost two years after the suspension the government is back to the issue of demolition again. This time the administration says it wants to replace shanties in the water fronts with modern structures and make the place better habitable. Besides being part of its urban renewal programme for the state the government has also given security reasons for the planned exercise.
The same arguments against the position of government have started coming up. And led by the same Rivers Ijaws, mainly of the Okrika stock.
Recently,Â the premises of the Federal High court in Port Harcourt was jam parked by hundreds of Okrikans and other rivers Ijaws that thronged the place to witness a case on the issue.
Fifty four Okrikans representing Okrika Ijaw community had dragged the state government, the police, chiefs of army, naval and air staff to the court over the planned demolition. Among other things the applicants sought the court to perpetually restrain the government from going ahead with the exercise, describing the waterfronts as their ancestral settlements.
They also sought for a resettlement plan that would enable Okrikans in these areas retain their identity and common heritage if the government must demolish. They said the planed demolition without the foregoing programme would amount to fragrant abuse of the rights of this ethnic group and their â€œdescendant from their homesâ€. They also asked the court to restrain the government from using
assistance of security operatives like the police, army, navy or air force to enforce the planned demolition. The matter was adjourned to October 13 for hearing with the government told to stay action on the planned demolition for now. It would also be determined whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the matter at the resumed date.
Chairman Okrika Divisional Council of Chiefs, Senator Dari James Sekibo, Odo Abaji, the 18th of Okrika summarized the reasons why they dragged the issue to court in a chat with the Vanguard when he said that the
community was in court to ask the government to do what was right. According to him, payment of compensation to landlords was different from resettlement of the people. And they were in court to pursue issues of resettlement.
He said all they wanted was for the government to reclaim lands and resettle the people in the reclaimed areas. He said if the government was allowed to go ahead with the demolition the way it planned the people would be homeless mainly because there are no land spaces for the riverine people in the state.â€œPeople have remained in these settlements for decades.