By Innocent Anaba
Amnesty— International, yesterday, called on the Rivers State government, to halt its planned demolitions and evictions in waterfront areas of Port Harcourt, arguing that it will leave over 200,000 people homelessness, if the threat is carried out.
Amnesty in a statement by its Deputy African Programme Director, Tawanda Hondora, said “these planned demolitions are likely to plunge hundreds of thousands of Nigeria’s most vulnerable citizens further into poverty. The government should halt the waterfront evictions until it ensures they comply with international human rights standards.”
The Rivers State government claims the demolition of the waterfronts was necessary to implement the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan, an urban renewal project launched in 2009.
The development of the waterfront promenade is a central feature of the Master Plan, which encompasses the whole city, but full details have not been made public.
“None of the affected communities have been adequately consulted about these urban renewal plans and this has resulted in a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity. The government must make every effort to identify alternatives to evictions, using them only as a last resort,” he said.
The Nigerian authorities have not developed any resettlement plan to provide alternative accommodation to the hundreds of thousands of people likely to be evicted, the group noted.
“On August 28, 2009, Njemanze, a waterfront settlement, was demolished as part of the urban renewal plan. It is estimated that over 13,000 people were forcibly evicted without adequate notice. They lost their homes and, in many cases, their possessions and livelihoods. One year on, many still have nowhere to live.”
“Chidi Ekiyor, 15 years old, has been sleeping under a flyover since the demolition of the house he shared with his aunt in Njemanze. Chidi told Amnesty that he has been arrested five times since he lost his home. Most nights he and the other boys are harassed by police or older boys who steal their money or beat them,” the statement said.
“Cash is the problem,” Charity Roberts a primary school teacher, who lives in a property marked for demolition told Amnesty. “Right now people don’t even have enough to eat. How will they relocate? There are some people [whose livelihood depends on] the waterside [fishing etc]. What would they do?”
“Nigeria has put in place legislation to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords. It is hypocritical to say the least that once the state government itself becomes a landlord, it flouts its own rules,” said Tawanda Hondora.