28 Oct 2010
NAIROBI – More than 200,000 poor waterfront residents in the Nigerian oil hub of Port Harcourt face losing their homes in forced and potentially violent evictions planned by the local government under a scheme to clean up the troubled city, a report from Amnesty International said on Thursday.
The rights group is concerned that protesting residents could be injured or killed in skirmishes with the security forces who will be deployed alongside the bulldozers. It called on local authorities to suspend the evictions until they meet international human rights standards.
The Rivers State government has already destroyed several of the 40-plus informal settlements on Port Harcourt’s waterfront as part of a major urban redevelopment project launched in 2009.
“The evictions are increasingly being accompanied by an excessive use of force by Nigerian security forces,” Amnesty researcher Lucy Freeman told AlertNet.
Last year, police killed one person and shot 12 others at Bundu, one of the largest waterfront settlements, when residents demonstrated against plans to demolish their homes.
Once-vibrant Port Harcourt is the main city in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta, but in recent years it has been beset by violent crime linked with militant gangs, who had stepped up their fight to secure a greater share of profits from the oil industry before an amnesty programme that began last year.
There are no accurate figures for how many people live in Port Harcourt’s waterfront areas, but estimates range from 200,000 to some half a million, according to the Amnesty report.
In 2009, over 13,000 people were evicted from the waterside Njemanze settlement, losing their homes and, in many cases, their personal property and businesses too.
They did not receive eviction notices, compensation or alternative accommodation, in violation of national and state laws, Amnesty said.
“One year on, many still have nowhere to live,” the group said in a statement, describing the harassment experienced by teenage boys who have been living on the streets since their homes were demolished.
Several families are sleeping on mats on the floor of a local church, while others are staying with friends and relatives.
EVICTIONS TO WORSEN POVERTY
The authorities have said they will continue to give residents a maximum of seven days’ notice to move, Freeman told AlertNet.
“These planned demolitions are likely to plunge hundreds of thousands of Nigeria’s most vulnerable citizens further into poverty,” Amnesty International’s deputy Africa programme director Tawanda Hondora said in a statement.
“The government should halt the waterfront evictions until they ensure they comply with international human rights standards.”
Amnesty called on the Nigerian authorities to consult the public over the redevelopment of the city – whose population numbers around 1.6 million – and to provide shelter for those due to be displaced.
The United Nations made similar appeals last year, but they were ignored, as was a stay order issued by Nigeria’s Federal High Court.
In a meeting with the community in 2009, the state governor threatened, “policemen will be there with their guns; army will bring their own; air force bring their own; navy will bring their own for me to go and take back my land,” according to the Amnesty report.
Details of the 50-year urban renewal project have not been made public, and property owners on the waterfront are being bought out by the government in a process Freeman described as “murky”. Their tenants, meanwhile, are getting nothing.
According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, people who are forcibly evicted have the right to compensation, genuine consultation, adequate and reasonable notice, information on the proposed evictions and legal aid.
They also have the right to be present during an eviction and to identify the officials carrying it out.
“Nigeria has put in place legislation to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords,” said Hondora. “It is hypocritical to say the least that once the state government itself becomes a landlord, it flouts its own rules.”