25,000 FAMILIES HOMELESS IN NIGERIA’s PORT HARCOURT
CIVIL society group, Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) has been raising serious concerns over the plght of over 25,000 families currently rendered homeless by operatives of the armed security forces in Port Harcourt, the capital city of Rivers State, in Southern Nigeria.
The group strongly condemned the demolition of Abonnema community by soldiers at the instance of the state government. Government has for years insisted that the waterfront community is a haven for armed criminal groups, cultists, and deviants.
The invasion by the armed security forces, however, led to the destruction of homes, properties and businesses of residents of the community ”without the due process of law is callous, unjust, illegal and a reckless affront to constitutional governance”, the group said..
Felix Morka, the Executive Director of the group, on Wednesday June 27, 2012, at about 6.00 am, claimed that the Rivers state government’s demolition squad assisted by heavily armed police and other security forces invaded the Abonnema Wharf community located on the Port-Harcourt waterfront.
According to SERAC, ”without warning, bulldozers began to tear down homes and other structures in the community as residents that were rudely awakened by the violence fled in utter consternation. Residents that attempted to salvage personal properties were brutally beaten by members of the demolition squad. The demolition continued until about
But, a frontline environmental journalist in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s main oil and gas region, Akanimo Sampson, who is also an activist of the African Federation of Environmental Journalists (AFEJ), said government had repeatedly put citizens on notice of their plan to tear down the community.
The move was caught in a bitter dispute between Okrika, the ethnic group of Dame Patience Jonathan, wife of Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, and Ikwerre, the ethnic group of Governor Chibuike Amaechi. The two ethnic groups were laying claims to the ownership of the waterfront.
Government is however, insisting that they acted in the overall interest of the state. There have been flurry of security reports from 2007 during the short-lived administration of Governor Celestine Omehia, linking Port Harcourt waterfronts as ‘hotbeds’ of armed rebels.
This clarification notwithstanding, SERAC said, ”the demolition of Abonnema community is being carried out in flagrant disregard of judicial process. On behalf of the community, SERAC obtained an order of interim injunction restraining the Rivers state government from destroying the community on November 11, 2011 in Jim George & Others vs. The Executive Governor of Rivers State & Others (Suit No. PHC/2286/2009).
”A ruling on a contested application of the government to vacate the interim order of injunction was fixed for July 2, 2012. Despite the pendency of this lawsuit and a
subsisting order of interim injunction, the Rivers state government has proceeded, lawlessly, to destroy the community.
”The government’s suggestion that Abonnema Wharf is being demolished in order to rid the
community of criminals is as unconscionable as it is absurd. Nowhere in the laws of Nigeria is demolition authorized as a crime fighting strategy. This is yet another pitiful excuse to justify the indefensible action of the government”.
”At the core of the decision to destroy Abonnema Wharf community, like it destroyed Njemanze and other waterfront communities in 2009, is Governor Amaechi administration’s
unbridled quest to acquire prime waterfront lands in favor of private businesses for upscale
entertainment and other investments. Under the guise of public-private partnerships, the
government has continued to utilize taxpayers’ resources and state instruments to advance the parochial interests of its affluent business collaborators to the extreme detriment of desperately poor citizens of the state. Since his inauguration, Governor Amaechi has vigorously pursued a land grab policy that has resulted in the painful displacement of hundreds of thousands of poor citizens”, the group alleged.
Forced eviction entails the removal of people from their land and homes against their will and without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protections. The forced eviction of Abonnema Wharf constitutes a brazen violation of the human rights to adequate housing, dignity of the human person, private and family life, fair hearing and, indeed, the right to life as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other human rights instruments.
In the mean time, SERAC is demanding an immediate end to the ongoing demolition of Abonnema Wharf community; an end to the violence and brutality that is being perpetrated against innocent citizens of the community; strongly urging the government to immediately provide emergency shelter and other services to the displaced population, and take expeditious steps to provide adequate compensation or resettlement to affected residents.
The group is also urging Governor Amaechi, who is equally the Chair of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum, to observe observance of the rule of law in dealing with these populations, and to bring his strayed administration back on a path of constitutional