A Rivers State Government Task Force on Wednesday, January 19, 2022, visited several waterfront communities in the Diobu axis of Port Harcourt, arbitrarily marked homes for demolition and told residents they should vacate within seven days, that is by Wednesday, January 26.
According to a team of civil society practitioners, should the government proceed with its threats, it is estimated that some 60,000 persons will be rendered homeless and driven into poverty by loss of livelihoods and other hardships associated with homelessness and displacement.
The groups, comprising the affected communities and organisations like Justice & Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), Social Action, Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement Federation, Collaborative Media Advocacy Platform (CMAP), Center for Environment, Human Rights, and Development (CEHRD), and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN), on Wednesday called on the government to reconsider its stand.
They stated: “We, the undersigned communities and members of civil society, decry this unlawful and callous threat and call for the Rivers State Government to seriously reconsider its plans before it takes irreversible action that violates the fundamental human rights of 60,000 persons and undermines the security and long-term development goals of all residents of Port Harcourt.
“Any person that has witnessed the horrors of forced eviction, where persons are thrown out of their homes and have their livelihoods and communities destroyed overnight, cannot believe this is the path to the security and development of our society. Studies have shown the terrible long-term impacts of forced evictions on the incomes, health, and education of evictees.”
Governor Nysom Wike had declared a crackdown on “identified criminal hideouts” in Port Harcourt Township and the Illoabuchi axis of Diobu in his 2022 New Year’s address, a development the groups have tagged “a vague menace” that has resulted in “fear among waterfront communities that have seen previous administrations use fearmongering and smear campaigns to justify forced evictions of waterfront communities like Agip (2004/05), Njemanze (2009) and Abonnema Wharf (2012)”.
Diobu-axis waterfront communities reportedly joined hands on January 7, 2022, to write to the Governor to express their concerns and request an urgent audience with the Governor to discuss how to address security concerns and otherwise seek win-win partnership as an alternative to eviction and demolition.
There has, however, been no positive response to the appeals.
The groups believe that the demolitions being threatened do not target specific criminals or criminal hideouts.
“Instead, they are a pretext for evicting thousands of innocent children, women, men, and elderly persons who are employed in legitimate businesses through which they eke out modest livings, and from which they pay their children’s school fees and government taxes. Such persons live in Port Harcourt’s informal settlements because of the lack of affordable housing in the formal sector, and they make positive contributions every day to the city’s economy.
“The false impression given to the public must be corrected. The law does not authorise mass evictions nor does it allow the demolition of properties based on feeble suspicion. Rather, any person suspected of a crime is to be arrested, prosecuted, and found guilty in line with the right to fair hearing protected by Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, whereafter the person may face a term of imprisonment or other penalty provided at law. Forced evictions as collective punishment are unlawful, unconstitutional, and counter-productive – they do not make our cities safer.”
They described forced eviction as “a gross violation of the citizens’ right to fair hearing, right to property, right to adequate shelter, and will equally undermine their right to health and right to education of their children”.