Nigeria - When the justice system fails to enforce the law

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"We suffered a lot…When the bulldozers came…[e]verything was lost…food utensils, television, fridge, a lot of things, my clothes, my children’s clothes…my children’s books, birth certificates. There was nothing [we could do]…I slept that night at that compound opposite Njemanze…I slept with my children, my husband; rain was falling."
Love Bassett Okpabio, resident of Njemanze informal waterfront settlement in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.

 

Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State, is located in Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta. In July 2008, the Governor of the Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, announced plans to demolish all waterfronts settlements in the city as part of a programme of ‘urban renewal’. The waterfront settlements, about 40 in all, are built on reclaimed land along the city’s shoreline. It is estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 people live in the waterfronts.

On 30 July 2009, community leaders from Okrika waterfront filed a suit in the Federal High Court seeking ‘an order of perpetual injunction’ on the Rivers State government (RSG), preventing them from demolishing the waterfront settlements. On 14 August, the case was adjourned to 13 October 2009, and the court advised all parties to ‘maintain status quo ante’. The Rivers State government ignored Federal High Court orders and on 28 August 2009, Njemanze waterfront was demolished. It is estimated that between 13,800 and 19,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes.

These evictions were carried out with none of these safeguards in place. Thousands of people, including children, women and the elderly were left homeless and vulnerable to other human rights violations.

As a result of the Rivers State government’s failing to provide adequate remedies, the forced evictions continue to affect lives as, three years later, many of the settlement’s residents are still struggling. In addition to losing their homes, many people lost their businesses and crucial sources of income as a result of the demolitions. Women feel the impact of loss of livelihood because their businesses and trading were often localized within Njemanze.

The forced evictions continue. June 27 2012 saw the beginning of five days of demolitions in Abonnema Wharf waterfront in Port Harcourt, leaving thousands of people forcibly evicted and many homeless by the demolitions of the Rivers State authorities in Nigeria. Many people are being forced to sleep outside on the street, in cars or shelter in nearby churches, and are vulnerable to further human rights violations. Many residents did not know their homes would be demolished until the bulldozers arrived.

Residents were not offered any alternative housing or even emergency shelter. The demolitions were carried out during rainy season when the weather conditions are bad and it’s difficult for people to move easily around to find shelter.

The Rivers State government has failed and continues to fail to meet its obligations under national and international law to the Port Harcourt waterfront residents; before, during and after the forced evictions.

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