Nigerias forced evictions: All this was houses

By Amnesty campaigner Bridget Burrows,

“All this was houses”, Prince Peter says, pointing over the scar of Njemanze waterfront community. “My house was down there, under the mango tree, but now there is nothing, nothing left.”

Behind him where homes and businesses once stood in Port Harcourt city, Nigeria, only broken concrete foundations remain, with green grass growing through.

The lives of up to 17,000 people were destroyed. They were evicted and their homes torn down, without consultation, without reasonable notice and without compensation over one painful weekend, in 2009.

“I feel like crying if I remember that day. It’s something I can’t explain because it’s painful. But each time I talk about it you see tears,” Prince says with difficulty.

On the street nearby, a handful of former-neighbours try to continue to earn their daily bread; two years later still cooking rice and donuts in metal pots under tarpaulin covers. “Where I stay now is just a motor vehicle,” explains a former resident.

Since the bulldozers came the residents of Njemanze have seen little justice.

But on the second anniversary of the demolition of their homes, hundreds of them gather together. Behind a banner proclaiming “Njemanze displaced community demand justice”, they unite to dance and sing.

All around them are postcards with messages:“I stand with Njemanze – Anna Bauer, Austria”, reads one.
“I stand with Njemanze – Laurens De Lange, Amsterdam”, says another.
“And we stand with Njemanze”, said Phillip Kumah from Old Fadama slum in Ghana, also under threat of forced eviction, who was visiting Nigeria with Amnesty as part of an exchange visit.

Today these message of solidarity and hope from Amnesty members from around the world were seen by Njemanze residents, as they came together to seek remedy.

“The postcards and messages you sent are a hope to everybody”, explains Prince. “We are grateful today because we have support from outside Nigeria. We have people out there fighting for justice, fighting for us. With the help of Amnesty International and other NGOs, I feel we are going to get justice.”

Amnesty International, Nigerian civil society organisations, and the Port Harcourt waterfront informal settlement communities themselves are urging the Nigerian Federal Government to outlaw forced evictions and ensure people’s right to adequate housing is protected, to ensure the experience of the Njemanze community is never repeated.

Almost two-thirds, that’s two in every three of Nigeria’s urban dwellers live in inadequate housing, mostly in slums.

So thank you to Amnesty members for letting Prince and his neighbours know that Njemanze is not forgotten. Thank you for joining your voice to theirs, and amplifying their shouts in saying housing is a human right, and forced evictions must end..

As the colourful, traditional culture masquerade mask, trumpeters and drums of Njemanze’s residents briefly bring vibrancy back to the now-quiet streets, let’s hope it’s a message that their government hears too.

Amnesty campaigner Bridget Burrows, reporting from Port Harcourt, Nigeria

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