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People Live Here: Celebrating World Habitat Day in Port Harcourt

By Heerko Dijksterhuis, Africa Coordinator at Amnesty International Netherlands and Dani Valls, Regional Campaign Coordinator, Africa Programme, Amnesty International International Secretariat

Yesterday was World Habitat Day. In Port Harcourt, Nigeria, waterfront residents turned up in their hundreds to demand development from their government, instead of forced evictions. At least 2000 people were present at the event where community leaders and NGO activists addressed the crowd. Their message: People live here!

Community leaders and activists spoke loud and clear: “The people want development, not demolitions. Our demand to the government is to stop forced evictions, because housing is a human right! Waterfront residents are committed to working on better living conditions, together with the government and other parties, and developing the waterfronts for the benefit of all!”

George Idawari, 32, a community leader in Ibitien Polo, said: “This is a happy day because we come all together and show our struggle. It is about social matters like health, schools, clean water. It is great Amnesty has come in to support this struggle, it is also necessary, for housing is a human right.”

When the Amnesty International delegation unfolded a huge banner signed by concerned Dutch citizens and fellow workers, the crowd cheered and started dancing.

Even Chief Ockiya Touri IV lifted his aged body from the chair under the canopy. With his chief’s stick he waved in the air, shouting: “This is a big success, so many people, I am sure the government will take it very serious!”

Then two ladies came in with their wishes for their community: Beauty Eugenia, 50, and Caroline Adeki, 45, told us the state government wanted to demolish their houses because they live too close to the river. “It is a shame, instead of helping us, they make our lives more difficult! We the women have united to stand stronger. But we need support. This is the first time I see a city bus with our portraits on it. How wonderful that so many people support us, in so many countries!”

At that moment the city buses with the People Live Here banner passed us. They had large pictures on them representing the faces of the campaign. It was a wonderful sight! Then People Live Here march took us to Njemanze, the place where two years ago bulldozers destroyed a community of at least 17,000 people; since then no development has been recorded and people are still struggling.

On World Habitat Day, we were reminded once again that it is the people of the waterfront communities who will transform their city. We hope you will join them. Follow the People Live Here campaign: www.people-live-here.org