The illegal demolition of the Railway Compound community in Port Harcourt, Nigeria was set to go ahead but then an urgent action and a rapid response appeal brought a temporary reprieve. Makmid Kamara reports.
At 6:45am there was a thump on the door. Time to leave the house.
We had an appointment with railway community at 7:00am, – hopefully before the destruction began.
When my colleague and I arrived at the community we saw some people were already packing their belongings, grabbing their things before their homes were demolished.
There was a general air of uncertainty. Will the bulldozers and the security forces come? Will this protest make any difference? Will the involvement of Amnesty International and its partners prevent the government from going ahead with its plan?
Originally, my trip to Port Harcourt was to coordinate a Valentine’s Day action as part of our ongoing campaign for housing rights in Port Harcourt.
This objective changed a few days before I left London. We received a distress call from one of our community activists who told us the governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, had given residents of the railway community seven days to leave.
Knowing the governor’s history on housing rights and especially after 13 houses and two churches had already been demolished with seven days notice in the same community we had to respond.
We issued an urgent action calling on Amnesty International activists across the world to write to the governor, send Tweets to the governor’s Twitter account and post messages on his Facebook wall.
Within hours there were messages from activists from all over the world in languages ranging from English to Spanish and from Portuguese to French.
The message was the same though: Governor Amaechi, STOP the forced eviction of the railway community.
On Monday morning in Port Harcourt, a ‘town crier’ was busy calling people to gather in front of the demolished buildings in the community. After about an hour, the singing and dancing began. Men, women and school children all joined in and sang choruses holding placards and Amnesty International posters.
In the end we were able to claim a small victory. The bulldozers did not come and the houses remained standing just as we’d found them in the morning.
We left for a meeting with the Commissioner of Urban Development to learn more. The demolitions would be temporarily halted. The government pledged to follow due process and engage with the residents.
Loud applause greeted news of the outcome of our meeting and we assured the community of Amnesty International’s continued support for their struggle.