Scores of Nigerians lost their homes on Friday morning when Rivers State authorities began bulldozing buildings in Port Harcourt, Amnesty International has learned.
A crew of three diggers, accompanied by 30 armed policemen, closed the Njemanze Road at both ends and began demolishing homes to make way for a commercial development. A large proportion of the street had been flattened by Friday evening.
“Many of the tenants have nowhere else to go and most are unable to afford the large deposit necessary to rent a new home,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa director.
“The Governor of Rivers State must immediately halt the forced evictions and demolition, respect the rights of the residents to adequate and reasonable notice of any eviction and ensure that all those affected receive adequate alternative housing to ensure that no one is rendered homeless.”
Many residents had already left the street to seek refuge with family or in churches, but around 100 people with no alternative housing remained in the buildings prior to the demolition.
A woman who had been living on Njemanze road with her three children told Amnesty International on Wednesday: “We have not been paid and they asked us to quit. We erected the building ourselves. We are sleeping in the room [with no roof or windows]. We have nowhere to go.”
Houses along the Njemanze Road were made uninhabitable when doors, roofs and windows were removed by police last Friday.
Tenants – including many women and children – were given just seven days’ notice to vacate their homes and businesses, while most were not offered compensation or alternative housing.
On Wednesday, the Commissioner of Urban Development, Barrister Osima Ginah, went to Njemanze road accompanied by police officers and told people they had 24 hours to evacuate their homes.
For some residents, this is the second time they have been forcibly evicted from their home. Njemanze waterfront community, home to thousands of people, was demolished on 28 August.
Several of the displaced residents sought shelter in the neighbouring buildings along Njemanze Road – buildings that are now also being demolished.
The waterfront is one of the most densely populated areas of Port Harcourt. The state governor has repeatedly stated that demolitions along the waterfront are “to sanitize and check criminal activities”.
“Rivers State government is only permitted to carry out evictions as a last resort,” said Erwin van der Borght. “They are obliged, in every case, to explore all feasible alternatives to evictions and avoid or minimise the use of force.”