Nigeria: Over 200,000 people at risk of losing their homes

The Nigerian authorities must suspend a series of planned demolitions and evictions in waterfront areas of Port Harcourt that will leave over 200,000 people at risk of homelessness Amnesty International said in a report released today.

“These planned demolitions are likely to plunge hundreds of thousands of Nigeria’s most vulnerable citizens further into poverty,” said Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International’s deputy Africa Program director. “The government should halt the waterfront evictions until they ensure they comply with international human rights standards.”

The Rivers State government claims the demolition of the waterfronts is necessary to implement the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan, an urban renewal project launched in 2009. The development of the waterfront promenade is a central feature of the Master Plan – which encompasses the whole city – but full details have not been made public.  

“None of the affected communities have been adequately consulted about these urban renewal plans and this has resulted in a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity,” said Tawanda Hondora. “The government must make every effort to identify alternatives to evictions, using them only as a last resort.”

The Nigerian authorities have not developed any resettlement plan to provide alternative accommodation to the hundreds of thousands of people likely to be evicted.

On 28 August 2009, Njemanze, a waterfront settlement, was demolished as part of the urban renewal plan. It is estimated that over 13,000 people were forcibly evicted without adequate notice. They lost their homes and, in many cases, their possessions and livelihoods.  One year on, many still have nowhere to live.

Chidi Ekiyor, 15 years old, has been sleeping under a flyover since the demolition of the house he shared with his aunt in Njemanze. Chidi told Amnesty International that he has been arrested five times since he lost his home. Most nights he and the other boys are harassed by police or older boys who steal their money or beat them.  

“Cash is the problem,” Charity Roberts a primary school teacher who lives in a property marked for demolition told Amnesty International. “Right now people don’t even have enough to eat. How will they relocate? There are some people [whose livelihood depends on] the waterside [fishing etc]. What would they do?”

The Rivers state government claims to have undertaken a buy-out scheme, purchasing all the properties on the waterfront and paying owners a replacement value for them. Under this scheme however, tenants, who make up the vast majority of the waterside population, are completely ignored and can claim no entitlements. House owners who do not want to sell their houses are also given no alternative.

“Nigeria has put in place legislation to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords. It is hypocritical to say the least that once the state government itself becomes a landlord, it flouts its own rules,” said Tawanda Hondora.

Amnesty International is calling on the Nigerian authorities to cease all forced evictions until all necessary safeguards have been put in place to ensure that evictions are carried out in accordance with international human rights law, including the development of a resettlement plan to provide adequate alternative housing to residents. The authorities should undertake a genuine public consultation on the Greater Port Harcourt Master Plan and ensure that it complies with international standards, in particular on the right to adequate housing.

Amnesty International is also concerned about the excessive use of force, including the unlawful use of firearms, displayed by security forces while undertaking forced evictions. In October 2009 at least 12 people were shot and seriously injured, and one killed, on Bundu waterfront when armed security forces opened fire on a crowd protesting planned demolitions there.

Amnesty International’s work on forced evictions is part of its Demand Dignity campaign, calling for an end to the human rights violations that drive and deepen poverty. The campaign mobilizes people all over the world to demand that governments, corporations and others who have power listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognize and protect their rights.

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