Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



Rivers State Government Must End Demolition and Pay Adequate Compensation

(By Temple Morford)

On Tuesday and Wednesday June 26 and 27, 2012, the PDP government of Rivers State mobilized some earth-moving equipments to Abonnema Wharf to demolish all houses and destroy properties, thereby rendering a community of about 10,000 people homeless. Men, women, children were under heavy rain with their properties. This act of the Rivers State Government is inhuman, oppressive, heartless, and an abuse of right to shelter.

Abonnema Wharf is one of the over 40 waterfronts communities scattered across Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, which houses over 80% of the city residents. Rivers state government has brandished the communities as nests of criminals that must be demolished. Governor Rotimi Amaechi claimed that the demolition is part of the urban renewal policy and also to check activities of criminally-minded individuals who use the water-fronts as operational bases. But will the same government demolish highbrow areas because some looters in position of power who have stolen public funds reside there?

However, each time these heartless “leaders” want to render the poor homeless so as to acquire the same land, they blackmail the poor as criminals not fit to live. For instance, in Lagos when Colonel Raji Rasaki, a former military governor of the state, wanted to demolish Maroko in 1990, the reason he gave was that criminals hid in the community. About 300,000 people were rendered homeless. Years later, the same Maroko is now home for the rich.

In a similar vein, the residents said that all the waterfronts in Port Harcourt have been reserved for hotels, cinemas, parks, shopping malls and houses for the rich. So, when the poor are chased out, the rich come to occupy! Besides, since Njemanze waterfront was demolished in August 2009 rendering about 19,000 people homeless, no major development has commenced and it is now a refuse dump site.

The Commissioner for information and communication, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari claimed that the residents in the waterfront communities live demeaning life and that the government had decided to take the people away from such miserable condition of living. In fact, what the government is doing is to render those who live in slum completely homeless. Enobong Effiong, a victim told Newswatch magazine that several weeks after the demolition of Njemanze waterfront, many of the victims were seen sleeping on both sides of Njemanze and the adjoining streets while their properties were littered on the ground because they have nowhere to go.

Though, the government claimed to have a compensation package, the compensation was imposed on the landlords without prior negotiation in a ‘take it or leave it’ approach. The tenants are not even considered for compensation. To challenge the authoritarian manner with which government is going about the demolition and compensation, the absence of alternative homes, blackmail of the residents etc., the waterfront communities have taken the government to court and have held a series of protests.

According to Amnesty International, 12 people were wounded in 2009 when security forces fired at demonstrators protesting the slum housing demolition in Rivers state. According to The Nation newspaper of October 29 2011, “Fubara Tokuibiye Samuel and Joy Williams, both victims, said they were unarmed when they were attacked by security personnel while protesting, two years ago, the planned demolition of Bundu waterfront in the state capital.” Before the current pahse of demolition, Governor Amaechi had threatened to use maximum force against the residents who dare challenge the demolition. Like a war General who wanted to conquer a people, Governor Amaechi roared: “When we want to demolish, the Airforce will deploy helicopters, the navy will move to the areas with gunboats, while the army will have its officers and men on the land, to ensure the demolition is effected and to prevent resistance”(Leadership newspaper of Monday June 11, 2012).

Besides, the government brazenly disregards the court processes while carrying out the demolition. For instance, before the state government demolished Njemanze waterfronts on August 28 2009, the landlords had already sued the government and the next adjourning date was October 23 2009. Also, the case between the Abonnema Wharf Community and the Rivers State government was still in court when government rolled in its bulldozers.

These poor residents of waterfronts for no fault of theirs live in ghetto-like environment because they have been abandoned and neglected by past and present leaders despite huge resources accruing to the state as an oil rich state. Rivers State is the second richest state in Nigeria; its 2012 budget is N438 billion with an internally degenerated revenue of about N7 billion monthly. This shows that Rivers State has the capacity to rebuild the waterfront without displacing thousands of people. All the government need do is to plan and manage its resources judiciously and democratically, and carry the communities along in the process. But the pursuit of profit and accumulation of wealth at the expense of the working masses is one major reason why the poor will continue to be neglected.

The River State branch of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) hereby calls on state government to end the ongoing demolition of waterfronts and pay adequate compensation to all affected landlords and tenants. No doubt, the residents of the waterfronts want decent housing. It is the successive governments which have failed to provide it. We therefore call on the government to first provide alternative accommodation or adequate compensation for the residents and then rebuild all the slum communities on a phase by phase basis for the benefit of the poor and not the luxury of the rich. We call on labour and pro-masses organizations to actively support the residents of the waterfronts in their struggle against demolition of their houses by the River state government without adequate compensation.