A scene of rubble and destruction; you would presume that an earthquake had shattered this community, or a tornado had ripped it apart. In fact these demolition sites are the former homes of residents in the Niger Delta, torn down by the Nigerian Rivers State Government. Whilst authorities state that this is part of a grand scheme of ‘urban renewal’ in the area, residents are finding themselves in a further state of impoverishment – torn from their homes and left with nothing.
The Greater Harcourt Master Plan is a development scheme concerning the oil rich Niger Delta. Unfortunately the land is currently occupied by over 200,000 people, all of whom need to be relocated, and compensated, for this huge upheaval.
Owing to technicalities in property rights and land usage, the government is exploiting the position of residents and contravening scores of international and national laws in the process. The government has refused to acknowledge the rights of tenants, who constitute the majority of residents in the area.
Whilst some landlords have received a little compensation under the governments buy-out scheme, many receive far less than what their property is valued at, if anything at all. Furthermore there is no option not to sell. The governor has openly stated that force may be used against anyone who refuses to leave – you can take what little you are given in terms of compensation, or faced armed guards and bulldozers when they come to claim your home.
The situation for tenants is far worse. The government has explicitly informed Amnesty International that it will not compensate tenants or even refund rent. Contrary to official statements these families have nowhere to go. The result is that thousands of families have already been made homeless and their livelihoods destroyed, leading to a series of other human rights violations being inflicted upon them.
Often families are torn apart; children are sent away to live with relatives, husbands leave, sons are forced onto the street, women have no choice but to work in the sex trade and kids are taken out of education. These people are being forced from their homes and often the first they know of this is when bulldozers arrive at the foot of the community.
Worse still their protests are met with unmatched violence. In 2009, armed forces opened fire on a peaceful protest. Residents claim that 6 people were killed and a further 12 seriously injured. The Government denies any such activity despite evidence of bullet holes in walls littered throughout the area.
Despite national laws requiring that compensation be given, the Rivers State Government is ignoring even rulings of the High Court which declared their conduct illegal. Moreover Nigeria is bound under international law to respect human rights owing to its membership of a number of international treaties and other legal mechanisms.
The government persistently ignores pleas from Amnesty to implement a moratorium on the evictions and follow proper procedure in order to procure the land legally. In an age where human rights are of growing importance, it is saddening that this national authority still feels that its desires transcend the fact that housing is a right not a luxury.
After a century experiencing the horrors of two world wars, the cold war, genocide, terrorism and civil upheaval one would hope that respect for humanity was at the forefront of governmental process. Seemingly this is an idyll we have still yet to reach.