• 17 Communities Protest Planned Eviction
• Mosop Expresses Concern, Urges Reconsideration
Residents of 17 communities in some waterfronts in the Diobu axis of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, have protested planned forceful eviction at the behest of the state government.
The protest came barely two weeks after the state government demolished some houses at the Andoni and Redeemed Village, in Eagle Island, Port Harcourt Local Council Area, as part of efforts to wipe out criminal hideouts.
The protesting residents embarked on the protest to express their pains over the imminent homelessness to the government, after the government announced that more 17 waterfronts communities, allegedly termed criminal hideouts, would soon be demolished. The residents were handed a seven-day ultimatum to quit.
The communities under threat include, Awgu Waterfront, Elechi Phase 1, Elechi Phase II, Urualla Waterfront, Ojike Waterfront, Afikpo/Awkuzu Waterfront, Abba Waterfront and Nanka Waterfront Others are Akokwa Waterfront, Egede Waterfront, Soku Waterfront, Timber Waterfront, Echue Waterfront, Obidiansor Waterfront and Anozie Waterfront.
The residents converged on the Mile One Flyover, Port Harcourt, from where they proceeded to the Government House. They were, however, dislodged by policemen who fired several canisters of teargas from the armoured vehicles, where they were mounted.
Meanwhile, a joint statement by five civil society organisations condemned the forced evictions at the Eagle Island and decried threat of further evictions at the aforementioned communities.
According to the statement, which was made available to newsmen, the group said the action if carried out would be unlawful and callous and called on the state government to retract the statement.
“We, the undersigned communities and members of civil society, decry this unlawful and callous threat and call on the Rivers State Government to seriously reconsider its plan before it takes an irreversible action that violates the fundamental human rights of 60, 000 innocent persons and undermines the security and long-term developmental goals of all residents in Port Harcourt.
One of the residents, Bello Max-Egba, said, “The Nigerian Police fired at our innocent and harmless protesters with canisters of teargas. They were also shooting into the air. Mothers, women and children are losing their property every time we are evicted from our residents. This is not the Nigerian Police that is supposed to protect lives and property.
He also called for the unconditional release of some of the residents arrested by the police.
Addressing the protesters, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Uche Anozia, urged them to adopt a peaceful method to achieve their request saying, “Whatever it is that you want, it has to be through a peaceful method because if you engage in violence some people might get injured in the course of stampede.”
Meanwhile, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) has expressed concern at the seven-day ultimatum handed the waterfront residents.
The group has, therefore called on the government to reconsider its decision, which it says fails to allow the residents enough time to find, make alternative accommodation plans.
A statement signed by the media advisor to MOSOP, Bari-ara Kpalap, described residents of the waterfronts as the poorest in the metropolitan Port Harcourt, even as he added that the largest population of those residents were of Ogoni stock, who would be worst hit if the planned demolition comes to pass.
MOSOP maintained that, “This, no doubt, would compound their already excruciating socio-economic hardship, occasioned by the deepening economic crisis in the country. That they suffer such deteriorating conditions, and were also not expecting the decision, they are deeply unprepared and devastated by the realisation that they may be unable to afford the rental demands of alternative accommodation outside of the shantytowns. This will indisputably have adverse consequences for their means of livelihoods as well as force their children and wards to withdraw from schools due to lack of shelter, a situation we believe would inflict doubt on the government’s publicised policy on education.
“Whilst we support the idea of ridding Rivers State especially the state capital, Port Harcourt of crime and criminals to enhance peace and public safety to foster socio-economic wellbeing of the state, we would advise an implementation approach that does not criminalise all residents of the shanty towns in order not to punish wrongly. Facts abound that crime and criminals are not limited to the waterfronts. The notorious Gambia axis of Port Harcourt has over the years remained a den of criminals yet successive governments of the state have not deemed it necessary to rid this criminals’ haven of men of the underworld whose activities have inflicted pain and sorrow on the people,” the group stated. It further reasoned that demolition of shanty towns may not provide the solution to stamping out criminals from the state adding that obstacles to effective provision of security, through active policing are expressed in visibly absent intelligence gathering and surveillance on the part of the security agencies; and poor community participation.
“In view of the hardship that the residents would undoubtedly face and the need for a fair approach, we are moved to entreat the government of Rivers State to reconsider the eviction ultimatum including dialoguing with the leadership of the shanty towns especially regarding accord on what would be enough time to organise themselves and vacate or assisting identified residents without criminal records with alternative accommodation,” the statement added.