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Port Harcourt, UN-Habitat for an immediate moratorium on demolitions and forced evictions

While the River State Governor seems to have engaged a final battle to destroy Njemanze and Abonnema Wharf waterfronts despite the Federal High Court of Nigeria made an Order restraining him from carrying out any demolition in the waterfronts, UN-Habitat has spread the Report on the fact-finding mission to Port Harcourt (12-16 March 2009).

No formal comments were received from the Rivers State Government, but our sources confirm that they had received the Report and was aware of UN-HABITAT's assessment of the evictions in Port Harcourt.

An explosive Report: more than 300.000 residents under evictions

The Report is explosive: the RSG’s urban renewal programme – if executed as announced – will probably destroy the homes of up to 300,000 Port Harcourt residents. In addition to residential structures, there are the numerous demolished shops, workshops and other small business structures in various parts of the city that provided livelihoods for thousands of low- income residents. The Mission estimates that the Silverbird Showtime project alone, promoted not for crime prevention or urban renewal as claimed, but for the promotion of a private Cinema business, will lead to land clearance affecting between 100,000 and 150,000 people.

The demolitions no doubt inflict distress, perpetuate poverty and homelessness, and thus jeopardize Nigeria's progress to achieve the MDG 7, Target 11 that seeks to ensure a significant improvement in the living conditions of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

The violations of the legal provisions and inadequate observance to their enforcement

The demolitions carried out do not comply with the institutional framework provided by the law

The RSG are not in compliance with regional and international laws on human rights (art. 11 ICESCR and General Comments 4-7) and has not implemented most of the provisions of the Rivers State Physical Planning and Development Law of 2003. In other words, the demolitions carried out do not comply with the legal and institutional framework provided by the law.

Discretionary use of development control not in compliance with the Habitat Agenda

The Mission observed strict discretionary use of development control in contradiction to provisions of the 2003 Law which advocates for more participatory, human and inclusive approaches and concluded that the present policy is non-inclusive and not pro-poor and not in compliance with the Habitat Agenda. It is socially and economically costly with very negative implications for the international image of the city.

The violation of the 1978 Land Use Act: compensation only for landlords and not for tenants

The RSG “buys” out legal properties from their respective owners instead of opting for land acquisition through a revocation order for overriding public purposes, as defined in statutory laws (1978 Land Use Act). No other option is offered. The RSG does not provide for resettlement or compensation of tenants and has no will to establish any other support mechanisms for tenants who are rendered homeless.

Non observation of tenants’ rights despite the Federal High Court order to halt demolitions

The eviction of sitting tenants as practised by the RSG is in contradiction with the Rivers State rental legislation that prescribes that only the court can order the eviction of tenants on the grounds that the premises are reasonably required for any purpose which is in the public interest.

The Mission confirmed that tenants of legal structures in the upper part of Abonnema Wharf Road that were demolished in February 2009 had initiated a court case against the RSG in August 2008. This suit was seeking an injunction to restrain the RSG from interfering with the tenants’ constitutionally-enshrined rights to privacy, family life, and dignity of Human Person. The Federal High Court order against the Commissioner for Urban Development to halt the demolitions was ignored and the forced eviction executed by the RSG.

Inadequate notice and violence

Demolitions carried out by the RSG are not preceded by timely notice to occupants who must vacate the buildings. The Mission verified cases in which occupants were not allowed to remove their personal belongings and personal effects from the buildings under demolition. Additionally, the Mission verified the use of force in the Abonnema Wharf Road demolitions from the part of the Government.

The RSG is not allowed to undertake any slum clearance without the authorization of the Federal Government

The most important additional substance in the final report concerns the tenure status of the waterfront settlements: most likely a large part of the waterfronts is owned by the Federal Government, namely the National Inland Waterways Authority. If verified by a systematic on-site assessment, this would imply that the State Government is not allowed to undertake any slum clearance and/or redevelopment without the authorization of the Federal Government.

Google Maps image

Google Maps image of the upper part of Abonnema Wharf Road and Njemanze Street before demolition (the now demolished area is marked in red)

UN-Habitat: the RSG should declare an immediate moratorium on demolitions and forced evictions

Based on its independent assessment of the situation in Port Harcourt, the UN-Habitat Mission recommends that the Rivers State Government declares an immediate moratorium on demolitions and forced evictions which should have effect until all their 18 recommendations are fully implemented.

So, UN-HABITAT has sent Report to the Rivers State Executive Governor. The cover letter appeals to the Governor to call off the demolition of a large waterfront settlement scheduled to start, in order to create time and space to urgently find an alternative approach. The letter further proposes that the State Government and UN-HABITAT jointly organize an all-stakeholder consultative forum to find an alternative solution.

In line with the 18 recommendations of the Report the objective of this forum would be to jointly develop an inclusive approach to city development and urban renewal. In the interest of the affected population, such a forum should take place as soon as possible.

Despite that the Rivers State Government sent demolition squats into one of the waterfront settlements located adjacent to the Silverbird Showtime project.

Threfore, as emphasised in the Habitat Agenda and already stressed by Habitat Programme Manager Prof. Falade on 23 February 2009, UN-HABITAT cannot engage in such bold and needed programme assistance while forced evictions and demolitions are being carried out by RSG.

Since the main finding of this Mission is that the petitions and reports received prior to the Mission have been verified and complaints against discretionary demolitions are essentially true, the moratorium on forced evictions is a prerequisite to create the sine-qua-non conditions to boost fruitful and meaningful cooperation between UN-HABITAT and the Rivers State Government in laying the foundation for a sustainable and inclusive Garden City.

So, now the word is to the inhabitants organisations and to the international solidarity to reverse of the looming large-scale forced evictions.

Independent UN expert sounds alarm on mass forced evictions in Nigeria