The Rivers State government has marked all the entire houses, business premises, homes, schools, churches, and buildings on both sides of the 4km Akpajo to Elelenwo Road for demolition, in order to pave way for a road expansion project. Tension is very high among business owners and residents of the densely-populated neighborhood, as they fearfully await the arrival of the state’s ruthless bulldozers. In the context of an ongoing urban development and renewal programme that commenced in 2007, the Rivers State Government has forcefully evicted tens of thousands of residents, and demolished buildings, homes, businesses, schools and properties across the metropolis, especially the densely-populated waterfront communities.
Owners of the marked buildings have not been compensated nor provided with alternative accommodation. If allowed to happen, tens of thousands of families will be rendered homes and stripped of their sources of livelihood. Unlike Njemanze and Abonema Wharf waterfront communities that have been flattened by the Rotimi Amaechi-led demolition friendly government, Elelenwo Road is not a slum. Some local residents claim they have both customary and statutory title to their lands, and obtained approval prior to erecting the marked structures.
Governor Amaechi is known for his deep resentment for public consultation and citizen engagement on matters relating to urban renewal. As such, it is not likely that he will heed the growing calls for restraint considering the soaring rental costs in the city.
All Nigerian citizens, including the inhabitants of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, are entitled to the fundamental right to property, as guaranteed by Section 43 and 44 of the Nigerian Constitution. In addition, an array of national legislations such as the Land Use Act, and the Rivers State Physical Planning and Development Law of 2003 specifically protects all rights-holders against arbitrary seizure by state and non-state actors. For instance, section 90 of the Rivers State 2003 Law requires that the government provide affected persons grants, loans, compensation, alternative lodging or sites for accommodation. The Rivers State government has never provided an acceptable alternative location and/or accommodation for demolished communities.
The right to property is violated when the government orders or carries out mass demolition or forced evictions without adhering to the statutorily laid down procedures. Apart from property and housing rights, forced evictions and demolitions also violate the fundamental right to life, dignity, and health, as expressed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ratified into Nigerian law.