Human Rights

Broken Homes, Broken Promises: The Fight for Housing Rights in Diobu Waterfront

Peace Agbo, Peter Mazzi

The salty breeze whispers through the skeletal remains of what was once a vibrant waterfront community in Diobu, Port Harcourt. Government bulldozers ripped through the neighbourhood, leaving over 20,000 families displaced and their dreams shattered. This story is not just about demolition; it’s a stark reminder of the ongoing fight for the fundamental right to housing, enshrined in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which declares: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

The rights to housing and shelter, fundamental to human dignity, are enshrined in international documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which underscores the importance of these rights in ensuring a decent standard of living for all. However, in many parts of the world, including Nigeria, these rights are often denied, leading to devastating consequences for vulnerable communities.

The recent events in the Diobu waterfront neighborhood of Rivers State highlight the harsh reality faced by many citizens. The sudden and forceful eviction of residents by government bulldozers, without adequate notice or provisions for alternative housing, left thousands of families homeless and destitute. Such actions not only violate international human rights principles but also exacerbate existing challenges, particularly in the face of economic hardship and inflation.

The seven-day eviction notice was a cruel joke. For generations, families like Mrs. Barineme Joy’s had called the waterfront home. Her voice cracks with emotion as she recounts, “Everything gone for a moment notice. How can you respond properly?” Across the makeshift shelters that now dot the landscape, another resident echoes her pain. “This is where I grew up, 44 years,” he says, his gaze fixed on the empty plot where his father’s house once stood. “We are left with nothing.”

The demolitions coincided with a period of biting inflation, further squeezing the already struggling populace. Single mothers like Mrs. Etuk Ibino lost not just their homes but their livelihoods. “How can I take care of my children?” she cries, the weight of her displacement heavy on her shoulders.

The consequences are far-reaching. Children’s education stalled as families scrambled for shelter. The once bustling waterfront, now a desolate wasteland, has become a haven for criminal activity, further jeopardizing the safety of the displaced residents. Many were forced to return to their villages, severing their connection to their jobs and social networks. Fishermen lost not just their homes but also their access to the river, their source of income.

The recent visit by the Civil Rights Council met a rather ghost town different from the usual lively and bustling communities. A former resident, her voice laced with both despair and resilience, addressed the visitors, pleading with Governor Sim Fubara to intervene. Her plea, delivered in pidgin – “Na for person house we still dey squat till now” (We are still squatting in someone’s house) – captures the desperation of a community yearning for a return to normalcy.

Social Action has carried out various interventions on behalf of evicted victims and documented the history of the government’s insensitivity to the plight of its citizens. These actions often violate the right to shelter, sometimes in flagrant disobedience to court rulings. In 2014, Social Action filed four petitions with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on behalf of evicted communities. These petitions, filed in conjunction with other civil society organizations, aimed to investigate and adjudicate alleged violations of residents’ rights in the demolished Abonnema, Njemanze, and Agip (Eagle Island) waterfront communities, as well as among several Ogoni indigenes in Ogoniland.

The Abonnema community, home to over 63,000 people, was demolished in June-July 2012 without notice, leading to arrests and detentions. The Njemanze community, with about 18,000 residents, faced demolition between February and August 2009 without compensation. Similarly, the Agip waterfront community, comprising several villages and 30,000 people, was demolished between December 2004 and April 2005. In Ogoniland, the government forcibly evicted farmers, resulting in killings, disappearances, and house burnings for a banana plantation project that never saw the light of day.

Successive governments continued where their predecessors stopped, as communities like Obidianso, Andoni, Calvary Temple and Octopus village have all been demolished. Residents were forced out with no notice or resettlement plan. (Pack and Go – Social Action (

Due to concerted efforts by the civil society and concerned community groups in Rivers State, pioneered by Social Action the demolitions stopped for a few years. They, however, resurfaced in 2016, a year after the new government, led by Barr Nysom Wike took over from his predecessor.

The governments have always claimed the demolitions are necessary due to allegations that they had assisted illicit activities such as bunkering and the waterfront served as a channel of transporting locally refined crude. But these portions of land rather than being used for the benefit of the community, are deftly assigned to their political cronies or sold to their business friends. (Victimization and the Unjust Demolition of ‘Waterside’ Communities in Port Harcourt – Social Action (

The path forward requires a multi-pronged approach:

  • Justice and Compensation: The government must be held accountable for its actions. Residents deserve fair compensation for their losses.
  • Relocation and Rehabilitation: A comprehensive relocation plan, with access to safe and affordable housing, is essential.
  • Community Engagement: The voices of the affected community must be heard. Collaborative efforts are needed to rebuild not just houses, but a sense of belonging.
  • Upholding Human Rights: This incident serves as a stark reminder of the need for stronger enforcement of housing rights enshrined in the UDHR.

The story of Diobu Waterfront is not just about bricks and mortar; it’s about the human cost of neglecting the basic right to shelter. Unless these issues are addressed, the scars of this demolition will continue to fester, a grim reminder of broken promises and a community left adrift. The predicament of the people living along the beachfront highlighted a flagrant breakdown in administration, where decisions were taken without taking the well-being of the populace into account. The lack of substitute accommodations or support systems revealed the government’s disconnection from the realities that its people experience, posing basic concerns about its dedication to upholding the interests of the people

Victims Lament their hopelessness and homelessness