NHRC postpones Public Inquiry on forced evictions, indefinitely:Press statement issued by the Alone

Written by Lillian Akhigbe, Communications Officer, Alone

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has postponed its Public Inquiry scheduled to hold in Port Harcourt from December 17 – 19, 2014, till further notice. The Commission was to sit at the Federal High Court complex to investigate and adjudicate the alleged violation of the right to fair hearing, housing, dignity, food, livelihood, adequate standard of living, private and family life, of tens of thousands of residents in the demolished Abonnema, Njemanze and Agip (Eagle Island) waterfront communities, as well as several Ogoni indigenes in Ogoniland.  The postponed Hearing was fixed to entertain the four petitions filed on behalf of the affected communities, by the Social development Integrated Centre (Alone), in conjunction with other civil society organizations. Also slated for hearing, was a petition filed by Alone in respect of the late Mrs Maureen Lucky, who was allegedly evicted from a flood relief camp in October 2012, by government officials on account of her HIV-positive status. She died a few weeks after the forced eviction, leaving behind three children and an aged mother. The petition was filed, February 13, 2013.

The postponed three – day Hearing of the NHRC, would have been the third Public Inquiry session held in respect of some of the petitions, having initially organised two sessions in Port Harcourt (May 2014) and in Enugu (October 2014), respectively.

The Abonnema waterfront community which comprised of over 63,000 people living in over 600 structures, was demolished between June 27- July 2, 2012. The community situated in Port Harcourt, was home to mainly Kalabari Ijaw people who carried on their farming, fishing, sea faring, boat building and other businesses within and around the community.  The Rivers State government under the guise of carrying out an urban renewal exercise purportedly designed to chase out criminals from the city, decided to demolish Abonnema community, perceived to be harbouring criminals. Without any Notice issued to the residents, the entire community was razed down with bulldiozers and several community members were arrested and illegally detained by security forces. The petition was subsequently filed on September 26, 2013.

The Njemanze waterfront community consisted of about 18,000 people who lived and worked in over 375 buildings. It was a riverine community in Port Harcourt which drew fishermen and fishmongers to settle there because of its proximity to water. Many of the settlers used cumbersome manual methods to reclaim and develop the wetlands to a level fit for human habitation. Some also built permanent structures with block and zinc, and lived there for decades. Every structure in the community was demolished by the Rivers State government between February 9 – August 28, 2009 and the inhabitants were forcefully chased away from their community, without being paid compensation by the government.  After every attempt made by the people to get compensation failed, the petition was thereafter filed by the civil society organisations at the NHRC on May 17, 2014. Agip (Eagle island) waterfront community comprising Ogoni village, Alhaji village and Ibioma village, had over 30,000 people living and working in at least 842 structures erected in the community. The villages in the community were situated along both sides of the road running from the gate of AGIP Plc  to Eagle Island town in Port Harcourt. Between December 2004 and April 2005, the government demolished the community after forcibly evicting thousands of residents from their houses. The petition was filed at the NHRC on March 26, 2014.

In Ogoniland, the forced eviction of Ogoni farmers from their farmlands by the government, resulted in dozens of killings, forced disappearances and the burning and looting of hundreds of houses of persons who objected to the eviction. For the purpose of establishing a banana plantation in a public-private partnership with a Mexican firm, the government took over the subsistent farmland and sole means of livelihood of hundreds of Ogoni families, ostensibly to financially benefit the government and the foreign private investor. Alone in April 2013, published a Report titled “KILLING FOR BANANA” which revealed that several persons were killed and some missing, by or with the complicity of the Nigerian security forces who failed to conduct any investigations to date. The petition was filed at the NHRC on September 25, 2013. The reliefs sought at the Commission are an order of mandatory injunction restoring the various lands in question, back to the affected community members and/or an order of mandatory injunction compelling the Rivers State government to pay adequate compensation for all moveable and immoveable property wrongfully lost, damaged or destroyed during the demolitions, and for the violation of the rights of the evictees guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Rivers State Rent Control & Recovery of Possession of Premises Edict  No. 3 1984, as well as  the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ rights which are ratified international statutes applicable in Nigeria.

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