Social Action together with other civil society organisations has over the years protested the forced evictions and wanton destruction of many waterfront communities in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The exercise which has been going on for years, saw many waterfront communities destroyed by the government while the lands are apportioned to the politically connected. Through concerted action and campaigns by Social Action and other CSOs, demolitions in many waterfront communities were halted until 2016 when the new government in Rivers State resumed the demolition exercise under the pretence that many waterfront communities have become a den for hoodlums and criminals which threaten the peace of the state. It was about this time that Andoni, Calvary Temple and Octopus villages, all in Eagle Island got demolished by the government.
A common feature of all the demolished communities before and after 2016 was that the lands were all giving out to the private sector (industrialists) for various forms of capitalist enterprise in the state. For instance, at the Andoni Waterfront which was demolished in the year 2016, the whole community had been overtaken by grasses with a good portion of the land used for the dredging of sand for the sand filling of the area and possibly for sales.
The same applied to Calvary Temple which was overgrown with weeds. Mrs Helen, a former resident of Calvary Temple, narrated how government agents and security operatives invaded the community sometime in 2016 in the middle of the night with guns and petrol. This act led to the destruction of people’s houses and thereby forcing them out of the community without prior notice nor alternative provision for resettlement.
From visits to the affected communities, it was clear that the demolition exercised was carried out by the government, not with the intent of driving away criminals as often canvassed by the government. Approaching the former Octopus community whose occupants were displaced years ago, several dredging machines and trucks can be seen in full dredging business and related activities in the community. The once bubbling community has been handed over to vested business interests in the state.
In line with Social Action’s agenda of promoting social justice, a team of civil rights paid a solidarity visit to one of the affected communities-Obidianso Waterside where members of the community suffered untold losses, arising from a recent demolition exercise.
Social Action team talking to the Obidianso Waterside residents before the demolition
Residence faced with distress after the demolition
On the 17th of July, 2018 the occupants of the waterfront community in Obidianso witnessed severe threats to their lives and properties as men of the Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Police invaded the community early in the morning firing several shots in the air and breaking the houses of the residents. The upheaval generated resulted in injuries and loss of property. Many were left on the street with their property, and some of them passed the night on the streets.
Though the policemen retreated after the initial confusion created on the early morning on the 17th of July 2018, they returned on the 20th of July with a swamp buggy to the community, and within minutes the entire Obidianso community was demolished and left in ruins with inhabitants and their wares on the streets.
Though the State and the Local governments denied any knowledge and involvement in the demolition exercise, all efforts to get the governments to intervene in the demolition process failed which raised suspicions to their claims of non-involvement.
Like most waterfronts’ communities in Port Harcourt, Obidianso is the latest victim of ruling class desperation to amass land within the state capital.