- Thousands rendered homeless
- We’ve nowhere to stay with our families –Aggrieved residents
- Demolished shanties were crime hotspots – Govt
It was a torrent of anguish and tears by some residents recently when their houses and property were demolished by the Rivers State Government.
The Abba, Elechi, Nnaka, Uruala , Afikpo, Ojike, Akuzu, Egede, Soku streets, where the incident took place, were all clamped in a slum known as Illoabuchi Waterfront in Diobu axis of Port Harcourt, the state capital, until houses and property in the area came under a hale of government bulldozers on the fateful day and rendered about 3,000 residents homeless.
Our correspondent gathered that the governor, Nyesom Wike, had, in his new year massage, branded the area where all manner of criminal activities, including illegal artisanal refining activities take place and marked it for demolition with a view to guaranteeing security and peace in the area and the entire state.
The area was also said to harbour criminals such as kidnappers and armed robbers.
However, it is a place where low income earners could afford accommodation as they can not do so in the metropolitan cities.
In Illoabuchi, thousands of men, women as well as elderly persons who lived with their children engaged in legitimate businesses to earn a living and also pay government taxes.
Since the demolition, some stranded residents took solace at friends’ and relatives’ residents, while others who have no one to turn to were seen loitering around their displaced property, looking for a way to salvage them.
Very pathetic story was that of a 90-year-old Madam Brown whose agonies and frustration went viral in the social media. The nonagenarian was captured in a video raining curses on Governor Wike for demolishing her apartment and rendering her and her entire household homeless.
Our correspondent learnt that government gave one week notice to the residents before it rolled in its bulldozers, but many residents are claiming that they were taken unawares.
A resident, Jonathan Ugwu, said: “We were taken unawares by government. I was in Aba where I had gone to buy goods when my wife called to inform me that our house and the entire Illoabuchi settlement had been demolished by the agents of the state government. Before I could come back, all the houses in the area had been brought down. But my wife and a few sympathisers were able to salvage a few of our property. Many residents were rendered homeless. I shared my family members into the homes of some of my relations, while I am hanging around.”
Another victim, Janet Okoye, said:
“We started hearing the rumour of government’s plan to demolish the area about two weeks ago. But many of us did not take it serious because there was no prior notice to that effect. But to my utmost surprise, we saw bulldozers advancing towards our houses. Some persons that were around tried as much as they could to remove their property. Now, I don’t have any place to stay with my children. We are just hanging around.”
Another resident, Ebenezer Gorge, said:
“Hundreds of children that reside in this community with their parents will have their academic calendars disrupted. I wonder how we are going to cope. I don’t actually know what to do. Three of my children are in primary and secondary schools. Now, I don’t know how we are going to cope with their academic programme,” she said.
She called on government to handle the victims matter with human face and provide alternative accommodations for them.
When residents of the area had, on January, 7, written to the governor and expressed reservations over the planned demolition. They also requested an audience with the government on the way out, it was reportedly rebuffed by the governor.
Our correspondent also gathered that a group of civil society organizations such as Justice and Empowerment Initiations, Social Action, the Nigerian Slum/Informal Settlement , Collaborative Media Advocacy Platform, Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development and Friends of the Earth had earlier called on government to reconsider its stand on the demolition, but to no avail.
The group, in a statement it jointly signed, said: “We the undersigned members of civil society decry this unlawful and callous threat and call on the Rivers State Government to seriously reconsider its plan before it takes irreversible action that violates the fundamental human rights of thousands of persons residing in the area and undermines the security and long term development goals of the residents of Port Harcourt.”
Since the occurrence, the demolition of the settlement has continued to elicit comments within the state.
The state branch of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in a statement signed by its Publicity Secretary, Chris Finebone, said thousands of residents of a number of Waterfront communities had been rendered homeless and destitute after one week quit notice that the governor gave them.
Finebone said the plight of the affected residents was further worsened by the fact that the demolition was carried out in a very difficult month of January.
“The most annoying is the mindless attempt by government to liken the ejection of waterfront dwellers to what happened at Njemanze and Abonnema Wharf waterfronts during the administration of Wike’s predecessor. But the government is being clever by half by suppressing the fact that what happened at those two waterfronts was well structured and properly thought through in the sense that all residents and landlords were enumerated and landlords compensated well in advance before the areas were legally acquired by the government then. There was no case like that of a 90-year old woman named Madam Brown singing and placing curses on Governor Wike for rendering her homeless on earth,” Finebone said.
Former Managing Director of NIMASA, Dr Dakuku Peterside, said the demolition of the settlement was wicked, evil and inhuman.
The Commissioner for Information, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim said Governor Wike, in his New year 2022 message to Rivers People, had stated clearly, among other far-reaching measures, to curtail the activities of criminals in the state that: “Indeed, there is no denying the fact that crime and criminality have been at very low rates in Rivers State and citizens felt safer and more secure in 2021 than the previous years.
“With the cooperation of the security agencies, we identified and destroyed most of the shanties that hitherto served as safe havens and hideouts for criminals, who have now been dislodged and dislocated from the state, having lost the space and capacity from which they could operate with ease.
“To consolidate on the gains of the dislodgement and dislocation exercises, and make the state even safer and more secure, we have decided to demolish all shanties and makeshift structures in identified crime hotspots in Port Harcourt Township and the Illoabuchi areas of Diobu from the second week of January 2022.”
However, the residents of the affected area have gone to court to challenge their ejection from their houses.