NIgeria – January 30 will be remembered as a fateful day for hundreds of Nigerians living in slums in Urualla, Port Harcourt. They woke up to bulldozers rolling over their homes and by end of the day they were left homeless with their belongings lost. This was part of the government’s orders to clear the waterfront slums in cities in southern Nigeria. What followed over the next six days was horrific – more than 15,000 families spread across eight slum communities were destroyed in the city’s Diobu area. Three more neighborhoods have been earmarked by authorities for removal.
The government has explained the move aimed at stopping illegal production as well as the sale of paraffin and diesel.
“We are refugees in our own state. Rain fell yesterday and all my belongings were drenched. You can imagine a woman who has not had her bath for a week because she has nowhere to do so,” said Diobu resident Mary Prince, wiping tears from her face. “We woke up to the sight of bulldozers. We weren’t even allowed to salvage anything. Before we knew what was happening, we were rendered homeless. It was pathetic.”
The state commissioner for information, Paulinus Nsirim, said in a statement that the Nigerian government is determined to “sanitize the waterfronts by removing all shanties and most especially, continue with its frontal and hugely successful war to rid the state of criminals and undesirable elements who have transformed these waterfronts into a den of thieves”.
Megan Chapman, co-director of Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), an advocacy group in Port Harcourt, said the move “can only be seen as a land grab. There is no other explanation for it”. She added, “Presumed criminality doesn’t justify demolition. They should do their investigation and arrest the people responsible, charge them to court and prosecute them for the offenses committed.”
The Nigerian law states that people in such situations must receive compensation or another place to live if the federal government has acquired their land.