200,000 Nigerians living along waterfront property could be made homeless by an urban renewal and eviction drive that Amnesty International says constitutes serious human rights violations. The city of Port Harcourt leaders claim it is all part of a master renewal plan to improve urban life.
Authorities for the booming city at the heart of Nigeria's oil delta have a fifty year master plan to transform Port Harcourt into a gleaming waterfront commercial district, but Amnesty International says you won't find many considerations in that plan for the common citizens who already live here.
The international human rights group is accusing Port Harcourt's leadership of serious human rights abuses in its drive to displace upwards of about 200,000 residents from their homes, with little if any repayment, and even less warning.
The city says the evictions are necessary to sanitize the area, check crime, and renew the city center, but Amnesty says the city's actual intentions for the land remain uncertain.
What's sure, researcher Lucy Freeman says, is that locals in the targeted neighborhoods are likely to suffer months or years of homelessness, families are likely to be split, and very few are likely to be reasonably compensated for their homes.
Freeman cites the August, 2009 razing of Njemanze, a riverside community whose residents received just seven days notice, if that, before the wreckers arrived.
"People were running from their buildings as the bulldozers came, trying to save whatever possessions that they had," Freeman said. "Thousands were left homeless and vulnerable. People were sleeping on the streets for weeks after."
A year later, Freeman says, Amnesty has continued to interview former Njamanzeans still homeless from the incident. The area is now within walking distance of a multi-screen movie theater and what will soon be a shopping mall.
The city's government has not announced what else it envisions building up from the land, but in their meeting Friday with Amnesty, Freeman says authorities offered to publish specifics of their master plan as early as next week.
In the meantime, however, the group says it is less concerned about what mayors and developers will do with the land, than what police will do to clear it.
"The demolition and the preparation for demolitions of the waterfronts have been accompanied by an excessive use of force by security forces here, including use of fire arms," Freeman said.
She cites an October protest that police allegedly disrupted with gunfire.
"Amnesty International spoke to 12 people who were shot and seriously injured that day. There were also eyewitness accounts of bodies piled in the back of police vehicles," Freeman said. "What's perhaps the most concerning of this horrific event is that up to this day, the River State Government has denied that anything happened at all, that there was no firing, there was no incident, and this is in the face of video evidence."
Tension is high in the city of 1.5 million people, the capital of Nigeria's oil-rich delta. The city has a history of political violence and lies within a short boat trip from the heart of the "Movement for the Emancipation of Nigeria's" Niger Delta region.