More than 200,000 people could lose their homes and livelihoods if an oil-rich Nigerian state proceeds with a mass eviction of its waterfront slums, a report released Thursday by Amnesty International warned.
The threatened evictions come as Rivers state plans a commercial district and other attractions where informal settlements now stand along the waters of oil city Port Harcourt. Already, a forced eviction carried out in 2009 left at least 12 people seriously wounded, Amnesty International said, with locals telling the organization they saw dead bodies carried away in the back of police pickup trucks.
"These evictions were carried out without prior and genuine consultation with residents and without the provision of adequate notice, compensation or alternative accommodation and legal remedies," the Amnesty International report said. "Thousands of people, including children, women and the elderly were left homeless and vulnerable to other human rights violations."
The evictions and demolitions are part of a master plan to redevelop the waterfront of Port Harcourt, long a hub for foreign oil firms exploring Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta. While foreign oil workers live in fortified compounds resembling Western suburbs, Nigerians living in the city have little electricity and access to clean drinking water.
The Amnesty International report accused the local government of not providing fair notice to those living in the slums, as well as going back on promises to provide money to resettle them elsewhere in the city. The rights group called on the state government to immediately stop all evictions until making sure "they comply with international human rights standards."
The report also portrayed local officials as being unmoved by the plight of their constituents. The report quoted Rivers state Gov. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as saying: "We need to just move them and they will have to find their own accommodation."
Reached late Thursday night, Rivers state government spokeswoman Ibim Semenitari told The Associated Press that no one had been shot during a "numeration" in the slums in 2009. Semenitari also said: "To call them slums is to glorify them."
"No responsible government would sit down and watch its inhabitants citizens live in that kind of squalor," she said.
She said the government paid all those moved off the land, even those squatting on properties, a claim directly challenged by the Amnesty International report. She also said the development plans could be seen by local residents of Port Harcourt _ so long as they carried the right credentials.
"The laws don't give you access to take it," Semenitari said. "But you could go and say, 'Could I see it?' And you would be shown. ... But you've got to be someone who needs to see it."
Amnesty International report: http://bit.ly/aTjDW4
Rivers state government: http://www.riversstate.gov.ng/