Port Harcourt: stirring the hornet's nest again?

By Odimegwu Onwumere

Barely a week, precisely October 4 2009, the presidential amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta region expired than heavy shootout was reportedly in the Bundu waterfront area of the Port Harcourt city, the Rivers State capital on October 12. The guns shots were said to be in harangue of remonstration shake up by the demolition of shanties and other illegal structures in the area for better structures by the Governor Chibuike Amaechi-led government of the state which started on 27thAugust 2009. The waterfront area of Port Harcourt was alleged to be where criminals held sway. And the residents cry that the waterfront should not be demolished, a lot of people in the state have said that it would not deter the River state government from proceeding with its plan to re-develop the reclaimed land into a tourism zone.

One would not say that the government was wicked in this demolition exercise as it was in line with its urban renewal policy. And if the people of the area had envisioned the apex city the governor has for them in mind, the presence of armed security agents barricaded the main road as the job began, would not have been experienced. But because the residents wanted to flex muscle with government could be why security men were in sight.

Though amidst tears, it's not easy to watch thousands of residents relocating from the area. But, as human beings, we need to pay some prize for the betterment of our tomorrow. The residents of Njemanze waterfront, have they not rushed to move their belongings? Though, some of the residents had expected the government to allow them stay till December to move their belongings, but no TIME is in earnest satisfactory for human beings. And we can't because the expected time was not allowed and we tag the government action as being unfair and wicked. And no one should be antagonizing his or her landlord of not informing him or her before the demolition; after all, it was duly publicized on the media. What about the lingering litigation against the exercise? Has the government not been paying compensation to landlords on the waterfront? Though, no alternative housing is offered!

Amnesty International should leave the state government out of this. Why should the Amnesty International say in a report that it “condemns the excessive use of force by some members of the security forces in Bundu waterfront community, Port Harcourt, Rivers State on 12 October”? Which force? Whereas it was on record that “Government authorities accompanied by approximately 40 heavily armed soldiers and police officers went to Bundu community on 12 October to assess the value of structures earmarked for demolition. Groups of men, women and children confrontedthe soldiers and police, demonstrating against the intended demolitions and blocking their entry into the community”. Was it not the second time within a week the government attempted to enter the community to assess the value of structures? On 6 October, were they not stopped by community members? Did a Nigerian not say that it is only a mad man that can pursue a man with a gun? Let alone, soldiers.

Do the Amnesty International know that Amaechi once said, “Before the government decided on the demolition exercise, we had a meeting with the Okrika Council of Chiefs because they were the only people protesting, so we called them to a meeting and told them what we intend to do. At that meeting we also told them that we are prepared to sell the land to them if they are willing to buy it when we finish the demolition and reclamation of the land. Then after that, we called a stakeholders' meeting of the state and everybody came and agreed that the waterfront should be demolished. After that we met with the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and they agreed that the place should be demolished. I went to United Kingdom and I just came back. And at the function there in United Kingdom, I told them and everybody was shouting demolish! Demolish! And somebody came and said, “Thank God you came, we were arranging NGOs in the United Kingdom to protest against the demolition but now we will not.”

Following that, are the residents angry with the evictions carried out? Did Governor Ameachi not announce he will compensate only the owners and not the tenants or owners of buildings constructed without permission? No matter the clarion call by the UN Habitat, that at least, 200,000 people will be affected if the Rivers State Government goes ahead with demolishing all waterfronts, we need a change.

However, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, Governor Rotimi Amaechi should be commended for the work so far he is doing in Rivers State. And if people are seeing him as being wicked because he hates the underdeveloped nature of the state, who knows what any other person would have done if not Amaechi? Perhaps, it would have been an administration led with scorpion.

Initially, they accused the governor of doing ethnic cleansing, demolishing the waterfronts so he can give it to the Ikwerre. But on the contrary, the governor said,

the truth is that even the areas that belong to Ikwerre are being demolished. The reason for the demolition is to chase away criminals. Nobody should make that argument; the land belongs to Rivers State government. They claim they sold it in 1819 or 1918, whichever month they sold, I don't want to know, what I want to know is that at least the two parties sold, and sold to the Crown (government). They are all Crown land and they can't metamorphose into the state government and I am paying compensation.

Governor Amaechi had said that politicians are just hatching the issue of ethnic bias on the waterfront because he comes from Ikwerre. “Suppose I am from Ove, what would they have said? The crime rate is so high in Port Harcourt and we can't continue to allow people lay siege on Port Harcourt. The way to ease tension in Port Harcourt is to demolish all those waterfronts and re-develop them. I told them, 'if you are after the land, no problem; when I finish demolishing it come and buy the land from me'. I told them to keep their money because when I finish I will sell it to anybody except the devil. Anybody from any part of the world whether Lagos, New York or anywhere can buy. Now if they come to buy after demolishing, they would be the first people I will sell to. It is not a matter of land ownership; it is a matter of what is going to happen to development versus where they live. If you go to where they live, you will be shocked. They don't report cases to the Police,” Amaechi had said.

Nigerians have to condemn that guns shots in the Bundu area of the waterfronts. Thank goodness that the opposition party, Rivers State AC, led by Prince Tonye Princewill has condemned the menace describing it as “unfortunate”.

Odimegwu Onwumere is the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), and a Media Consultant based in Rivers State. +2348032552855. [email protected]