Destroyed slums and ruined lives in Nigeria’s oil capital

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria: In the pouring rain, figures sleep among the rubble of their former homes. Gift is sitting on a cinder block where the front door used to be.

Urgently warned by neighbors, this plantain seller remembers arriving too late. The demolition of the favela had already begun. Your life, your “destroyed” memories. “I lost everything,” he laments himself.

Near the polluted waters of Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s main oil city in the south, informal settlements made from scrap metal are home to half a million people.

So many souls threatened with being forcibly evicted, with no alternative or compensation: in early January, Rivers State Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike announced the demolition of all these informal seaside habitats, which he said had become, according to him, “den of criminals”.

In the process, demolitions began in late January.

The informal district of Diobu, for example, in the southwest of the city, was half destroyed. In six days, nearly 20,000 residents lost their homes and livelihoods.

Because thanks to fishing, mobile markets and shipping, most people depend on the coast to survive.

Many lived there for decades. Your ancestors built everything with their hands. Today, only 11 hectares of rubble remain.

– rampant demography –

“Here we lived peacefully,” laments Tamunoemi Cottrail, a local landowner and fishmonger, before recalling the arrival of the armed men.

“They didn’t speak to anyone. They just walked down the steps and started putting X’s on some buildings.”

Local authorities did not provide details on the waterfront’s future after the slums were destroyed. But they insist that demolitions of informal communities are necessary and legal.

“The law allows (demolitions) as long as it is in the public interest,” said a member of the Rivers State Housing and Real Estate Development Authority, on condition of anonymity.

These forced evictions above all illustrate the complex urban development of cities in the most populous country in Africa (220 million inhabitants), which, according to UN estimates, will become the third most populous in the world by 2050.

With this rampant demography and urban planning ignored, millions of Nigerians will continue to congregate in slums, with very difficult living conditions.

In Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s black gold capital, Africa’s main producer of crude oil, a third of the inhabitants live in these neighborhoods.

These communities are the first to suffer the environmental damage from oil and gas extraction.

“People are not deliberately settling into informal settlements,” said Isa Sanusi, spokesperson for Amnesty International in Nigeria.

“There shouldn’t be in this kind of place because the states are rich and have the capacity to meet the needs.”

eyelashes and lies

In Diobu, local authorities told residents they had seven days to pack.

“When they arrived, they started whipping people,” breathes Omobotare Abona, a fisherman from Diobu. “When people said: + Wait, let’s get our things together because it’s sudden +, they replied: + Get out +”

Demolitions began three weeks after Governor Wike announced it in his New Year’s address.

“It’s a lie,” says Mr. good As everywhere, there are “bad people”, but we shouldn’t generalize, he assures us.

Faced with the dissatisfaction of local populations, the regional information commissioner Paulinus Nsirim adopted a more severe tone, insisting on the need to “cleanse the sea fronts”.

Many former residents of Diobu have moved elsewhere with relatives. Some stayed close to the coast, for lack of an alternative, their furniture and clothes piled up on the sidewalks.

Communities fuel an informal economy vital to the city, which accounts for up to 65% of real economic activity.

However, they live in extreme poverty, without public service and without political representation.

Abona has sent his wife and 6-month-old son to a relative’s home, but he can’t imagine living anywhere else. “I grew up here, I feel safe here,” he insists. This fisherman often returns to the spot where his house was demolished. He says he is waiting for the right time to rebuild.

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