NIGERIA: Plan to demolish waterfront villages suspended

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Residents of waterfront villages around Nigeria’s oil capital Port Harcourt are relieved as a plan to demolish their homes has been shelved following the removal of the state governor on 26 October.

“The former governor did not have the interest of poor people at heart," said Peters Ibinabo, a resident of Bundu, one of 25 waterside villages slated for demolition.

“The [new] governor has started well," he told IRIN by telephone.

In his first address to the people of Rivers State, the largest oil-producing state in the Niger Delta, the newly installed governor Rotimi Amaechi said, “The planned demolition of all waterfront villages has been suspended with immediate effect.”

Amaechi was installed on 26 October following a ruling by the Nigerian Supreme Court which disqualified the former governor, Celestine Omehia, who had held office since elections in May.

Omehia had said in August that insurgents and criminal gangs were using the waterfront villages as hideouts thus he would give the estimated one million residents there until the first week of December to vacate their homes.

The security situation in southern Nigeria's oil-producing region has deteriorated since early 2006 with attacks on oil installations and the kidnapping of foreign workers for ransom.

Port Harcourt has also recently been the scene of gun battles between rival gangs in the city.

But residents of the waterfront villages expressed outrage that the government would destroy their homes where their forefathers had been living for hundreds of years. “Such a move will deface the culture of our people,” the president of Port Harcourt Aborigines, Derek Achisomie, had said at the time.

He and other local leaders also accused Omehia of ulterior political motives for displacing the poor inhabitants of the villages.

Most of the areas earmarked for demolition lack running water, roads, electricity and healthcare facilities.

The main militant group in the Delta, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, known as Mend, announced in October that it would resume attacks after a month-long ceasefire.

The unrest there has led to a 25 percent cut in oil output since 2005. President Umaru Yar'Adua, who came into office in May, has said that tackling unrest in the Niger Delta is one of his top priorities.

Source: IRIN