Ogoni: The Demolition of the Agip Waterside
Between 80-90 percent of the shanty town known as Agip waterside in Port Harcourt has been demolished by the Rivers State government in an exercise in which it is accused of giving inadequate notice and no compensation to long and short term residents.
The demolition has affected poor shanty residents, churches, schools and small businesses which have developed in the area over a period of around fifteen years.
Human rights groups have raised an alarm over drastic impacts on families displaced by the demolition with thousands facing serious problems finding replacement shelter, disruption to marginal employment, and disruption to schooling for those able to afford even basic education.
There has been no response to date from the Rivers State Government or Nigerian Agip Oil Company to appeals for assistance to those who are displaced from the waterside or who are still clustered in one or two remaining buildings. The State government is breaching both the legal rights of many residents and is certainly ignoring International Conventions on the Rights to Shelter and Adequate standards of living.
The AGIP waterside shanty town is located immediately behind and adjacent to the AGIP Industrial Area in Port Harcourt Rivers State and the University of Science and technology (UST) of Port Harcourt. The land occupied is marginal, mostly falling between the road to Eagle Island and the expanse of creeks immediately behind the AGIP premises with houses stretching from the fence line of the company several kilometres towards Eagle Island which is the main road through the area.
The exact population of the Agip Waterside is unknown but by 2005 it had become one of the most densely populated areas of Port Harcourt, competing only with shanty towns in the Abonnemma wharf and other marginal areas of Port Harcourt. A typical single room accommodation of 6m x 4m might sleep 3-4 people or more if children are involved. Estimates of the population are all in the thousands with the low end being around a conservative 5,000 and most towards 10,000 or higher.
The waterside has been used as accommodation for poorer people in Port Harcourt since at least the late 1980s and by the early 1990s, the Rivers State government was granting certificates of occupancy (title equivalent) for the area. Although there are no official amenities (electricity or water)in the area at the time of demolition there were Churches, schools, shops and some small businesses which had been established in the area.
Some residents interviewed had been living in the same accommodation for more than ten years and they had indicated that others were residing in the area for more than fifteen years. Others have moved to the increasingly crowded waterside after being affected by other conflicts in the state. Some had moved on more than two previous occasions because of conflicts.
In recent times there have some been accusations that the area harbours gang members and criminals of differing types. There is a consensus, that like other areas, the waterside suffers from petty thieves and minor criminals but the evidence of any major criminal presence has not been produced by the State government or any other body at the time of writing [and it was certainly not evidenced by any resistance to the demolition of the waterside area].
Timeline of the Demolition
The accounts collected to date all refer to several visits by the Rivers State Ministry of Housing and Lands which date to mid 2004. One typical account gives the following dates:
A team of Mobile Police visited the area demanding that people move out.
Subsequently, there was a visit by a delegation comprising the Director of Land and Urban Development within the same week. The Director is reported to have come to the Agip Waterside and explained that there was a need to remove any properties which are within 7.5m of the centre of the Eagle Island Road to allow its expansion.
The Director was reported to have emphasised that they were not coming to demolish the waterside area but only to expand the road.
22nd December, 2004
Director of Lands (reportedly in person) and a team of MOPOL came and began destroying houses both inside and outside the earlier specified area. Stopped work December 23rd and reported to have said they would return in January to resume work.
Interviewee was not aware of any further contact from the Department of lands
14th February 2005
After a delegation of Ogoni residents from the AGIP waterside visited MOSOP
(Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni people) offices in Port Harcourt, MOSOP
wrote to Agip [see appendix] to express concerns over allegations that AGIP
had an interest in having the waterside area demolished. Residents reported
being rebuffed and abused by company representatives.
Monday, 28th February ,2005
Homans Engineering Company with a representative from the Department of Lands and Housing began demolition work which continued throughout the week with a small mobile police escort providing security.
Numerous accounts of residents only having time to retrieve clothing [or nothing at all if absent] before their properties are demolished.
Friday,5th March, 2005
MOSOP and other third parties make urgent efforts to contact AGIP over the increasing impact of the demolition. Copies of earlier correspondence provided to company staff and the head of Public Affairs is informed of concerns that there is an urgent need to suspend the demolition. Visitors to the site are told by representatives from the State government that the exercise is being carried out as a part of ‘Urban Development’ of Port Harcourt.
A pastor for the ‘Apostolic Church ' reportedly arrested at the order
of the State Director of Lands when presenting a copy of a Certificate of Occupancy
dating to 1993 from the Rivers State government.
Only released same evening on the community presenting the landlord who was immediately arrested and only released on the payment of bail to the Mobile Police who held him in Port Harcourt. Reportedly no interview conducted or charges preferred.
Saturday,6th March ,2005
MOSOP President Ledum Mitee raises the matter of the demolition in person with
the Rives State governor [receives assurances that people will be compensated]
Third parties assured that AGIP Head of Public Affairs will call MOSOP President [no such call is ever received]
Demolition continues on Saturday 6th March and Sunday 7th March,2005
Monday, 8th March, 2005
A number of human rights groups based in Port Harcourt issue a public appeal to the Rivers State Government and to AGIP to suspend the demolition and pay urgent attention to the needs of people without adequate means of survival being displaced by the demolition.
Agip Oil Public Affairs manager writes in responds to correspondence of MOSOP from February 14th with an offer to conduct a Joint Investigation to the area. No mention of any response from AGIP on humanitarian concerns regarding their immediate neighbours.
By this time around 70% to 80% of the waterside area has been demolished with areas which can only be accessed by boat being the only with temporary immunity
Tuesday, 9th March,2005
MOSOP writes to AGIP Head of Public Affairs to suggest a meeting for Wednesday
10th March with AGIP management as preliminary to any further step.
No response is received
Members of the Agip waterside report that around 200- 300 persons without means to relocate are sleeping in or around 2 churches which have not yet been demolished. Reports also indicate repeated declarations from officials that they will return to demolish the churches and few other remaining buildings.
Thursday, 11th March,2005
Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL) issues a fresh statement on the demolition and urges that affected residents be compensated for the loss of their property.
Television coverage shows the Rivers State Commissioner for Lands and Housing claiming that the State government is responsible for the demolition and that it will continue.
Friday, 12th March,2005
A representative to the State Government denies to an international news agency any knowledge of demolition of Agip water side or any knowledge of statement by Commissioner for Lands and Housing
Saturday, 12th March ,2005
Fresh reports from the Apostolic church that a message from State Department of Lands officials that the Church will be demolished on Monday morning.
Rives State Government Actions
After several visits by different groups there is little apparent justification for the demolition of Agip waterside in the manner in which it was conducted.
There was no evidence found that people, many of whom had lived in the area for in excess of ten years, had been given adequate or fair warning about the scale and reasons for the demolition.
The demolition has clearly affected hundreds (almost certainly thousands) of families of very limited means who by any definition would be regarded as living in serious poverty. These people have been displaced to rural areas or other shanty towns without compensation of any kind.
The demolition appears to have taken place with minimal or no warning and in breach of earlier undertakings by the State Director of Lands.
There has been no response by the State government to both private and public appeals on behalf of those affected by the demolition [although at the time of the demolition the Rivers State Governor was on record criticising the development efforts of both UNDP and oil companies operating in Rivers State].
State government officials show no awareness of the possibility that they are breaching legal rights of residents, who at the very least should have obvious squatter rights ( which are applicable under Nigerian law). There is no indication at this time of how the State government has handled the question of people with certificates of occupancy (Nigerian title equivalent) issued over the past ten to fifteen years.
Nigeria Agip Oil Company response to the Demolition of the Agip Waterside
Agip was first formally contacted on the issue of the waterside demolition on February 14th where MOSOP reported to the company the concerns of residents that Agip was involved in a possible pending demolition with a view to expanding the land available to the company for expansion.
MOSOP also reported complaints from residents that they had been rebuffed abusively when attempts were made to contact the company directly.
No response was received by MOSOP from Agip until after the matter entered the public domain on March 8th [at which time Agip in correspondence denied having any interest in the demolition].
No response has been received in regard of public (and private )appeals that Agip consider humanitarian assistance to people being displaced immediately on the company’s fence line.
The only correspondence from Agip now appears to be a poorly supported public relations measure as the company has taken no further action on receipt of a response to its offer of a joint investigation visit
1. The State government as a matter of urgency should look into and address the situation of those at the Agip waterside who have no obvious means of shelter or feeding as a result of the demolition of Agip waterside.
2. The State government should suspend further demolition until:
a proper investigation of the demolition has taken place which should cover the reasons for the demolition, the notice given, and the government’s responsibilities for compensation under legal and humanitarian grounds.
3. Agip should make good on its undertaking to meet with MOSOP (and other human rights groups who have called for the company to respond) and take immediate steps to assist its neighbours , even at a basic level, on humanitarian grounds or publicly explain why it will not do so
In the absence of action on the part of the State government or Agip, donors agencies and emergency response organisations should review the situation at the Agip waterside with a view to providing urgently needed assistance, either directly or through local partners.