Rivers Water Fronts: To Be Or Not Be?

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As the controversy continues to rage over the desirability of the planned demolition of waterfronts by the government, various stakeholders have continued to applaud the action.
While others have equally condemned such actions arguing that certain grey areas, such as resettlement, ancestral homes, right to decent housing as enshrined in the constitution among others needed to be settled before the demolition.
The short-lived five months Omehia’s administration in 2007 had planned to embark on the demolition of the various waterfronts based on what considered as security report recommendation.
The then Commissioner for Housing, Hon. Okwu Worlu, had restated the determination of the then government to implement such demolition and build new decent houses for the people living there.
However, such plan could not be implemented as the Supreme Court judgment sacked the Omehia’s administration.
On the eve of Governor Amaechi’s assumption of office such demolition exercise was briefly suspended to pave way for His Excellency to have comprehensive report of the situation.
However, as part of his all inclusive holistic developmental agenda for the state, the administration had considered the necessity of embarking on the demolition of waterfronts to pave way for planned structured buildings and development of the waterfronts.
The governor has continued to reiterate at various fora the determination of his administration to embark on such demolition without any ethnic sentiment or primordial ill feeling towards any ethnic groups in the state.
Rather, according to the Honourable Commissioner for Information, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, it was Rivers stakeholders that met and agreed that the waterfronts be demolished.
The administration also emphasised that property owners at the waterfronts shall be adequately compensated for their property. Equally, that the interest of property owners shall be protected and incorporated into the overall government plan after the completion of buildings at the water fronts.
As good as the government intentions are for the water fronts, it needs the collective support of various stakeholders for the success of the government urban renewal programme to be realistic and realisable.
According to the Honourable Commissioner for Urban Development, Hon Osima Ginah, while facing The Tide Round Table, the waterfronts are hideout of criminals, stressing that among other recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) headed by retired Supreme Court Justice, Justice Kayode Eso was if the government intends to reduce crime and insincerity in the state then government must demolish the waterfronts and develop it.
The honourable commissioner further added that “the water fronts have been hideouts for criminals because of the nature of it, it is not easy for security to move in to control and reinforce law and order in that area.”
But few weeks ago during enumeration exercise at the Bundu Waterfront there was skirmish between the enumerators accompanied by security personnel and people living in that area over the planned demolition of the area.
According to the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) DSP Rita Abbey while speaking to The Tide said “there was a problem when enumerators went to mark the houses for demolition”.
Also the Acting Chief Press Secretary to the Goveror, Mr Blessing Wikina while briefing newsmen on the Bundu Waterfront clash said that enumerating the structures at the Bundu Waterfront was the first step towards developing the area as the exercise was meant to identify genuine property owners paving the way for compensation.
Even the state Commissioner for Information, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari has said that the demolition was being done in good faith as part of the Amaechi administration’s urban renewal programme.
She further stressed that it is difficult to plan without demographic figures. There are clusters of people at the waterfronts who created for themselves government and instruments of coersion.
However, some residents at the Bundu waterfront who pleaded anonymity called upon the state government to respect their rights to decent housing and the negative impact on some families looking for accommodation without any resettlement plan.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in a release jointly signed by its National President Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) and National Publicity Secretary, Muritala Abdul-Rasheed respectively tagged “Human Rights challenges in Bundu Waterfront community saga” calls on government to comply with Nigeria’s international and regional human rights obligations as explicitly set out in the treaties it has ratified; prevent and prosecute acts of extra-judicial executions; enforced disappearance torture or other ill treatments; adopt a moratorium on executions; enforced disappearance, torture or other ill threatenments; adopt a moratorium on executions; improve access to justice; protect human rights in the Niger Delta; end forced eviction; respect and protect freedom of expression, stop violence against women, and implement the provision of the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) in all states; implement the convention on the rights of the child in all states; and end discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
In particular, the NBA leadership calls on government to live up to its responsibility of providing decent housing for its citizens as enshrined in chapter 2 of the 1999 constitution.
Therefore various stakeholders need to support the government urban renewal programme as government, equally need to integrate the plights of the affected persons at the waterfronts into its development plans and seek meaningful ways of enforcing the constitutional provision of providing decent housing for its citizens.