Nigeria’s Human Rights Commission boss has issued a vociferous statement slamming the government for the demolition of several settlements across the country, describing the actions as not just “cruel, inhuman and degrading” but as “status-based discrimination”.
Chidi Odinkalu said on Tuesday in Abuja that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had received reports of plans to turn out the ‘poor’ from these areas with the intention of transferring the property to Nigeria’s elites.
In the past few weeks three major settlement in Nigeria’s major cities, Port Harcourt, Lagos, and Abuja, have been billed for demolition shortly followed by government-backed task forces carrying out the demolitions with the support of armed law-enforcement officers.
The major areas affected include Waterside in Port Harcourt, Rivers State; Mpape in the Federal Capital Territory; and Makoko in the Lagos Waterfront. NHRC says that hundreds of thousands of persons have been affected by the government’s actions.
“In all these cases, there have been allegations that due process was not followed; that there was inadequate notice to the affected communities; that there was no thought given to alternative accommodation or resettlement of the affected communities. There are also allegations that these demolitions are in preparation for the affected lands to be discriminatorily re-allocated to more well-off persons,” Mr. Odinkalu said.
Violating basic Human Rights
Mr. Odinkalu, who is the chairman of the Governing Council of the NHRC alleges that the Nigerian government by its actions has violated the 1999 Constitution as well as several United Nations Charters to which it wilfully subscribed.
“Shelter is both a human need and a basic right. It is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, both of which have been voluntarily accepted by Nigeria and are binding on public institutions and government in Nigeria. Where demolition of human settlements occurs without due process, it is regarded as forced eviction or enforced homelessness and violates the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under our 1999 Constitution,” he said.
The human rights lawyer also alleged that the demolition exercise could further escalate the current security crisis in the country.
“Moreover, at a time when the country confronts difficult security challenges, the demolition of human settlements has a potential to exacerbate security problems in the country,” he added.
Mr. Odinkalu further said the governemnt’s actions are discriminatory.
“Few things can be as degrading as throwing a family out onto the streets without a roof over their heads. It could also amount to discrimination against poor people in violation of the constitutional prohibition against status-based discrimination.”
Investigating the government
The human rights boss has pledged to investigate the issue and to seek redress for the victims of the demolitions, one of which he says was shot to death by law enforcement officers.
“In Makoko, it has been alleged that at least one member of the community was killed by projectiles discharged by suspected Police personnel accompanying the demolition squads.
“These allegations are serious and far-reaching. The National Human Rights Commission will be investigating them and this public statement is issued without prejudice to the outcome of these investigations,” he said.
Mr. Odinkalu says that the NHRC will conduct investigations and will take responses from “both the affected communities and the agencies of both State and Federal Governments involved”.
“The processes for these investigations will be made public at the appropriate time and will include onsite visits to the affected locations. I appeal to both State and Federal authorities to support the Commission in this objective,” he said.