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NHRC probes alleged rights violations in waterfront demolition

Published by Guardian on Thu, 09 Aug 2012

THE National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has visited Port Harcourt to investigate allegations of gross human rights violations in the demolition of waterfronts by Rivers State government.The Executive Secretary of the rights commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, who led the team, said the visit was to enable them have first-hand information concerning the exercise.Angwe, who visited the recently-demolished Abonnema Wharf shanty, told journalists that the commission had received more than 200 petitions, mostly from overseas' civil society organisations against the state government.He said: 'We are here at the waterfront and we have seen that demolition had taken place. But apart from that fact, we have also seen and noticed that in the first place, the place was not habitable. The environment we have seen is not clean enough for Nigerians to live there. This means that their right to clean environment was not protected.'He explained that the commission, which is legally mandated to protect the rights of every Nigerian, was still investigating the petitions against the state government.According to him, the commission was yet to understand whether the government took the appropriate steps it was supposed to take before demolishing the Abonnema Wharf waterfront.Governor Chibuike Amaechi had at the weekend based rival gang clash for the abrupt demolition of the slum. He vowed to demolish several others so long as they remained abode for criminals in Port Harcourt.Angwe, however, insisted that it was the responsibility of the state to provide shelter for the citizens.'We have received lots of complaints. In recent times, we have received more than 200 petitions from outside the country in respect to this situation. All the complaints relate to the fact that people are denied their right to shelter and that the action of the government amounts to forced eviction.'He said the commission would come out with a recommendation after its investigation in line with the provisions of the National Human Rights Commission Act (as Amended) 2010'.He said under the aforementioned Act, the commission had been given full powers to take decisions that are enforced as judgments of the High Court.According to him, where government at any level took measures or administrative policies, the commission is empowered to review such administrative measures or policies and recommend for their reversal.Angwe stressed that governmentwas bound to take the recommendations coming from the commission so long as the issues bothered on human rights.Though the demolitions had already taken place, he assured that the rights commission would ascertain if the state took the necessary steps to protect the human rights of inhabitants of the waterfronts.He said if people are living in a place and they have property and government wants to acquire the place for purposes of demolition for the public interest, the government must take some steps that recognise the right of the people concerned.Angwe explained that the commission will not be biased in the discharge of its responsibility and assured the people that their rights, where breached, will be redressed.
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