All human rights eyes are on Owerri, the capital of Nigeria’s southeast state of Imo which is scheduled to be the location of a gathering of the Nigerian Human Rights Community scheduled for September 9th, 2017. The organisers declared the agenda to be ‘Human Rights Emergency in Imo State’.
There are no other details about what this agenda is referring to but the state has been the theatre of a recent demolition exercise that civil liberties and human rights organizations have demanded investigation into, alleging loss of lives in the process carried out by troops. Subsequently, the Civil Liberties Organisation, (|CLO), for instance, described the demolition of Ekeukwu Owerre Market by the Imo State Government as an act of executive lawlessness that should be unacceptable to all who believe in democracy and rule of law. CLO President, Uche Wisdom Durueke Esq, condemned the exercise without reservation, calling it invasion despite a subsisting court order restraining the state governor from doing so.
Should the impending convergence on Imo State be about the demolition, then a major human rights battle might be unfolding with a possible unified voice for a comprehensive investigation and compensation to victims.
Nigeria has a history of arbitrary demolition of urban slums on developmental grounds or on the ground that they violated city master plans. But it always turns out that the victims are the poor and vulnerable masses, never the rich few who then share such spaces into plots among themselves. From Maroko in Lagos during the military era to Abuja under the Obasanjo regime from 2003 to 2007, back to Lagos in the recent Otodo Gbame demolition, this has been the case. Every such exercise aggravates the crisis of internally displaced persons in Nigeria during peace time. Only the urban squatters in Mpape in Abuja have so far successfully held the powerful elite from demolishing the slum. How far that will be the case remains a matter of speculation.
Reacting to criticism of being a tyrant levelled against him on account of the demolition, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State has argued back by saying he gave the dwellers in the market three year long notice and an alternative site. If he did so, then his problem might be the crisis of managing development through consensus building.