‘The goal of government should be to improve the life chances of the citizens-German Sociologist, Ralf Dahrendorf
The unprecedented spate of unrelenting demolition of the so-called shanties and illegal structures in Asaba, the Delta State Capital by the staff/agents of the Delta state Capital Development Agency, without adequate notice or plans of resettlement and compensation, has again made it evident that having knowledge of history and ability which goes beyond academic skills to generate ideas and translate those ideas into action are important in leadership.
Apart from the facts that ‘events have a way of repeating itself”, such knowledge is employed for the greater improvement of the society. It is the presupposition that man is capable of profiting from the experience of his predecessors and that progress in history unlike evolution in nature, prevents the present leader from repeating the mistakes made by the former.
However, a comprehensive evaluation of the sustained demolition of some business centres/outlets tagged shanties and illegal structures by the Delta state Capital Development Agency, despite condemnation and outcry by good-spirited and development minded Nigerians, shows an example of a government agency that is neither interested nor believes in the kind of thinking described above.
The signs are there and could be spotted in the fact that the present action taken by the Delta state Capital Development Agency, was the kind of policy and fate Nigerians witnessed and criticized between July and September 2000, in Abuja, the Nigeria Federal Capital Territory (FCT), where over 50,000 residents were displaced from their homes of many years without alternative accommodation as a result of FG’s thoughtless restoration of the Abuja master plan. And a similar occurrence in Rainbow Town, Port-Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, under Governor Peter Odili, where an estimated number of above 1,000,000 people lost their homes and business offices in a similar style.
In many ways, the present administration may have a sincere desire to move the state forward, and these facts are signposted in the administration’s unrelenting conscious effort to close the infrastructural deficit in the state, youth empowerment and job creation, as well as massive road construction ( a feat that has earned the Governor,-Roadmaster as a title)
Again.while it is undebatable that the government has a responsibility to ensure a planned and orderly development of the Delta state capital; this however does not and cannot justify the indiscriminate large-scale forced eviction of tens of thousands of people without any planning and provision of effective legal remedies such as adequate notice, compensation, resettlement, and rehabilitation.
Forced eviction globally constitutes a gross violation of human rights. According to the United Nations Committee on Economic, social and Cultural Rights (the body responsible for monitoring compliance by state parties to the International Covenant on Economic, social and Cultural Rights), forced eviction denotes the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to appropriate forms of illegal or other protection.
In the same line of argument, as recognized by the international convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Ratified by Nigeria in 1993), forced eviction is a brazen violation of the right to life, right to fair hearing, right to dignity of the human person, the right to a private and family life, and the rights to property guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and the African Charter of Human and peoples right (Ratification and Enforcement ) Act 1990.
Viewed differently, like every invention which comes with opportunities and challenges, having witnessed this controversy from both sides, my experience is that many things have been said about the development-some good and others tales of pains and sorrows. But in all, the overriding concern is that neither the government nor the traders could be absolved of blame.
While the traders should be blamed for encroaching on, and going beyond the road/streets setbacks, the greater chunk of this blame rests at the doorstep of Oshimili South Local Government Area. And by extension, that of the Delta State Government which of course includes the Honourable Mrapkor led Delta State Capital Development Agency.
The reason(s) responsible for this notion is based on the mountains of evidence which supports the claim that the traders did not in the first instant act in isolation or erected what is today referred to as illegal structures/shanties without approval from the Local Government Authority. The vast majority of the traders sought for and received approvals from the Oshimili South Local Government Area. The receipts of payments by these traders speak volume.
In like manner, upon completion of these shops by their owners, the council officials have operated without fail in their daily visits, and in some cases weekly/monthly for the purpose of collecting revenue from these traders. And afterwards, issue the local council receipts.
These are verifiable facts.
Whatever may be the true situation, if these claims are anything to go by, and if the development of the state capital is truly what the Agency seeks; then, there are some crucial questions that must be asked;
Going by the above facts that the council officials gave approval for the erection of such structures, at what point did the shops/business locations suddenly in the estimation of the government contravened the state-building and development laws? Why is the agency feeling so reluctant approaching the planned demolition from a rights-based perspective? Is the agency not aware that they have a duty going by international treaties and covenants of which Nigeria is signatory, to enable the people affected by the ‘development’ activity to participate in ways capable of transforming their social and economic conditions rather than using them as instruments to legitimize predetermined goals and priorities?
By refusing to compensate or resettle those affected, has the agency forgotten that the viability of democracy depends upon openness, reliability, appropriateness, responsiveness and elected official’s efforts to improve the life chances of the masses? And why is the demolition taking place shortly after the Governor assumed his second term in office whereas the traders have been in those locations right before his first term? Why must the state government offer economic survival of Deltans, which is the building blocks of democracy, on the altar of city beautification?
In my views, it will be highly rewarding in political and economic terms if the state government stop this demolition and comply with the set standards by the international bodies such as; the United Nations Committee on Economic, social and Cultural Rights (the body responsible for monitoring compliance by states parties to the International Covenant on Economic, social and Cultural Rights), and that of the international covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Ratified by Nigeria in 1993). And most importantly, act in a particular process that allows the realization of economic, social and cultural rights of the people as well as civil and political rights, and all fundamental freedoms in a way that both protects the rights and opportunities of coming generations and contributes to compatible approaches.
Jerome-Mario Utomi, (firstname.lastname@example.org 234-803-27253-74, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.