Port Harcourt, Abonema Wharf: a community sitting on a keg of gun powder!
Social Action in collaboration with Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) organised a press briefing at Abonema wharf community on Wednesday to once again draw attention to the plights of the over 200,000 people that would be displaced and rendered homeless.
At the meeting which was also attended by other SDN partner organizations and water front community representatives, journalists from both the print and electronic media were informed of the hardship which displaced residents of the already demolished Njemanze waterfront were going through on the streets of Port Harcourt and under flyovers.
It should be recalled that the demolition of Njemanze waterfront which started on the 27th August 2009 and the shootings and killings at Bundu water front on October 12, 2009, happened after similar threats from the governor of Rivers State. Mr Amaechi was alleged to have issued the recent threat during the end of year party in Government House Port Harcourt last December, 2009.
In their presentations to the media, representatives of the water front communities maintained their earlier stand of not vacating their God-given land and only ancestral heritage for a private business interest that will not be of benefit to Rivers people. According to Mrs Gift George, a woman leader from Abonema wharf community, “our lives depend so much on what we get from the river and any attempt to divorce us from our livelihood without adequate provision of an alternative, must be resisted!”
Speaking in same manner, Mr David Mark, a house owner at the water front said the only home he knows is the water front and questioned where the so called government was when their fathers was reclaiming the land through years of sand filling and hard work.
In his presentation, Jim George- a courageous community leader who has been working very closely with Social Action on the issue of demolitions, drew the attention of the media and civil society to another threat which is worse than demolitions. According to him, “while the water front communities and the civil society are designing strategies of resisting further demolitions, the government was busy allocating part of their land to Importers of refined petroleum products who have turned the community into a tank farm”
Continuing, he said as at the time of the press briefing, three different companies (Messrs Sigmund, Shorelink and Dozzy) owned by top government functionaries and retired military officers were busy constructing new storage tanks in Abonema Wharf community and that explains why they have a high presence of military personnnel in the community. He said in the past community people have suffered strange ailment and deaths resulting from chemical tank explosion from Shell Kidney Island which is also located in the community.
In the absence of portable drinking water and polluted air everywhere, living here is hell especially when we now sleep with petroleum tankers parked in our homes, Jim concluded.
In his remarks, Comrade AkpoBari Celestine, a Programme Officer with Social Action called on the media, civil society groups and the international community to demand for the immediate relocation of the tank farms before the entire water front communities are burnt down by greedy politicians who have destroyed the nation’s refineries to enable them import refined products at cut throat prices. Continuing, he said it was dangerous to see tankers with inflammable substance dragging space with children returning home from school in an environment where residents cook with firewood in food joints on same road.
According to him “a governor who could bring down a general hospital without minding the lives of poor patients can do anything to send water front residents to their early graves”
Before conducting Journalists round the heavily guarded tank farms, Celestine said the battle to restrain the Rivers State government from going ahead with the planned demolitions is that which every well meaning individual, the civil society and the international community must be involved. The Governor must be stopped if we are to save the lives and livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands junior civil servants, fishers, artisans and casualised workers in the expensive oil city Port Harcourt.
- We must continue sensitization and education of all water front residents through Town Hall Meetings and workshops
- Encourage coalition building and networking among the various water front communities and residents
- Constant media statements and press briefings on demolition
- Make demands for an Environmental Impact Assessment from the tank farm owners at Abonema Wharf community
- Campaign for immediate relocation of the tank farms from the community
- Campaign against parking of petroleum tankers on community roads and living homes.