Hundreds of residents whose properties were demolished by the Nigeria Railway Corporation at the old Port Harcourt Township, Rivers State, for the construction of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line have cried out for help.
Over 900 displaced residents have also asked for adequate compensation to help them find new housing.
The affected residents, however, said they were not given ample notice of eviction before their property, which they claim they paid for, was pulled down, rendering them homeless.
During a protest on Saturday, some of them alleged that they paid for the land space on which they built, describing the action of the railroad management as callous.
One of the affected residents, simply identified as Ebi, said they were duly given the place to stay after payment, saying they have lived there for years now without any problem.
He added, “We have been paying rent to the railroad. We didn’t occupy this place illegally. But all of a sudden, we just saw a notice that we should leave.
“How can we leave like that? Some of us paid N1.2 million; some paid N1.5 million for space here.
“Now that they want to build the railroad, they should pay us compensation; that will be enough to get us another place because things are very tough in the country.”
Similarly, another victim, Waribo Ene, said the right thing for the railway management to do was to commence the payment of compensation before demolishing their property.
“We are not dragging their land with them. What we are saying is for them to compensate us.
“When they first came last year, we explained things to them, and they said they would get back to us. But nobody has come to tell us anything since then,” he said.
Continuing, Ene said, “So the community took the railway to court, so that we can settle together. Since then, we have been here.”
Meanwhile, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Railway Depot Station, Mr. Atonyiri Samuel, said the evictees were not supposed to reside in the demolished location in the first place.
He said, “Most of them don’t have papers. But anyone who receives our paper is aware of the term. So, permanent structures should not be put there. It must be a temporary structure so that we can reclaim it at any time. But definitely for the sake of this very work, we must reclaim our land.
“The work at hand as it stands now is the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line. We are trying to clear every obstruction.”
Meanwhile, a Port Harcourt-based lawyer, Higher King, said it was unlawful for the government to evict individuals or take over their property without compensation.
King stated, “We understand that this is not just for the purposes of a rail line but for the purposes of land grabbing to give to a company.
“We have it on good record that they want to grab it and give it to a company around that area to park its trucks.
“We are calling on the state government to intervene because these are Rivers people. Over a thousand houses are affected, as you can see.
“In the law as far as I know, the government can forcefully take somebody’s land. But you must pay adequate compensation.”