by Stanley Azuakola
It’s a story so hard to believe that even if it was fiction, it would seem like an unrealistic piece.
About a month ago, precisely on Saturday, July 14, over 100 army officers stormed the Rumumoi community in Obio/Akpor local government area of Rivers State and forcefully threw out residents of the community out of their homes after giving them only a 10-minute ultimatum.
Residents thought the 10-minute window given to them to vacate their houses was just a joke, but as they tried to argue, the officers reminded them that they had just three minutes left. That was the beginning of a very traumatic experience for the residents on that rainy morning.
Once the deadline expired, the soldiers, who were armed to the teeth, broke into the homes through the windows and began to throw the people’s properties out of their houses. About 90 landlords and tenants were affected in the forced eviction.
Bizarrely, the houses were instantly re-allocated to army officers present.
For about 10 years, the Rumumoi community and the army have been in dispute over the property. When the case was brought before a Rivers State High Court, the court ruled that the encroachment of the army into the community was an encroachment of fundamental human rights and instructed the army to stay away from the area.
The reaction of the residents of the community, and the hardship they passed through as a result of the army’s inhumane eviction was reported in a Guardian story:
While expressing shock over the incident, residents described the military’s action as inhuman and barbaric. Reeling out his experience, Cosmos Nwadinigwe said: “All my life, I have never seen this kind of assault before. I was in the house with my family when I just saw army officers jumped into our compound and asked us to leave the area in 10 minutes. It was like a dream. My wife resisted and she was beaten up until she collapsed. It took about seven hours before she regained consciousness.
“Till now, the forceful ejection is still unbelievable because I spent 20 years of hard labour to gather money and build my house here only to be chased out in 10 minutes. As I speak now, two army families are living in my house while I and my family are squatting somewhere.”
Kingsley Oji, whose wife lost her six months pregnancy after the forceful eviction, described the incident as unpopular and undemocratic. “I am pained with this ugly development, particularly because the government is not coming to our rescue. Not only was I thrown out of my house, I am devastated with the losS of my wife’s pregnancy after waiting for years.”
For Pastor Ademola Olusola of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, the incident has left him psychologically depleted, as he is finding it difficult to think and reason well. “This is a horrible experience. My children keep asking me why the army took our house. It was so painful this happened during their exam period and they could not sit for their exams because there was no house for us to stay at that moment.”
Spokesman for the community, Goodluck Chinwo, said such incidence could only happen in a country like Rwanda and not Nigeria, where democracy is practised.
“It is disappointing that something like this is happening in the Niger Delta, where we struggled to get peace and yet nobody is talking. If it were in the northern part of the country, it would have led to war. Have you ever seen a man cry? I cried like a baby that day. Imagine labouring for over 15 years to build a house and after all the sufferings, somebody who does not know the price of a bag of cement just comes and occupy your house under 10 minutes,” he lamented.
He alleged that some of the officers, who appealed to the evictees not to kill them, disclosed that they were only being used by superior officers to forcefully acquire the land. The evicted persons are, however, appealing to government at all levels to intervene and direct the army to obey the rule of law.
Meanwhile, chairman of the local government area, Mr. Timothy Nsirim, in his earlier reaction to the incident, had urged the army to restrain from their planned action unless they were ready to carry out mass burial as he warned that such action would lead to untimely death.
Also, the traditional ruler of the community, Eze S.M Wali, condemned the action of the army, describing it as brutal.
When contacted, the army spokesman, Major Micheal Etete, told The Guardian that the land dispute between the army and Rumumoi community is in court, stressing that it would be improper to make further statement until the court rules on the matter.
He explained that the army appealed the earlier judgment by the state High Court, which ruled in favour of the community.