By Kathryn Achilles, Nigeria campaigner for Amnesty International
Yesterday, in Nigeria’s capital city Lagos, we launched our report, Port Harcourt Demolitions: Excessive Use of Force Against Demonstrators, which details how, on 12 October 2009, police and security officers opened fire on a group of people in the informal waterfront community of Bundu, who were peacefully protesting against plans to forcibly evict them and demolish their homes.
At least 12 people were shot and seriously injured. The number of people killed remains unknown. There has never been a formal investigation into the incident.
Amnesty International is calling on the government of Nigeria to set up an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the use of force and firearms by police and security forces at Bundu waterfront community on 12 October 2009.
To launch the report, we held the joint press conference with the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), an NGO in Lagos.
Both Amnesty International and SERAP made presentations. There were also screenings of two short films about victims of the shooting – Belinda Joy Williams and Linus Johns.
Both were in their homes when they were shot. Belinda was shot outsider her home in the neighbouring community of Ibeto. Her femur was shattered by a bullet. Linus was in his home, sleeping.
“Justice here is our first step” said Belinda Joy Williams who spoke at the press conference, along with Augustine Onwe, another of the people shot that day. They described their experiences, and talked about the hopes of their community that there would be an investigation into the shooting and the people responsible brought to justice. They also called for an end to plans to forcibly evict people from Bundu and over 40 other informal settlements in Port Harcourt’s waterfronts.
“That morning, as I walked to work, I saw women from the community running in fear through the streets. I saw men running, heard parents shouting to their children to enter their houses. I heard screaming, gunshots. Then I saw the soldiers. There were soldiers behind me and I saw soldiers in front of me. I looked at them and stopped. One soldier looked me level in the eye and raised his gun. I froze, then turned just as he pulled the trigger,” said Augustine Onwe
As part of the community’s campaign against impunity and to enforce the human rights of the shooting victims, SERAP used the press conference to announce their plan to file a case against both the Rivers State government and the Federal government at the court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Over the years, Amnesty International has documented many cases of human rights violations by the security forces in Nigeria. Few officers are held accountable. SERAP emphasised that citizens, communities, civil society and non-governmental organizations must come together to challenge and end impunity.
There will be a second event in Port Harcourt today, 12 October, in Bundu waterfront community itself, to formally present Amnesty International’s briefing to the residents of Bundu community and to launch the filing of the case at the ECOWAS court and to mark the anniversary of the incident.
Commemorations of the one year anniversary of the shooting will continue with a concert by local musicians on 14 October.
To learn more about the community’s response to the incident, or to follow the progress of their legal challenge, please visit http://cmapping.net