International Law

Will Nigerian Slum Demolition Violate Human Rights?

The Nigerian government plans to demolish the Abuja slum of Mpape. The government contends that this high crime area operates as a base for the terrorist group Boko Haram. In addition, the slum predominantly consists of shanties built illegally. In other words, Mpape is both a public nuisance and a national security threat.

On the other hand, to those living in Mpape, it is their home. Some have purchased the property where they reside. Given the abject poverty of the slum's residents, to demolish their shanties would leave them homeless. Where will these hundreds of thousands of people go?

Nigeria's Constitution provides that "The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring...that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens." Nigeria Const. ch. II, §16(2)(d) (1999). While it may be debatable whether living in a slum is "suitable," clearly making Nigerian citizens homeless is not providing "adequate shelter."

Although the government is in the process of building low-income public housing, there is no indication that this would adequately shelter those currently living in Mpape or that many of the slum's residents could afford to pay for such housing regardless of the amount of rent. Nor does there appear to be adequate educational and medical facilities available to replace those planned for demolition in Mpape.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the peaceful indigenous Gbagyi reside within Mpape. After a history of enslavement and other human rights abuses, to render the Gbagyi homeless would unconscionable.

Nigeria's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is investigating the planned demolition of Mpape and the demolition of other slums. In addition to the potential human rights abuses, of particular interest is the allegation that the real motive driving the demolition is confiscation of the land for the purpose of selling it to others who have the financial means to buy and develop it.

For now, the demolition of Mpape is on hold. The courts have ordered the demolition by the Federal Capital Development Authority postponed until October. It remains to be seen whether this delay will become permanent.

Now would be an ideal time for the Nigerian government to address its stated issues with Mpape without wholesale demolition. For example, increased law enforcement (with military assistance where necessary) could reduce crime and remove the Boko Haram threat.

If the courts authorize the demolition, such should occur incrementally, and only after those residents being displaced have alternative housing, schools, and hospitals available so that their lives are improved by relocation. To do otherwise, would be to apply the rule of law to violate fundamental human rights.

Recommended Reading

Nigerian Human Rights Commission Probes Proposed Slum Demolition, VOA (Aug. 29, 2012)

Human Rights Commission to investigate planned demolition of Mpape, (Aug. 29, 2012)

Nigeria: Demolition - Mpape Residents Fault FCT, (Aug. 30, 2012)

Nigeria: Human Rights Commission to Investigate Demolitions, (Aug. 7, 2012)

Federal Capital Territory Administration website