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Nigeria Evicts More Civil Servants

December 9, 2005

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ Police broke down the gate of a huge housing complex to oust thousands of civil servants and their families Friday in the third mass eviction by the government this week in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos.

Umma Muhammed, a spokeswoman for tenants of the complex known as 1,004 Residences, said the move followed a decision by the government to sell off several publicly owned housing blocks for civil servants in a privatization scheme. Authorities have not provided the estimated 8,000 residents with other accommodation, she said. Police were not available for comment.

The sale of government-subsidized housing is part of a wider package of economic reforms and spending cuts President Olusegun Obasanjo has been pushing since he was re-elected in 2003.

The reforms have provoked strong criticism because of mass layoffs of civil servants and the liberalization of gas prices, which has contributed to sharp price increases at the pump. The government is also cutting back on benefits to civil servants still on the payrolls, such as housing allowances.

But Amnesty International has called the Nigerian evictions a human rights scandal.

Evictions of shack dwellers in Zimbabwe earlier this year earned the government in that southern African country international opprobrium amid accusations that it was trying to break up the urban strongholds of its opponents. But similar moves in Nigeria, Kenya and elsewhere in Africa have often passed without notice.

Africans are moving to cities at an increasing rate _ faster than the continent’s economies, infrastructure and political systems are developing. The result can be volatile, with often authoritarian governments turning on their own citizens.

In Lagos, dozens of police arrived before dawn and rammed the chained iron gate of one of the entrances to 1004 Residences with a truck. Police entered and banged on apartment doors. Residents said they were ordered to pack up and leave.

``I am so sad. ... This is a place where civil servants are meant to be taken care of, but now they don’t want to take care of us,″ said Usman Adams, 32, who had just vacated the apartment where he lives with his wife and a cousin. ``I will stay with ... anybody I can find,″ he said.

It was the third mass eviction of civil servants this week in Nigeria’s commercial capital of Lagos, a city of more than 13 million.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, security forces evicted hundreds of tenants from 200 apartments at two sites in Lagos, and few were provided alternative accommodation, said a spokesman for residents, Sunny Baba. In both operations, soldiers and police turned up at 4 a.m. as they did Friday.

Tenants of other Lagos apartment blocks have been given notice that they would also be evicted.

On Thursday, thousands of people were evicted from a residential district in Abuja, the capital, by police and soldiers, as part of authorities’ attempts to prevent the city from disintegrating into the chaos of Lagos and other Nigerian cities.

A statement from Abuja’s regional government said the evictions there were ``part of the ongoing efforts ... to reclaim the sanity″ of Abuja. It said the neighborhood was one of seven communities designated for demolition.

Ulrika Sandberg, a researcher on Nigeria with Amnesty International based in London, said the ``mass forced evictions are a hidden human rights scandal.″

Amnesty International has estimated that more than 1 million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in Nigeria _ both in Abuja and elsewhere _ since 2000.

``Yet again, the Nigerian government is justifying mass forced evictions on the grounds that they are needed for development or beautification projects, and in the process making some of the most vulnerable members of society homeless,″ Sandberg said.

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