Nigerian soldiers and police evicted thousands from a residential area of the capital as part of a plan to avoid the city disintegrating into the chaotic situation of Lagos and other Nigerian cities, residents and officials said.
Bulldozers began eight days work of demolishing hundreds of concrete-brick and tin-roof houses of Abuja's Chika neighborhood on Monday last week, former residents said, and at least seven more neighborhoods are slated for destruction.
A reporter saw the rubble of around 800 houses in Chika on Thursday, as police patrolled with local government officials. When the demolition began, people had "nowhere to go. They had to leave their property on the road," said Zacheaus Shawye, who runs a nearby grocery shop.
Shawye had to move out of his shop and home in Chika shortly before the demolition started and now sells the planks and roofing of destroyed houses along with his usual fare of soft drink and tinned food at a new store nearby.
Joseph Idahosa of Nigerian advocacy group Social and Economic Rights Action Center said no new homes were provided in compensation for those evicted from Chika.
"They have not provided alternative [housing] and they are carrying out the evictions and demolitions ... The alternatives should be there first," he said.
Most residents left to look for places to stay in outlying areas of Abuja, he said, some taking their windows and doors with them.
A statement from Abuja's regional government said the "removal of illegal structures in Chika is not an isolated case, but part of the ongoing efforts ... to reclaim the sanity" of Abuja. It said Chika was one of seven communities designated for demolition.
All people living in Chika before 1976 -- when the project to make Abuja Nigeria's capital was announced -- would eventually be resettled outside Abuja at the government's cost, said the statement.
However, Idahosa said that category -- mainly people from Chika's indigenous Gwari ethnic group -- accounted for only 30 percent of the area's residents. The rest came afterward, he said -- many of them after ethnic and religious violence forced them to flee their homes elsewhere in the country.
Ulrika Sandberg, a researcher on Nigeria with Amnesty International based in London, said the "mass forced evictions are a hidden human-rights scandal."
"In Chika, people have not only had their homes bulldozed, but children have missed their school exams ... and some have lost their businesses," she said.
Amnesty International has estimated the number of people forcibly evicted from their homes in Nigeria -- both in Abuja and elsewhere -- at over a million 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.
Nigerian soldiers and police have also been carrying out mass evictions in Lagos in recent days, said a spokesman for affected residents, Sunny Baba.
He said so far this week, security forces have evicted several hundreds of tenants from over 200 apartments at two sites in Lagos, with most of them being provided with no alternative accommodation. In both operations -- on Tuesday and Wednesday -- the soldiers and police came at 4am to turn out residents, according to activists.