When bulldozers entered the Nigerian slum of Njemanze and started tearing down hundreds of waterfront homes, Michael Uwemedimo was there to document the scene with his camera.
The residents soon began directing him, he said, making sure he did not miss any of the destruction in August 2009.
“Film this, film that,” he recalled them saying.
And when the British-Nigerian documentary maker was arrested by security forces, the residents of the slum in the city of Port Harcourt hid his camera and kept it safe until he was released later that day.
“They recognised the camera as an instrument they could use to literally frame what is important to them, to tell their story, to give their perspective,” said Uwemedimo.
According to housing advocates, half of Port Harcourt’s more than one million residents live in slums.
Many of those residents live in waterfront areas, on land with prime real-estate value, and have no official housing documentation, noted Isa Sanusi, spokesman for Amnesty International Nigeria.
That makes them especially vulnerable to evictions, he said.
“Generally, Nigerian authorities use forced eviction in the course of urban renewal… with the land they formerly occupied being developed into luxury real estate,” he explained — although the cleared area in Njemanze remains undeveloped.
Uwemedimo said his experience in Njemanze showed him how desperate the residents were to draw attention to what was happening to them, and he wanted to help.
In 2010, with former journalist Ana Bonaldo, he co-founded the Collaborative Media Advocacy Platform (CMAP), a collective of film-makers, urban planners, researchers and Port Harcourt residents who use art, music and data collection to mobilise the people impacted by forced evictions. The group has since grown to more than 40 volunteers. One of the first things Uwemedimo did with it was take a giant, inflatable mobile cinema on a tour of low-income communities in the city to show them films about forced evictions around the world and in their own neighbourhood.
“We found cinema was a good way of gathering people, of animating people, of creating debate,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from his living room, with a computer blasting out songs about evictions. A spokeswoman for the ministry of urban planning would not comment on specific eviction cases, but said the government had an obligation to take down unsafe or unauthorised buildings. “The state carries out demolitions when buildings do not follow the approved building plan, or are built illegally or in unauthorised areas,” she said. — Reuters