There are a few planned cities in Africa and Abuja is one of them. A planned community, otherwise known as a planned city, is any community that was carefully designed from inception and is typically constructed in a previously undeveloped area.
More than once, residents have heard or read that Abuja has a master plan, but that it had been violated severally. It is an open secret that after several years of corruption, nepotism bribery and favoritism have led to large scale contravention of the so called Abuja master plan.
Since the era of Mallam Nasir El-rufai, one of Nigeria’s most controversial FCT Ministers albeit one of the most celebrated, almost all his successors sing the same song after assumption of office. Every Minister of the FCT begins with reiterating his desire to return Abuja to its master plan and somehow before the end of his tenure the mess keeps degenerating and more flouting is committed against the very same Master plan they claim to redress.
It is either they are allocating lands to their friends and cronies or they are accepting a bribe for illicit activities or they are amassing properties erratically. When it seems like the light is shone on them, they begin to demolish buildings indiscriminately as if to make up for their sins. The sad part is victims of demolition are mainly low and medium income earners. They rarely recuperate from the economic hardship that follows suit.
The government agency tasked with administration and maintenance of the Federal capital territory FCT, Abuja, is the Federal Capital territory Administration, FCTA, and Federal Capital Development authority, FCDA respectively and are both overseen by the FCT minister. Other agencies tasked with the management of Abuja city is the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council, AMMC and Development Control Unit, DCU. Although there are individual heads of these agencies, they all report to the FCT Minister.
Six months after President Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 Presidential elections, he appointed ministers to form his cabinet. He appointed Alhaji Mohammed Bello Musa as the minister in charge of FCT. Bello who was hitherto largely unknown set the ball rolling almost immediately. On the 26th of January 2016, during a press briefing, He spoke like all his predecessors in very strong terms as regards his desire to right the wrongs of the Abuja Master plan. Political pundits and analysts predicted that demolition of assets, lives, and property was around the corner and almost imminent and they were right. Nevertheless, many expected the Buhari led administration to be citizen friendly considering the economic recession that has been characterized with acute hardship.
On the 22nd of August, 2016 FCT Minister Muhammad Musa Bello said that the FCT Administration had adopted new approach in the removal of illegal structures in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to give the exercise a human face. The Minister stated this while receiving a delegation from the National Human Rights Commission, led by Executive Secretary, Professor Ben Angwe, who paid him a working visit in his office. Bello explained that the FCT Administration had abandoned its previous style of demolishing illegal structures in the FCT to enable affected residents save useful materials and reduce people’s loss in the process.
His words: “That for me was an eye opener and since then, I have insisted that whatever we do, it’s very important that we do a lot of advocacy and explanation to the people. Even if there is going to be demolition or relocation of people, there is a clear instruction now that no more destruction; give people reasonable time and notice and also encourage them to do the dismantling by themselves. That way, you reduce tension and more importantly, you allow them to salvage what has economic value. That’s what we have been doing and it has worked.”
One begins to wonder if officials of the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council, AMMC were excluded from the Minister’s directive to give demolition a human face. On the 5th of September 2016, barely two weeks after the Minister made the statement, AMMC officials marked a couple of buildings in Abuja’s metropolis for destruction. In a Gestapo style, barely 24 hours after the warning, stern looking security official accompanied by heavy trucks and demolition paraphernalia.
A popular confectionery known as Chloe’s Cupcake Heaven, owned by one Ms. Muna Okam, was a victim of the government’s show of force. According to Ms Muna, she was given a 24-hour notice of demolition at around 4pm on Tuesday to clear out her equipment and property from the building after occupying it for over five years. She said she was not served with a notice of demolition directly by the AMMC officials; instead they marked the building at about 4pm on the 5th of September claiming to have served the Land lord of the property much earlier. Less than 24hours later, AMMC officials and a truck load full of mean appearing security personnel invaded the area and brought down the structures they claimed were illegal.
Later that evening, on social media, the CEO of Chloe’s cupcake heaven posted a message that revealed her hurt and disdain. She said “We’ve been in this building doing business for 5 years and you give us 24 hours notice at almost the close of business for demolition. I don’t get it Nigeria! how much more are entrepreneurs supposed to take in this country? Our country is in a recession and this is what the Govt (SIC) deems necessary at this point in time. A lot of other buildings were marked but how do you mark a building at the close of business for demolition the next day and don’t even give the affected parties a listening ear??? What is the justification for this sort of animalistic behaviour in this country? #smallbusinessesmatter”
Chloe’s Cupcake Heaven’s case raised a storm on social media. Her predicament was trending on social media for over 72hours. Her case brought to limelight the ongoing demolition embarked upon by the FCDA. One is left in shock and there are several questions that the government needs to answer.
If a government can give a notice and in 24hours executes the demolition fully, why not give longer time so as to allow entrepreneurs save as much as they can and reduce the losses the suffer from the demolition exercise? The 24 hour window made it look like the government wanted to urgently put up ‘right’ structures ,but with none of such in sight and no compensation plans in the pipeline one begs to reason, why the hurry? The chloe’s cup cake saga is one that contradicts the Minister’s stance of putting a humane feel to the demolition process.
Chloe’s cupcake heaven was denied all the minister had earlier promised. To destroy someone’s hard work and kill a business that had thrived in the last five years without adequate warning is simply depressing and a morale killer.
So far, all AMMC and FCDA have achieved with the demolition is Job loss for most bread winners in these times and by extension, increased the level of hunger and penury in the land, stopped peoples means of livelihood and created idle minds ; which we have been perennially told, is the devil’s workshop. Could this be “change”?
ZONE 4 Computer Village
In 2012, a group of computer traders applied to obtain a certificate of Right of occupancy from the Federal Capital Development Authority for a piece of land situated in Zone 3 for commercial purposes, as expected bureaucratic processes and several layers of approval delayed the application but on the 16th of March in 2015, they were granted a certificate of Right of occupancy and all duly signed documentation was given to reps of the association. The approval was given to the canopy market traders association for commercial purposes.
To their surprise, in the last week of August 2016, the association was served with a notice of demolition from AMMC, one of the agencies that had earlier approved the application process. The association reacted by dragging AMMC and FCDA to court. On the 15th of July, the traders association obtained an injunction from the High court hindering the government from demolishing until the matter was heard in court. The order of injunction was granted by Justice Adeniyi Ademola and the next date for hearing was supposedly in November. In a weird twist of events, the government invited the members of the canopy market association to a settlement meeting on the 21st of September 2016, and while the traders were at the meeting, AMMC and security officials went behind their backs to the market and demolished all structures to ground zero.
Speaking to one of our reporters, Mr. Clement Nkwo who was one of the traders that initiated the case against AMMC lamented the loss of property and goods worth millions of naira. He complained bitterly about the government’s blatant disdain for the rule of law by going against a valid injunction that was issued by a competent court of jurisdiction. “This government is no longer for the people but against us. How can a government that claims to be democratic carry out such an inhumane action? We were tricked, they had invited us for a meeting and while we were there, the sent bulldozers to bring our shops down. Many of us were at the meetings and so couldn’t salvage our goods. Most of these goods were collected on goodwill, we pay the old debt, before we collect another round on credit just to put body and soul together and also put food on the table. The times are very hard and we all know the situation with the dollar and stress of importation now. How are we going to cope? “
The Hair Architect
In July 2016, a young man named Chris Black opened a hair salon in Wuse 2 called The hair architect. His shop opening was memorable as notable guests in the showbiz industry graced the event including Hip hop star, YCEE just to show solidarity and support. Chris came to Abuja in 2011 looking for greener pastures. After being an apprentice for 30 months and working under several other barber shops he eventually broke out and stood on his feet. Chris had nine barbers under his employ along with 5 other ancillary staff. With no prior notice and no show of grace to even allow his staff save some equipment. It was all torn apart and in minutes, his five year sweat was turned to rubbles. When our reporter tried to talk with him, he was too devastated to speak, however one of the barbers Mr. Iyk spoke to us briefly “Chris just opened this place in July. He took loans to set this place up. Very hardworking oga, now we lost everything
Is this a government for or against the people?
It is very difficult for one not to suspect foul play. On one of the demolished sites where a new structure is being rebuilt, our investigation shows that the new structure belongs to Masaki oil and gas, a firm that belongs to Alhaji Masaki, a co defendant of the government on the said case in the high court. One of the workers on site who did not want his name on print told the Abuja times “we have been told to work very fast, so that the site is developed before the November court date. Our oga is highly connected”
It may not be far from the truth what Mr. Matthew Uchechukwu, the chairman of the canopy traders association has alleged. In his words, “this is pure tribalism, that’s the only logic to this. How can they just come and put an end to the livelihood of over 250 families? Is it not because we are Igbos?
Go to zone 4 where those Hausa people change dollar. The roads are always blocked and those boys sell all manner of hard drugs there. There are many illegal structures and the place is flooded with hood lumps but yet, this government is not seeing that one, it is only the Igbo peoples market that they saw because we are seen as successful people, they don’t want us to succeed”
He went on to further lament “No, if I am wrong, please explain how a government that granted approval would renege on its earlier stand. Even if they claim we violated laws, which they haven’t even said, why not calm down and wait since the matter was in court. This is not Syria or Libya, this is Nigeria and we claim to practice democracy, this is democrazy for goodness sake.”
In the same vein, Mr. Mbanefo Silver a shop owner in Wuse 2 added that it is not easy for a business-owner to watch investments go down to rubble. He said: “With these businesses, they pay rent, feed their families, pay their children’s school fees and with the economic crisis that the country is facing, you can imagine the kind of tough times we are about to face.
The present government is not doing their job right. The manner they are handling this is unjust and cruel.” When asked whether he got approval from necessary authorities before the structure was erected, the Mbanefo insisted that his building was not an “illegal” structure he refuted the claim saying “it is not illegal; this structure has been here since the first tenure of President Obasanjo, what are we talking about? I have been here for 10 years.
While the recent actions carried out by the development control arm of AMMC has stirred so many legal debates amongst experts, we are waiting to see the government’s next move. With no form of compensation in sight and recent arrests of Judges especially Justice Ademola who was hearing the case before it was adjourned.
Victims are left to wonder in shock and awe what the government has achieved by its recent callous actions. If those structures violated the master plan, how come they lasted as long as they did? Some five years, others more. Why now? What was so urgent that the affected parties could not have been given more time? It is not enough to serve the owner of property a demolition notice when he/she has clearly rented out or leased the said property to someone else. Ample time should be given and there should clear concise communication between the authorities and occupants of such property especially when the occupants run commercial businesses. Better still, the National Assembly should intervene with requisite legislation so that a more acceptable method is implemented.
If the FCDA, AMMC or agents of development control unit must demolish, there should a process which allows enough time for traders and entrepreneurs to save as much as they can before demolition in other to reduce their loses. It must not be done 24 hours. A 60- day notice would not cost the AMMC or FCDA anything, after all the FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello had promised late in August that demolition was going to be done differently and less brutal methods adopted. Or maybe his words were nothing but mere words? We are watching!