Tongues wag over FCTA’s demolition of illegal structures

Since the tenure of Malam el-Rufai, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has struggled to restore the Abuja Master plan by demolishing illegal and unapproved buildings across the FCT. However, there have been allegations that many of the buildings are demolished out of selfishness and political factors. PAUL OKAH reports.

For the average FCT resident, it is now a common sight to stumble on the demolition of hotels, plazas, churches, shanties and different types of buildings by the task force of the FCTA.

The explanation readily offered by FCTA officials is that demolished buildings were illegal, obstructing traffic, obstructing the FCT Master Plan, hideout of criminals, among other factors.

Nevertheless, residents especially the ‘victims’ often allege that their buildings were demolished because they didn’t offer bribes demanded by officials or have stepped on the toes of those in power. 

On the other hand, officials of the FCTA are said to always engage in dialogue and engagements with residents and always give them enough time to evacuate their belongings before demolition exercise.

Victims’ claims

While the FCTA always defend the demolition of buildings, which officials always claim to be illegally constructed, many victims have alleged that demolished structures are often as a result of the selfish interests of FCTA and some local chiefs or residents, who they allege invite the FCTA to demolish structures; in order to resell lands to new buyers.

Speaking with this reporter, a victim of demolitions by FCTA, Mr. Clement Okeke, who was near tears, said that he was turned from a landlord to a tenant overnight as a result of the selfish interest of some local chiefs and FCTA officials.

He said: “It is not really a thing of pleasure or joy to recall the demolition of my four-bedroom apartment in Alaita-Chika on Airport Road, by the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) in 2006, when Malam Nasir el-Rufa’i was the minister of the FCT.

“The land was purchased then for N500, 000 from a local chief, who has since died and the building was completed in less than six months to enable us to move into the apartment. I estimate that about N1.5 million was spent on the structure alone, because I had opportunities to make money then; through business and other runs. 

“The demolition really set me and my family backward as I have not been able to recover from the shock and trauma of becoming a tenant again in the Territory. My personal investigations showed that some local chiefs sometimes invite the FCDA officials, knock down houses belonging to non-indigenes and the chiefs will turn around and start reselling the land again to innocent people.

“Imagine being turned from a landlord to a tenant overnight, as a result of the selfish interest of a few people in the corridors of power. That’s the present lot of a lot of house owners in the FCT. They may just wake up and see their houses demolished by the FCTA, as a result of the selfish interests of a few people. Sometimes, adequate notices are not even given, let alone compensation. It’s a terrible situation we find ourselves in the FCT.” 

On her part, a civil engineer in Gwarinpa, Mrs. Blessing Ukpong, told Blueprint Weekend that many demolitions by FCTA are not justified and are often carried out as a result of political reasons. 

“I have been in the business of building houses for people in the FCT for more than 20 years now and I have really seen a lot. Many of the demolitions by FCTA are not really justified. The craze intensifies before an election year, and then gets suspended for a while, in order for the FCTA to win the hearts of FCT residents, and then they recommence the demolitions after elections.

“In the last two years, a building I was handling for a client was marked for demolition, but has not been demolished by the FCTA even now. I understand that some money changed hands. However, my client has refused to commit more resources to the project, saying he is still observing the body language of the officials. Since the Covid-19 lockdown, the building has been abandoned after the first floor.

“I really wish the FCTA would stop making life miserable for a lot of people. Life is already difficult for Nigerians, especially those not in the corridors of power, so why frustrate them the more by demolishing their houses and turning landlords to tenants overnight, thereby widening the housing deficit issue faced by the country? It’s not fair at all.” 

Residents’ appeals

Following a recent kerosene tanker explosion that claimed 10 lives in Kubwa Village, the FCT Ministerial Task Force on City Sanitation stormed the area and pulled down structures built against the approved plan, to pave the way for free flow of traffic and ensure sanity.

However, on November 12, Chairman, Bwari Area Council, Mr John Gabaya, led a delegation of the indigenous People of Kubwa, Bwari Area Council, to urge the FCT Ministerial Task force on City Sanitation to halt its ongoing demolition in the area.

Gabaya, represented by the Council’s secretary, Mr. Ella Kadanya, appealed to the chairman, Mr. Ikharo Attah, to reach out to the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Bello, to give them more time to identify and correct grey areas not in line with the government template.

“The increase in population and struggle for expansion by the people is what is causing most of the challenges. But I am assuring the task force that we will not disappoint them, they should give us time to meet with our people and correct the errors.

“We are not against sanity, but the FCTA through the task force on city sanitation should allow us to do more engagement and sensitisation. We will not fail in playing our part. We are begging the minister to stop the issue of demolition for now,” he said.

Responding, Attah said clearing the area of illegal structures was not meant to hurt the residents, but to bring sanity that would help in averting future disaster and that their request would be communicated to the FCT minister for further directives.

FCTA’s response

Reacting to the allegations of lopsided demolitions, on September 19, in an interview with newsmen in Abuja, the Task Force chairman, Attah, said the on-going demolition of shanties and illegal structures in the Territory “is being done with adherence to rules of engagement.”

He said: “The FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Bello, has always insisted that in spite of the illegalities observed, high level of engagement with critical stakeholders should be held at all levels before demolition exercise. All what we have been doing as regards to the clean-up, removal of shanties and illegal structures in the FCT as an administration; we are doing it with total human face. 

“We carried out all the clean up or demolition as you call it with strong empathy because we understand that we are also part of humanity. When people commit illegality and when time of clean up comes the FCT Minister will tell you ‘yes, these things are illegal, they have to go, but we are humans please engage and discuss with the people’.

“The taskforce gave more than four months clean up notice to Mpape community, dialogued and engaged them for some times before the commencement of the exercise.”

He added: “The task force engaged some other areas like the city centre. In fact, we have engaged people a lot. Some of the discussions are still going on, which I cannot disclose here. The minister insists that in all what we do we should ensure engagements with critical stakeholders must be carried out, so that we can get their buy in.

“So, I believe what we exhibited is absolutely with strong and total human face. It is just that when we do all of this, the engagement is not being reported in the media. The dialogues and meetings were not in the media, so people will not know what we are doing. But I will tell you clearly that all the clean-up we have carried out were done with total human face.

“The delay in the clean-up is due to the series of negotiations and meetings with critical stakeholders. The minister believes that we are part of humanity and we must, as he directed, engage with critical stakeholders on all of this and ensure that we do it with absolute human face. When we go out to clear illegal structures, if you will observed we allowed people that we gave several months of notice but disobey, one hour to evacuate their properties.” 

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