From Fred Ezeh, Okwe Obi Charity Nwakaudu, Abuja
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is in the midst of a major shift.
After years of condoning the erection of illegal structures, the authorities seem to have risen to retrieve the city from illegal developers whose properties are defacing the city and vandalising the Abuja master plan.
To do this, scores of earthmoving equipment and stone-faced task force officials were deployed to demolish unapproved houses and shops in various parts of the territory. There had been demolitions before. But this current exercise, seen in some quarters as war against shanties, seems the most audacious and most sustained.
On the flip side, destitution has ballooned as many have become homeless and many more are fast losing their means of livelihood. From Lugbe to Wuse, Kuje to Kubwa and others, the dust from the rubble of demolished structures is yet to settle, just as tears of the victims are yet to dry.
The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) insists the exercise would be a relentless one as the battle line has been drawn between them and criminally defiant developers, who have been forewarned on several occasions. FCTA added that indulging developers to keep erecting illegal structures robs Abuja of its socio-economic growth, distorts the developmental blueprint and creates a chaotic ecosystem.
One of the victims of the demolition, Halima Abdullahi, said she built a three-bedroom bungalow in Kuchigoro, a suburb in Lugbe, after being displaced by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno State. But what she thought was a resting place soon became her albatross. The building she took a loan to build was eventually levelled by the caterpillars and threw her into debt and despair:
“I have seen hell. Contrary to the position of the FCTA, we were not served any notice to evacuate the area nor were we informed that our structures would obstruct movement of the metro trains. The officials came one morning with a large number of heavily armed security personnel and began to pull down our structures. We were not allowed to take anything out of our homes.
“Before our eyes, our houses were reduced to rubble. We wailed profusely and begged endlessly but they fell on deaf ears. We could hardly recognise the remains of our belongings. Afterwards, we shared ourselves in the houses of people. While my two children and I squatted with my neighbours, my husband was sleeping outside for lack of space.
“It took the intervention of some good Samaritans to assist us, financially and otherwise, to build a make-shift tent for the meantime. Mosquitoes fed on us we caught cold. In fact, we were sick.
Feeding was a big problem because we were terribly broke.
“We cried to our representatives at the National Assembly but they were just giving us false hopes. They promised to speak to the FCT minister but we didn’t see results.”
To wriggle out of the ugly situation, she said: “After a while, I pooled some money and started selling ice blocks and soft drinks in another neighbourhood. Even at that, I have not recovered. I was traumatised, contemplated suicide, but God saw us through.”
Another victim, Emeka Chukwudi, a spare parts dealer at NEPA Junction,
Apo, recounted: “It is not something I wish my enemy to experience. I knew that the place had been marked for demolition. But we did not take the threats and warnings by FCTA seriously because we have stayed there for more than seven years.
“My shop also served as my house. I partitioned it. We enjoyed uninterrupted power supply. Life was fine until the bulldozers visited. But one thing I observed was that we would have still been there if residents had behaved themselves. Some of the residents started selling drugs.
“That attracted criminals to the place and prompted government to send us away. It affected my business. I had to send my wife and children to the village for the meantime at least for me to put myself together. I lost my customers. Starting life all over was not funny but I thank God for everything.”
Peter Ezeh, also told his own story: “I still have a high blood pressure. Life became horrible. My wife died in the process. My children had to drop out of school. Help was not coming from anywhere because some of my friends who would have helped were affected.”
Friday Agbor, who lives in Dakibiu, Jabi, said: “The demolition obviously took me by surprise and brought me to zero level. I now sleep in the shop where I sell drinks in Kubwa. My family had to go back to the village. It is really eating me up, but there’s nothing much that I can do.”
Commercial motorcyclist, Chinedu Gideon, sold his bike to get some money to rent a new apartment. This was after the Durumi 3 house where he lived with his family was demolished: “I had to look for a way to get another apartment because we can’t sleep outside. I had to sell my bike to achieve that.
“But now someone gave me a new bike on a hire purchase arrangement which I am using to work. The only prayer I offer everyday is for God to protect me from the task force. If anything happens to this bike, my life is gone. I don’t have anyone or place to run to for help.”
Record from FCTA indicated that over 1,000 unapproved structures were demolished so far. Many more would be brought down soon. Its officials have consistently explained that the demolition has been a routine exercise in FCT and never intended to witch-hunt and inflict pain on any resident.
An official explained: “Sometimes, an individual property is singled out for such an action. For other times, it could be the entire community considered to have been illegally raised.
“The demolition did not start with the current FCTA nor will it end with the administration. This is because people have refused to learn simple lessons regarding building construction in Abuja.”
Similarly, the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC), explained that the objective of the exercise was to ensure that sanity and discipline are maintained in FCT regard building construction particularly in unapproved locations. Special Assistant to FCT minister on Enforcement and Monitoring, Ikharo Attah, insisted: “The affected people were given a timeframe to vacate the place.
“Hence, there was no pity when the bulldozers arrived for action.
There was no provision for financial compensation for the victims. The affected structures were never approved by the FCTA in the first place. Those affected were free to self-soothe or seek legal redress.”