Controversy trails demolition of houses in Abuja


abuja_demolitionBy Chijioke Okoronkwo, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

The word “demolition’’ has deeper meanings to Nigerians, particularly those living in Abuja — the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) — and other urban cities, where people take delight in owning houses.

Demolition is a word that provokes panic in tenants and house owners alike; and in many instances, several persons whose houses were demolished died of heart attacks arising from the shock.

While some residents believe that their houses should be close to Abuja city centre at all costs, the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) insists that the city’s master plan must not be compromised under any guise whatsoever.

In the light of this, the demolition of illegal structures has become an accepted tool for controlling the patterns of property development in Abuja and its satellite towns.

Recently, the controversies about houses’ demolition resurfaced again when the Department of Development Control of the FCT Administration (FCTA) marked more than 100 houses in Bwari, one of the satellite towns, for demolition.

All the marked structures were eventually demolished because the development control department categorised them as “illegal structures’’.

However, the owners of the property claimed that they were just victims of a “wicked’’ plot between an operator of a block-making industry in the neighbourhood and some FCDA officials.

Mrs Maureen Ihorebe, whose house was demolished during the exercise, said that trouble started when some residents had a misunderstanding with a woman who owned a block-making factory in the area.

She said that the husband of the woman who owned the block industry then threatened to get all the houses in the area demolished.

Ihorebe explained that afterwards, the development control personnel came and marked some of the houses, adding that the officials asked the residents to remove structures that were close to the pipeline chamber, which they did.

“They gave us two weeks for the first time; they said we should measure 25 metres away from the chamber; we complied with the directive and removed structures within the 25 metres.

“After that, we suddenly saw them with soldiers and policemen, and they demolished everything without giving us the chance to remove even our personal effects.

“There is a woman around here who operates a block industry and she once had problems with two residents who wanted her to remove the industry.

“The husband of the woman, who works with the water board, swore that his wife would never vacate the place,’’ she said.

Another affected landlord, Mr Bakare Dauda, a police officer, said that he obtained customary approval for the land and the building that was demolished.

Dauda said that he asked the woman who had a block industry in front of his house to make some space available, adding that the woman and her husband then threatened to instigate the demolition of the houses.

“At their first marking, the FCDA officials didn’t mark my house but suddenly they came; marking and demolishing at the same time,’’ he said.

As the controversies rage, no fewer than seven affected landlords have petitioned the Public Complaints Commission, alleging that one Malam Sanni Abubakar, whose wife owned the block industry, masterminded demolition of their houses.

Nevertheless, Mrs Sanni Abubakar, the block factory’s operator, denied the allegations linking her and her husband to the houses’ demolition, although she conceded that her husband worked with the FCT Water Board.

She said that while it was true that she had some misunderstandings with some residents; she or her husband did not have the power to dictate to the FCDA officials on what to do.

“I knew from the onset I was operating the blocks’ industry on the pipeline so I did not buy any land and I did not erect any structure.

“One of them built a shop and said he didn’t want me in front of his house but I told him that I was there before he came and built the shop.

“I told him I could only make space for a driveway for him but he refused and they mobilised and reported the matter to the police.

“Actually, the police wanted to settle the matter peacefully but they insisted that I should quit and police advised them to go court.

“The allegation against my husband is a big lie; he doesn’t have the power to ask the authorities to come and demolish their houses and he never threatened them.

“The very day they demolished these houses, they carried out same operation at Jegede Market, also in Bwari, and they have previously carried out similar operations in Jigo and other communities around Bwari,’’ she said.

However, Bwari District Office of the FCTA Department of Development Control rejected the allegations that the houses’ demolition was masterminded by someone.

Mr Mohammed Zaiyyam, the head of the office, said that the exercise was carried out because of the complaints by FCT Water Board regarding the structures erected on the pipeline.

He said that due notice was given to the residents and owners of the structures before their demolition.

“When we got the notice from FCT Water Board that people were building on the pipeline, we asked them to give us the distance they needed from the pipe, which they did.

“We then served the owners of the structure notices accordingly before the demolition which affected over 100 houses. The exercise has nothing to do with what the residents are speculating,’’ he said.

Irrespective of the reasons given for the demolition of houses in the FCT, concerned observers urge the relevant authorities to always consider the plight of the poor by giving affected residents enough notice.

They also appeal to the authorities to provide temporary alternative accommodation for those whose houses are demolished after giving them adequate compensation for the pulled-down structures.


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