There has been an outcry over on-going and proposed demolitions of various settlements across the federation. While the authorities insist the demolitions are necessary to properly delineate the areas for adequate planning and development, the residents say the exercise is arbitrary and a violation of their fundamental rights.
There have been so many furores over the proposal made in July to demolish 19 new settlements in the Federal Capital Territory. These are Mpape, Katampe, Lugbe, Idu, Karmo-Dape, Tasha, Gwagwa, Saburi, Zauda, Jahi and Gishiri.
Other areas where thousands of structures are proposed to be levelled are Mabushi, Kuchigoro, Chika, Aleita, Piwoyi, Pyakassa, Tudun-Wada, Dei-Dei and Guzape.
Other states of the federation are also carrying out demolitions of different sorts. In Lagos, Makoko shanties and structure are facing demolition amidst gun-wielding law enforcement officials. In Rivers State, the Waterfront settlement is in the radar of bulldozers and excavators. In Anambra State, the Head Bridge and roadside structures are being demolished. In Plateau demolitions are reported to have been embarked upon.
A major issue in contention is whether the human rights of residents or individuals affected by the demolitions are being safeguarded. Several of these individuals have petitioned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) complaining of lack of due process, inadequate notices, discriminatory patterns of demolition, and lack of resettlement options. They had also alleged that the affected lands will be “discriminatorily re-allocated to more well-off persons”.
It may be argued that some areas affected by the demolition may indeed represent illegal shanties, traders’ outlets and structures and those without building approvals, but the cause for concern is the demolitions of places inhabited by large number of people, leading to massive displacements.
For the authorities, powers to embark on demolition are amply supported by the law. For instance, Dr Amaechi Nwaiwu (SAN) argues that section 297 (2) of the 1999 constitution vests the ownership of lands in the FCT on the federal government. Also, under the Land Use Act of 1978 and the FCT Act, powers to manage lands are vested in the governors and the minister in case of the FCT.
Backed by these laws, the authorities have often come up with the argument that the implementation of city beautification, urban renewal and general environmental-friendly programmes necessitates the pulling down of illegal structures. They undertake slum clearance, redevelopment in central and suburban areas and general commitment to city master plans in their effort to achieve these objectives.
In the case of Abuja, the authorities have always warned that the city was not envisaged to cater for the interest of all status of peoples that have now besieged it. Thus to arrest its spatial extension beyond the limits of its budgetary, administrative, functional or morphological capacity, the recurrent pulling down of structures and the public agitations that accompany it will remain constant feature in Nigeria’s rapid urbanisation drive.
In the case of the neglect of the suburbs, it leads to over congestion, decline of scarce infrastructure and eventual descent into slum. Slums in turn breed all sorts of socio-economic malaise and unrests which poses national security challenges.
The security dimension was harped on by the Minister of the FCT Bala Mohammed in an interview with Daily Trust on Monday August 21. While promising that government will resettle affected house owners in the satellite towns, he said the need to secure the territory informed the demolitions.
“I assure you that we are coming up with a social housing scheme that will accommodate the needs and aspirations of every Nigerian, especially those affected by the demolition. What we are doing is to secure the nation, to secure the capital and to secure the residents,” he was quoted as saying.
But some of the residents of the affected areas in the FCT including Lugbe, Mpape and Tudun Wada, Airport road settlements have since approached the courts seeking restraining injunctions against the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and the Minister of the FCT over the proposed demolitions.
One of their representatives Friday Chiemeka claimed that having lived peacefully with the indigenous populations of these settlements continuously for over 30 years, the authorities ought not to proceed with the demolitions but rather, incorporate them in the city-wide developmental master plan.
They are further contending that the inhabitants of the areas numbering about 3 million will suffer untold hardship with the imminent demolitions, adding that it is a violation of their fundamental human rights. They also argued that the constitution guarantees equal citizenship. Justice Hussein Yusuf fixed September 10 for the ruling.
In a response to the complaints it received from concerned members of the public, the NHRC in a letter signed by its Executive Chairman of Board, Dr Chidi Odinkalu in July, warned against forced evictions and demolitions of human settlements without cognisance to human rights standards.
He cited section 17 (2) and 16(2) (d) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria “which mandates government to ensure that “suitable and adequate shelter...are provided for all citizens.”
Odinkalu further cautioned that the actions of the authorities should not be in breach of extant United Nations covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights No 7 in 1997 and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
He stated further that there is a global consensus on the safeguards against forced evictions. As contained in the 1976 United Nations Conference on Human Settlements. He said major clearance operations should be taken only when “conservation and rehabilitation are not feasible and relocation measures are made.”
“Where demolition of human settlements occur without due process, it is regarded as forced eviction or enforced homelessness and violates the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under our 1999 Constitution. Few things can be as degrading as throwing a family out onto the streets without a roof over their heads. It could also amount to discrimination against poor people in violation of the constitutional prohibition against status-based discrimination”, he wrote.
Dr Emman Usman Shehu, the founder of the Abuja Writers’ Forum blamed the congestion on the city centre and traffic jams on the roads to the pattern of FCT planning. He said major institutions ought not to be concentrated in the city centre, adding that a bottom-up approach to the development of infrastructure should have been adopted than the top-to-bottom approach that has created problems in the capital city.
Other experts have suggested a functionalist approach to addressing the growing urban slums. They hold that suburbs, which are driven by increasing demand for urban amenities and services, blurred by inadequate city planning, should not be viewed discursively , but as legitimate part of the metropolis
“It is very obvious that there is a problem once you begin to embark on demolition. The issue is to what extent is the distortion of the master plan being addressed genuinely? We are beginning to see a culture of land grabbing by wealthy people who have political connections. And to what extent is corruption being perpetrated in the name of rectifying the distortion? The case of Mpape is very disheartening because people are being pushed out in the rainy season. You put out these people during elections to vote for you and after the elections they are now illegal inhabitants.
“Abuja is not yet a 21st century capital city; it does not even have a railway system; the transport system is nothing to write home about. Instead of bottom up development of infrastructure, it is top down and that is why we are having the problem we are having; people must survive. And the master plan was designed by foreigners, so what was the indigenous input into it?” Shehu said.
On security concerns, he said the inadequate planning saw the city having few entry points, where the people may not know how to run out in times of emergency. He blamed the concentration of major institutions in the city centre without locating some in satellite towns to have exacerbated congestion and security concerns just like Lagos. He added that with few points of entry, people will not have where to run to in a situation of major disaster.
19 villages, 10,000 houses await the bulldozer
Sun News Online.com
Over 300,000 residents to lose homes
“Government has no plan to relocate those that are affected because they built illegally without the relevant land documents and Building Plan Approval,” –FCT Development Control. By FRED ITUA and CHIDINMA IRENE NWOYE As the day slated for the first phase of the demolition of 19 villages draws near, those described by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration as illegal residents have their fears heighten. If the rumored demolition of the 19 villages goes on as planned, over 300,000 residents will be displaced and rendered homeless as some of the villagers whose places have been marked for this onslaught told Abuja Metro.
On the other hand, authorities of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) have given explicit reasons these villages must come under the wrath of bulldozers. Distortion of the Abuja Master-Plan has been cited repeatedly as the primary motive behind the planned demolition. While the superior argument of authorities of the FCDA can’t be washed aside, investigation by Abuja Metro has however revealed that there is more to the demolition of some of the villages beyond the restoration of the Abuja Master-Plan gambit. One of the most popular shantytowns of the FCT, Mpape, which is sometimes regarded as extension of the highbrow Maitama tops the list of the tenterhook settlements. Abuja is abuzz with the rumour of Mpape demolition that even the deaf in town has had the ears filled with the quaking about to descend on the popular town, just across the road from Maitama, the zone meant for the powerful and mighty, hiding in the shadows of a rocky hills at its backyards. Another hill seems to shield Mpape from the front, and with the one at the back, it’s like another Jerusalem the Bible described as living in a fortress surrounded by mountains. But now, not even the guard mounted by the tall rocks would deter the FCT from mowing down Mpape if the threat sails through.
Already, the Mpape planned onslaught has become a matter of high stake gamble and tussle as the residents have petitioned the National Human Rights Commission, asking it to stop the FCT. And the body immediately summoned the FCT to explain why the hundreds of thousands of people here must be stripped of their shelter rights – a fundamental and inalienable right. Mpape residents allege that the FCT wants to strip them of their homes, lands and residential rights and re-sell to the powerful at higher rates. With just a distance away from the new Goodluck Jonathan District (formerly called Maitama Extension), the current occupants of Mpape District who are predominantly peasants and low-income earners are therefore unfortunate to be on the wrong side of history. Reactions from top officials of the FCTA who spoke anonymously gave credence to the investigations carried out by Abuja Metro. They said arrangements are in top gear on how to develop Mpape District and re-allocate the plots of lands to new developers for private and commercial purposes.
They cited the nearness of Mpape District to the New Maitama Extension as the possible reason for its planned demolition irrespective of some of the beautiful houses and well-designed residential estates in the area. The Director of Development Control, Alhaji Yusuf Yahaya told Abuja Metro that the plots of lands in Mpape might be re-allocated to new developers for commercial and private uses. He however added that the relevant agencies of the FCT administration would come up with a plan after the demolition. Efforts to reach the Senior Special Assistant to the FCT Minister on Information Management, Jemilah Tangaza were not successful at the time of writing this report. Starting from August 31, the other 18 communities slated for demolition are Idu-Karmo, Dape, Tasha, Gwagwa, Saburi, Zauda, Jahi, Gishiri, Mabushi, Kuchigoro, Chika, Aleita, Piwoyi, Lugbe, Pyakassa, Tudun Wada, Dei-Dei and Guzape. To understand and feel the pulse of the affected residents of the 19 villages, Abuja Metro spoke to some of them in the communities.
They expressed divergent views on the planned demolition. Richmond Lawrence, a cab driver is a resident of Kuchigoro, one of the communities to be demolished by the FCDA. The indigene of Imo State has lived in the village for seven months in a room with his family. “It is very bad,” Richmond stated with a sad face. “I feel bad because the rich men forget that they need the poor. Without the rich the poor can’t live and without the poor, the rich can’t live. All fingers are not equal. These big men are greedy. They already have lands, properties, houses but they will still buy the lands after demolition. Where will the poor man run to because it seems they enjoy frustrating the poor. It is not good.” Richmond wants “the federal government to intervene to assist the poor and the average Nigerian. Nigeria belongs to all of us. They should provide mass housing, like in other countries, for the low-income earners. We live in a country where no one cares.
I’m not an indigene so I will not be relocated.” Another resident who spoke to Abuja Metro expressed similar sadness. Daniel Soetan, a media consultant, has been a resident of Mpape for four years in a two-bedroom apartment. “I learnt about the demolition last month,” Daniel said. “I have been a victim of demolition before at Old Karimo when I came to Abuja seven years ago. I was only able to pick out few electronic home appliances from my home. Before I got back there, it had been brought down. I don’t think I want to experience that again. So I want to leave before the bulldozer enters here. The demolition is sad and the question I have been asking is what the government is up to? Daniel accused authorities of FCDA of insensitivity. “I think the government is insensitive, wicked and callous because if this is about a development, then for who?
Why 19 communities all at once? Are they ready to develop these 19 communities or is it all about chasing these people away? What happens after these places have been demolished because I always tell people that where we left at Old Karimo, a lot of people went back there to resettle? I have told people that it is still going to be a part of demolition again. It means that government doesn’t do anything after the demolition. This is all about sending people away.” The last respondent who spoke to Abuja Metro gave a more balanced reaction. Ehizogie Agbondimwin is a businessman and resides in Lugbe. He said: “Demolition is not wrong; it is the manner with which it is carried out that is the problem. Yes these structures are illegal and illegal structures cannot stand. But the government has failed to provide mass housing projects so that people can pay rent. The Nigerian government is not a masses government. The Nigerian government doesn’t care for the people that is why its housing policy has continued to defy successful implementation. “While the action of the FCDA to demolish a place is right, it is important to create new areas, completely developed and provide low-cost mass housing for people like the Shagari low-cost houses all over the country.”
Citing instances from previous demolition experiences where Mallam El-Rufai did not provide alternative housing for the poor before sending the bulldozers, some residents of Mpape community have dragged FCDA before an Abuja High Court sitting in the Bwari Area Council, under Justice Abubakar Kutigi, following the planned demolition of the community. Spokesman of Mpape residents, Mr. Emmanuel Afu insisted that the position of Mpape residents is that their houses should not be demolished without making alternative resettlement plans. He said: “The residents of Mpape are against the pronouncement on the demolition that will commence next month and to avoid crisis we decided to come to court. We are saying the action of the FCDA is an infringement on the rights of the residents and that the court should intervene for the government to resettle them and also give them enough time to prepare themselves. “We are not against the decision of the government, because land in Abuja is owned by the federal government and whenever the government decides to use the land, nobody can say no and Mpape people are not saying that the government cannot use its land, they are saying that before demolition commences, government should resettle them.”
Stating the true position of authorities of the FCDA, the Public Relations Officer of Development Control, Mrs. Mudasiru Josie said: “It is erroneous to say that 19 villages are going to be destroyed when it is only the shanties and illegal structures within these villages that will be affected. The indigenes will not be affected until they are resettled by the government. “Government has no plan to relocate those that are affected because they built illegally without the relevant land documents and Building Plan Approval.”