Nigeria: Interview – Why We Can’t Stop Demolition of Illegal Buildings in Abuja

The Chairman of the FCT Ministerial Task Team on City Sanitation says the massive influx of people to Abuja has created conditions for illegal developments and crime.

Properties estimated at billions of naira have been demolished for various reasons over the years within the high and low-density areas of Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja.

Many of those demolitions are surrounded by stories of official extortion, violence and allegations of corruption involving both physical development control enforcers and residents. The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCDA) collaborates with security agents to enforce the laws in the sector and residents have different stories to tell.

In this interview with Samson Adenekan of PREMIUM TIMES, the Senior Special Assistant to the FCT Minister on Monitoring, Inspection and Enforcement, Ikharo Attah, explains some of the controversies around the operations of the FCTA and why the demolition of properties may not end soon.

Mr Attah is the Chairman of the FCT Ministerial Task Team on City Sanitation. Since his appointment in 2019, he has led scores of controversial demolition exercises in different parts of the FCT.

Excerpts:

PT: Following your recent outing at Durumi 3, there have been widespread allegations that the FCDA rarely gives adequate notice before demolition. How true is that?

Attah: I think it’s not true that they were not notified. The Development Control Department of the FCDA came for notification, mapping, marking and serving notices on the 5th of May. Exactly 5th of May! They had a conflict which led to a police ASP being badly cut in the head. One person from the community was also injured while the police officer has not even resumed (work) yet, it has been almost four months now. He went through four head surgeries as a result of their attack.

We had to go back, we did so much engagement. The FCT Police Command, through the office of the Police Commissioner which DC Operation, Ben Akigwe stood in for, had meetings with them. So, when you say we did not duly notify them, I don’t think that is true.

The issue of manhandling them on that day is not true. When we went there for the demolition exercise, the Madaki (community head) was with me. The chief himself put calls through to some key persons in the community. Hon. Micah Jiba (AMAC/Bwari House of Representatives member) called and we said the indigenes were not even touched. At least two relevant SSAs to the AMAC Chairman were all here on that day. We laughed and talked, the community even gave me a bottle of water to drink during the operation. So I don’t know what you mean by manhandling them (community members), I am shocked to hear that.

PT: Whenever indigenes are moved from their ancestral homes, the FCT authorities are expected to resettle them. It seems nothing is being done in the case of Durumi 3 people.

Attah: No, we are not moving them. If we are moving them, they would have been resettled. We are not moving them. We only removed the markets and other empty places and indigenes were not even touched.

It is not even about removing, they are not even touched. Let me explain. I led the operation and I will give my report to the minister. To touch the indigenes, we will need to resettle and adequately compensate them. We understand that law. That’s why they were not touched. Even if we were going to come, we are not going to come for the indigenes, we are coming for the non-indigenes who bought lands from them.

They have a right and we must respect those rights. The way the allegations were raised sounds very frivolous and I’m even just shocked. The same people that we ate, drank and even played with their chiefs together? I’m shocked.

PT: The last time we had this rate of demolition in Abuja was during the Nasir El-Rufai administration. What has changed between then and now?

Attah: What has changed is that there has been a massive influx of people into Abuja. Extreme influx that we cannot deny. People are now coming in their millions and we are now seeing massive shanties and bashas. Illegal structures are now common. Most of those villages have now become over-expanded. We have found so many illegalities.

So, the city has become more complex than before. That is why when we go out, we go out well armed because we have had casualties, we have had problems and our men are being maimed. We now have over 80 per cent of development control staff on the field carrying wounds inflicted on them during demolition exercises.

The city has become so complex and illegality has become more rampant. Look at the demolition we carried out at Ido-Sabo by UniAbuja. Look at Ido-Seriki. Look at Mpape becoming a theatre of illegality. Look at Kuje, some people had the guts to sell railway corridors. Sold the food marker out. The roadsides are no longer passable. It’s becoming unbelievably alarming.

When you look at Gwarinpa, it has become a place where drug addicts hide in road corridors, which we are reclaiming. If you go to Gishi area, Karu, Nyanya, Karshi, Oronso, we are still in those areas. I think the complexity is that the problems in the North-east, North-west, South-east, and others are flown into Abuja. So, Abuja is carrying extreme loads. And sadly, many of the people coming into Abuja don’t want to stay in the suburbs, everyone just gets some nylon bags, some woods, some bashas and hangs around the city centre. That is the problem.

As a result of these, we see the crime rate going up and all are traced to these shanties, bashas, and others. It has really put pressure on us and if PREMIUM TIMES go round, you will find out that we are dealing with more complex problems than we ever had during the El-Rufai period.

If you go round any demolition site, you will meet scavengers, waiting to scavenge. Babanbola (scavenger) is a problem. You see them living in shanties and bashas, you will have hoodlums, you will have many things there. You will see expanded shanties and others. So, I think it is a complex issue but what I believe is that if we do not give up we will win.

It is tough, there are petitions, there are allegations, there are complaints but we can not leave the city to die. We will work and tell our own story, and pray that history will be nice to us.

PT: There is also another angle to this entire argument. Whenever you demolish buildings, I have seen cases where people come with documents awarded to them to own some of these properties. Don’t you think there are shady things going on at your end?

Attah: No, no, no. They do not have documents. Go round, you will not see documents. If they had documents they would have taken us to court. They do not have documents. Nobody has any documents. They cannot show you the documents. The ones who told me that the chief sold it to him, I said bring it (the document), they refused.

Even the ones that took us to the National Assembly, we asked them to bring their documents, they brought a foolscap sheet with signatures, we cannot take that.

The person that successfully brought a document, the chief who sold it to him said he sold it to him as farmland. On the document, you signed “SALE OF FARMLAND.” They signed the sale of farmland, why did you go and build on it? They do not have any titled documents.

If they have legitimate documents, by now we would have been sleeping in court. If people have documents by now they would have taken us to court. If somebody has documents, like the ones we touched at Mpape, the ones we demolished at Ido, they all brought out one paper that they signed with a foolscap sheet. They signed the documents with some local people and that only carried the sale of farmland, no building approval.

PT: How many legal cases are you facing at the moment from the people whose houses or structures you have demolished?

Attah: I think we have old cases, some even back to El-Rufai days. Some during Bala Mohammed, Adamu Aliero, every single time we have legal cases tied to litigations over land. They are very many that we face.

I cannot count the number of legal cases. But for petitions, we have petitions in their thousands coming in here. For legal cases, there are always legal cases on the issues of land. On land disputes, there are many. On property removal, they are also much because development control goes out every day besides the task force work and they have litigations.

PT: Do you have the exact number?

Attah: Except we find out from their offices.

PT: What is FCDA doing to sensitise security operatives they go out with? Because we have seen and there have been allegations of them brutalizing even the innocents during your operations.

Attah: We hold workshops. Every morning before we go out, we hold a parade. When we finish, we come back and we hold review parades. Are you getting me now?

Yes, there are moments when tempers get high, it is normal. Even in the newsroom tempers flew. Just when tempers fly, especially when someone wants to react, one or two persons will react from the crowd, one or more from our side too. We always hold them and ensure that we stop them. Are you getting me? Both from the crowd and both from the security agencies, we all intervene together to stop them.

There are moments like that on every field, even on the football field, even in the newsroom. Everywhere people actually react, sometimes they will even want to go physical. But we do all we can to stop them. Any officer we see doing that we will fine the person. That is why the Police Commissioner, Sunday Babaji, and the DC Operations, Ben, would always come to the parade ground to address them to please be civil at all times.

But you will just see somebody accuse you. Like the policeman they cut him in the head, it was because he was civil. That is why a man could walk up to him with his AK 47, with a knife, a cutlass and cut him on the head. If the man has not been civil you cannot do that. That is the truth.

He has done two brain surgeries. I think he is improving now, we hope that by next month he will resume work.

PT: You have been at the forefront of the demolition of properties in Abuja for a while now. What has been your major challenge leading your team to different sites to enforce this demolition?

Attah: My major challenge is that people do not believe that the government is serious. I am sorry, that is my word. People do not see the government as being serious. You know you own an illegal structure on a road corridor or on a railway line or on an illegal corner or a basha. When we mark the basha, they do not move, they wait for us to come.

They wait for us to meet them there and sometimes also the major challenge is the babanbola (scavengers), when we mark a building people do not remove their things. A scavenger would come, so as we are demolishing, people whose houses are demolished or cleared would want to remove the zinc sheet or remove iron rod or remove something, and the scavengers would want to steal. So most times we end up confronting them with tear gas, arresting them and others.

And sometimes also, we have challenges in dealing with some of the indigenes. We will be seeing the areas where their houses are, we would want to leave their own property but they will be showing us houses that are not their own house as their house. When we get there we discover it is not their own house because we also do our surveillance and engagement.

So the challenges are many. Above all, the challenge is that the work is enormous and we do not sleep at all. There is no day we do not get more than 20 calls from people telling us to come and remove scavengers, babanbola, shanties. Every single day we get calls. This morning, I woke up to about four or five messages telling me about areas where criminals, bashas, shanties, illegal structures and all of that. We get calls, sincerely and as I said if we are determined it would not come.

PT: Lastly sir, there are suggestions that some of the lands allegedly taken from original indigenes were taken not because they are illegal but to sell to the highest bidders, who are most times developers. What do you have to say to that?

Attah: No, no, no. I am sure. We do not sell land. Nobody sells land in FCDA. Only the minister allocates land. Nobody sells land. You know the beauty of this, since we started, nobody has accused me of taking land. I have not been given any land and I have not gone to remove any land and take the land. Are you getting me now? The lands allocated were done by the ministers of the past, not even now.

Most of the lands were lands given by past ministers, not even the current one. When you check the title document for any developer that owns the land, some of them backdate to about 10, 15, 20, and 30 years. So, we do not sell land.

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