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Residents Rebuild Demolished Ghettos In Abuja

The axiomatic expression that ‘‘once bitten, twice shy’ ’which connotes that a bad experience makes you wary of the same thing happening again may have little or no meaning for some shanty dwellers in Abuja metropolis. In this piece. Deborah Olusegun and Sandra Obochi, report that three ghettos demolished by the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) are springing up again.

September 2, 2020, was like the biblical last day–A day of crying, weeping and gnashing of teeth–It was the day officials of the Development Control of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) rolled out their bulldozers and one after the other, illegal structures were brought down leaving Arab village, Kpana and Daki Biu, three ghetto-like villages located at the Utako and Jabi districts of the city in rubbles.

It was like a scene a day after a vicious war. Residents struggled to recover their mangled property from where the millipede like machines pushed them to. Scavengers and the local baban bollah boys made brisk business in buying the damaged property from the embattled residents.

But like a young inexperienced lady who, while in labour, vowed never to have anything to do with her husband again but made overtures to him immediately her child is weaned, residents of the three ghettoes are no longer counting their loses but thanking their makers and laughing all the way to the bank. FCDA officials had in September this year tagged the buildings as illegal saying they had failed the safety test of the agency while also not fitting into the Abuja Master Plan, thus becoming hideouts for criminals. New National Star gathered that most of those structures were ramshackle and located in three particular communities; Arab Village, Kpana in Utako District and Daki Biu in Jabi; the structures were mostly commercial where different commodities were sold from groceries to alcohol and pepper soup.

They were otherwise called ‘bachas’ by the locals. A visit to the communities by this newspaper in December 2020 revealed that those whose houses were demolished in August, especially those who owned shops have started rebuilding, defying the order given by the FCDA to desist from rebuilding the demolished structures. While some put up concrete up-to-standard buildings, others went ahead to reconstruct shanties. At Arab Village, the particular cross-section of shops that were demolished were replaced with new shops, where wares of different kinds are sold, from jerseys and long flowing robes to electrical appliances, foodstuffs, beef and fruits. The traders conduct their trade-in carts shielded from the sun by umbrellas and wooden benches are placed around the carts to sit on. A tailor, whose shop was partly demolished, now uses the other half of the building still standing for business. Another barber continues his trade in that mode. For the businessmen and women here, it is business as usual, customers and consumers of their products come nonetheless to purchase goods and services and it is as though the bulldozers never came.

Through interactions with residents and shop owners, New National Star gathered that, it was never the intention of the FCDA to demolish the houses in Arab Village, by houses they meant those constructed with brick and mortar. It was the violence unleashed on FCDA officials by those whose shops were demolished that allegedly instigated the demolition of houses. Mama Ayo, who sold soft drinks at the village and spoke in pidgin English, said the bulldozers were there for the containers and ‘bachas’ as she called them but some men, (the Hausa) who owned the buildings used as shops started to throw stones at the bulldozer drivers, an action which she said angered the drivers and made them demolish a few houses.

She said that but for the incident that happened in September, Arab Village was o safe to live in. “They would not have demolished the houses o. It is the Hausa men that started to stone then while they were demolishing our shops that now made the bulldozer drivers angry and started demolishing houses,” she claimed.

This was confirmed in the Muktar Galadima interview with newsmen on the day of the incident. Galadima, who is the director of the Department of Development Control said, “First thing first, we marked structures, we sensitised the community and then we allowed them to do self-removal, which some of them complied with.

But in the process, we were attacked. Notwithstanding, we said, okay we will continue with our work. That is why you see us doing what we are doing now.” Another resident, Peace (only first name given), argued against Mama Ayo’s claim though, explaining that the village had been exposed to constant demolition threats which were made good in the month of September.

Shaibu Abubakar, who sells face caps, jerseys, socks and other men’s wears, said FCDA demolished the place noting that they were illegal structures. When asked if he was not scared of a repeat incident, he replied in pidgin, “If they drive us out, we will go now. But we will come back. We are just trying to survive.”

His neighbour, a young man who refused to give his name and sells fruits, said that his fruits were in the stall when the demolition happened which made him along others resort to violence. He boasted that he was still there in the shop, still selling fruits and had no fear about the return of FCDA officials.

In Kpana, the indigenes were accused of trying to rip the business owners off while the FCDA was accused of targeting those shops to willfully avoid compensating those who bought lands in that area from the indigenes. New National Star gathered that it was mostly shops demolished in this part of Utako, shops where alcohol and pepper soup were sold in the evenings, and brothels that the working class usually patronized in the night. After the demolition though, the shop owners did not leave, partly because they believed they were treated unfairly by the indigenes who sold the land to them and refused to defend them and the belief that the FCDA collaborated with indigenes and the developer of the parcel of land where over 50 shops were formerly located to deny them of compensation.

They now use the open space where their shops were before to conduct their activities in the evening and their living rooms during the daytime. Some others have constructed concrete buildings in the old spot defying the government order and expecting compensation if another demolition occurs. Blessing, a woman who sells beer, said that although not all the shops demolished sold beer, most did, and the traffic violation which disturbed some top politicians who lived nearby instigated the demolition. She now runs her business out of her living room.

Speaking in broken English, she said, “It is not beer all the people in those shops and containers sold. Customers who came to drink in the evenings used to park their cars unwieldy thus causing traffic gridlock for those using the main road. So, there is one senator living here who always complained that when he wanted to pass, it was difficult for him.” She still plans to demand compensation with other shop owners and sees no problems with putting up new structures where the former were even if it defies the rules of the FCDA. “That is the only place we have to put food on the table. You don’t expect us to go and steal. So we are trying to make some arrangements with them so that they will allow us to continue our businesses. We are still on it,” she said.

Abdulrasaq, a tailor that runs his business in Kpana also confirmed Blessing’s hopes for compensation from the FCDA and the reason for the demolition. He said, “Two senators use this road and they (customers) have blocked them several times. They asked the federal government to .remove the structures.” He also stated that the developer was the root cause of the flattening of the structures. “The owner hid it from them that he will come here and demolish the place. He said he didn’t want to see any container because if the containers were still here when he wants to start compensating before demolition it will cost a lot. He will pay the shop owners (owners of the containers) and pay the indigenes. So he now collaborated with the government and they came into the matter and demolished all the containers. Before, when you come to this place, you have about fifty containers where they drink,” he said. He also mentioned that Senator Philips Tanimu Aduda of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is one of the senators that lived in the Utako District and used to pass through gridlock on the way to his house.

Attah Ikharo, FCT Task Force on Sanitation Chairman, on the day of the demolition, while speaking with newsmen, said that the habit of buying lands from local chiefs would not end well. “Please do not buy land from local chiefs if you look at what is going on here today some houses are going while some houses were left. The houses that are going here are the ones of squatters who bought land from local chiefs, while the ones that left are the ones owned by the original inhabitants of the FCT who have not been resettled. Don’t put structures that are not approved by the development control department if you do that, the bulldozers and caterpillars will come close to you and bring down the structure. Don’t buy land from local chiefs, if you do a time will come when they will wash their hands off your case,” he said.

But many still hold on to the hopes of being compensated for their destroyed shops in Kpana. “The shop owners started building proper buildings because they (FCT) will not want to compensate them for the containers. They believe if they construct proper buildings, then they will be compensated. Even a tree, once it is cut down, compensation will have to be paid,,” Abdulrasaq stated. Isaiah Agwu, who owns a beer shop in Kpana, said that the demolition did not affect the indigenes. He said, “You know in this our country, it is only God that can help us. It is about who you know. Why did they not demolish those other houses? These indigenes were pointing out the places they should demolish as if we did not buy land from them.

It is only God that can help us o.” Abdulrasaq also said the indigenes complacency played a huge role in the demolition and the present reconstruction. “During the demolition, they did not want them to touch their houses so that is why they pointed out the containers for demolition because they were told that if they did not allow them to remove the containers they would demolish their own houses.” At Daki Biu in Jabi District, it was observed how quickly buildings have been erected where a demolition occurred two months back. Bamboos were used in place of stalls and containers and inside the parlours the uprooted foundations could be seen.

Chairs and tables sat on the concrete floors that were there and umbrellas shielded customers from the sun. Zinc roofs were put up with cement and sand mixed to polish the floor. New National Star probed into why the FCDA has seemingly turned a blind eye to the flouting of its rules. Okosisi Ozomba, an owner of a beer parlour and football viewing centre who also sells roast catfish, denied that any bribe was given and also denied reconstruction even though our reporters observed him supervising a roofing project in his shop. He said, “On September 16 and 17 they came to destroy the place.

They did not tell us why they demolished our shops. We are not rebuilding, we are just here. I don’t know about other people but I will not rebuild anything. It’s just a tent and canopy. I cannot tell you anything because I was not around when the demolition happened.” Meanwhile, a boutique owner who did not give his name said after the demolition, in so many places in Abuja, he and others went about their business as usual. According to him, people like him who run micro-businesses, selling clothes, groceries and electrical appliances paid 30,000 naira each and that those who sold fish and beer like Ozomba paid N50,000 each. This was confirmed by another shop owner of Hausa ethnicity who also refused to speak on record but said he paid N30,000 to reconstruct his shop and claimed the payment was made to the indigenes who exploited their misfortune while refusing to defend them when the bulldozers came. In the place where there was a car wash, shops have sprung up, although still under construction.

According to the Hausa shop owner, N200,000 was paid to the local chief so the shops can be constructed and the car wash owner could not afford the amount so he left. In Arab Village, on the day of the demolition, on September 3, an indigene speaking with Channels News said, “We thank God because of our cooperation with development control. We liaised with them despite challenges. When people continued to stone some of their people, we still pleaded with the director and we have come to a compromise. We went together with them and we pointed out the houses. We will not allow our houses to fall because the strangers are here. The FCDA gave us some days in which we announced to them. We are tired too, we have to allow them to do their work,” he said. Efforts by this newspaper to reach the Agency of Development Control proved futile as the office was closed off for the Christmas and New Year break.

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