There is a popular saying that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. But this appear not to be the case for officials of the FCT Department of Development Control when they demolished Bassa-Jiwa Village recently. NKECHI ISAAC writes that affected residents have accused the officials of not being transparent.
The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed, recently directed the Department of Development Control to demolish all illegal structures along the Abuja Airport Road.
The directive came following the rapid springing up of illegal structures in the area.
According to the minister, it was imperative to remove the illegal structures especially in view of prevailing security challenges in the country and also to correct the impression of the city first time visitors to the FCT had on seeing such illegalities.
In carrying out the directive, the Development Control Department last week demolished structures believed to belong to non-indigenes in Bassa-Jiwa Village, popularly called aviation village, situated behind the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
Highlighting the offence of the people whose houses were demolished, the District Officer in charge of Aviation village, Adamu Garuba said their offence was building without approval, building plan or a title document.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the marking of these buildings was carried out by staff of the department in collaboration with appointed indigenes of the community whose duty it was to point out and identify structure belonging to non-indigenes.
It was also gathered that between enumeration and demolition of the houses, something went awry as most residents who were approached by LEADERSHIP confirmed that there was a high level of corruption just as the entire exercise was not carried out transparently.
A resident, Ahmadu Bello alleged that there was a high level of unfairness during the enumeration and marking of houses and that the indigenes were untruthful.
He said: “Already in the markings there was unfairness; some people went and settled the chiefs and their houses were spared. People paid as much as N100,000 to N300,000 depending on the size of the structure on ground.”
He also alleged that the money was shared amongst the chiefs, some people in the Department Of Development Control and the policemen that accompanied them on the exercise.
“I believe the indigenes used this situation to make money and also pursue people who have settled there,” he added.
In a chat with journalists on site, another resident, Luka Ali also alleged that an indigenous association went round on the eve of the demolition till morning, collecting money from people which they claimed they were going to give to the authorities to spare the houses of people that were not marked.
He said: “Some indigenes went round and collected N2,000 from us, even till this morning, assuring us that our houses will not be affected, so we were shocked when they came and started demolishing our houses.”
Ali decried the underhand dealings of the indigenes, saying that his house was demolished even though it was not marked while his immediate neighbour's house that was marked was spared.
“We were misinformed by both the indigenes and the FCDA; I was unable to move my properties from the house because of the assurances of indigenes that unmarked houses would not be demolished. We are not goats if they had told us that they will demolish almost all the houses, we would have made arrangements to move our properties. We’re law abiding citizens. I also have a shop here and I evacuated the shop because it was marked but I was shocked and dumbfounded when they came and immediately started demolishing houses that were not even marked,” he lamented.
A resident, who simply identified herself as Kuburat, said most people did not move their property because of misinformation.
According to her: “What we were told was that the reason for the demolition was that the authorities had projects which they want to expand. What we heard was that the houses that will be demolished were houses near the proximity of the hajj camp for pilgrims close by, which they want to expand and the houses that fall within the proximity of the rail road that is under construction.
"That was why so many people whose houses were not marked went to work without bothering to move their properties.”
Reacting to the allegations, the director, Development Control Department, Yahaya Yusuf, said they were unfounded as no staff of the department would do such.
He said, “I can assure you that no development control staff will compromise and collect money from anyone because they know they will be caught. This is the work of fake guys, who are all over the place anytime we’ve had to embark on removal of illegal structures put up by non-indigenes in indigenous villages such as this. You will always hear stories of people coming around constituting themselves into associations and the likes.
“If anyone is not tired of the loss they incur as a result of this demolition and still goes ahead to contribute money and give to them, that’s the person’s business.”
He maintained that the chiefs of villages on Airport Road had been duly notified of the demolitions, but, however, agreed that the indigenes were not totally honest in the identification and enumeration of non-indigenous houses.
He said, “The markings we did initially was with the indigenes that were made available to us by the chiefs themselves, with the hope that we’ll have a clean sweep of what was illegal but from what I can see now, these people have tried to save houses claiming they own them. Even while I was there, I argued that some of those houses were put up by indigenes. I’m not taking chances and we’re going to remove whatever was spared on account of illegal deals, it may not have been by our own staff but the indigenes that joined our staff in identifying the houses.”
The director called on residents to desist from buying land from indigenous chiefs as they do not have the authority to sell land. He noted that it was a risky venture and a recipe for misery as developments on such land risked removal by the department.
“People should stop buying land from indigenous rulers because it is illegal as chiefs do not have rights to allocate land on behalf of the administration. The situation has become so terrible that people who are connected to the chiefs are now selling land in the name of the chiefs which is an indication that the chiefs are losing control over this kind of situation,” Yusuf added.
Speaking further, he said the right and legitimate channel and processes residents should follow in acquiring legal land in the FCT was through the lands department which had its quarters in the Abuja Geographic Information Systems (AGIS) building.
“Because to do otherwise is just taking a risk,” he added.