Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Abuja’s unending mass housing demolitions

I have been living in Abuja for about a decade now and sometimes, I wonder what the attraction is that makes people to covet living in the city. The hassles are just too many for one’s liking. The cost of living is astronomic and makes mincemeat of the salary being paid workers in the city. Of all the stress residents of the city face, housing is number one. House rent is unimaginable. Likewise, the cost of buying landed property. A plot of land in Abuja municipal is in hundreds of millions of naira while in the satellite towns such as Gwarinpa, Kubwa, Kuje, Gwagwalada and Karu, it costs a few millions of naira. When the cost of land is added to the high cost of building materials, it therefore goes without saying that the cost of rent will not be cheap.  Ironically, most of the houses in Abuja are said to be owned by, wait for it, public servants!
Since the Federal Government backed out of provision of mass housing for the populace and had to even sell off the ones it built after the introduction of the monetisation policy under the former President Olusegun Obasanjo regime, the issue of mass housing has largely been left in the hands of private estate developers and individuals.  Indeed, many have tried to own houses in Abuja by investing in various housing schemes. Unfortunately, many, including this writer, have got their fingers burnt. In 2005, shortly before Mallam Nasir el-Rufai commenced mass demolition of houses along the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport Road, I was a proud owner of a plot of land. No sooner had I paid for the land than notices were served that Abuja Development Control Department was coming to bulldoze about seven estates along the Airport Road, namely, Chika, Piakassa, Karamajiji, Aleita, Kuchingoro, and Puwei, among others.  I quickly relocated to a safer area but lo and behold, when the bulldozers came rolling, thousands of houses and corner shops were demolished in an unprecedented manner. No area was spared; be it Abuja Municipal or satellite towns. Both the ‘illegal’ buildings of the rich and the poor were affected.
Since the exit of el-Rufai, there has been several FCT ministers but no other has embarked on mass housing demolition on his scale and magnitude. However, the present FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, seems to be toeing the line of el-Rufai with the recent demolition of houses in Kagini, Mpape District and another 296 buildings at Kyami District along the Airport Road. These renewed mass housing demolitions which have been protested by the victims are being expanded in scale and scope as about 40 of such mass housing have been penciled down for demolition by the Development Control Department of the Federal Capital Territory Authority. The names of the affected estates were reeled out on Political Platform, a daily magazine programme on Raypower 100.5FM on October 18, 2012.
On October 17 and 22, I listened with rapt attention to Mr. Hamza Madaki, the Deputy Director, Development Control Unit of FCTA on the same programme as he defended the demolitions.  While speaking at the Senate Committee on FCT meeting with the representatives of the developers and the FCTA on October 18, the Deputy Director at the Development Control Office said that the buildings were located on fake layouts and sold to citizens with forged documents. He said, “We were not expecting any development in those places at all because there was an ongoing re-planning of those areas. But what we are seeing is that fraudsters are involved in forging documents and backdating building plans and selling such to unsuspecting Nigerians.” He observed further that although the developers claimed to have got the allocations from the Abuja Municipal Area Council, the falsity of the claims was exposed by the absence of any such allocations in the systems of AMAC.
All of these claims were debunked by the estate developers who said they carried out a thorough search at Abuja Geographic Information Service centre and got the necessary title documents before they commenced building. They also pooh-poohed the claim by the Development Control that they were served any notice to stop work and quit site. They further asked for the rationale behind the demolition on a weekend preceding the October 2 meeting date between the two parties and the Senate Committee on FCT. The demolition of the set of buildings was carried out from September 29 to October 1, 2012. The developers claimed to have lost about N3bn to the exercise while individual contributors’ loss was put at an average of N4.5m each. The news that all the estates on the Airport Road with the exception of the Federal Housing Authority Estate, Lugbe and the Malaysian Garden along OSEX will be demolished has unsettled many property owners on that area. Mercifully, reprieve came the way of the subscribers and the developers as the Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory has asked the FCTA to suspend its plan to continue the demolition of the 37 estates said to be constructed on illegally acquired plots pending the outcome of its investigation into the matter.
The questions being asked by the worried public are: Will there ever be an end to these mass housing demolitions? In view of the mass housing deficit in Abuja and many places in Nigeria, is demolition the only option available to address urban renewal and reclaim of master-plan? Why did the FCTA not resort to judicial process by getting a valid court order to carry out the demolitions? Could it be true that the land in dispute was meant for members of the National Assembly?
The President of the Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Mr. Bode Adediji, in July 2011 put the conservative estimate of housing deficit in Nigeria at 16 million. To my own mind, demolition of purported illegal structures is not the only way to deal with the issue of restoration of Abuja Masterplan. First and foremost, the full weight of the law should be made to bear on anyone building illegal structures on government land. The FCTA needs not wait till a house is completed before demolition. There should be massive public enlightenment on how and where to get genuine lands to buy in Abuja and indeed anywhere in Nigeria. The FCTA also needs to fish out some members of its staff and other racketeers selling forged and fake land title documents to unwary and naïve individuals and private developers and prosecute them. Some estate developers are dubious no doubt; but the fate of innocent subscribers must be considered. Therefore, for those whose houses were demolished, cheaper and authentic lands should be made available to them while those whose estates have yet to be demolished should be considered for integration even if they have to pay additional cost for the land. All tiers of government, federal, state and local, should invest heavily in mass housing which can be sold at a subsidised rate to interested members of the public. This is the only way house rent can be made cheaper for the poor. Shelter right is a basic human right.