FCT Demolitions: Many Questions…Few Answers
ON the weekend of September 29, 2012, officials of the Department of Development Control (DDC) of the Federal Capital Development Agency (FCDA) pulled down some 372 housing units – over 80 per cent completed and fully subscribed! The demolition was carried out on a weekend.
Meanwhile, the disputing parties to the controversial plot (the developer and the DDC) had already fixed to meet with the Senate House Committee on the Federal Capital Territory of the just ended 7th Assembly headed by Senator Smart Adeyemi in order to reach a truce.
With October 1 being a public holiday, the meeting was slated for October 2. But between Saturday (September 29) and October 1, FCDA bulldozers swung into action. The reason given was that the houses were built on an illegal plot of land. Nerves were frayed, amid speculations that the FCDA wanted to re-allocate the same plot to some senators.
The plot is located some kilometres away from the airport and is surrounded by other estates. Of course, there were questions that begged answers like where was the FCDA when 372 housing units were being constructed? Why were other estates around the same plot not demolished? Owner of the plot, Minanuel Developers, said it dully applied for the plot, which was allocated to it. It filed a N5b compensation claim.
In August 2011, tension mounted in the FCT over the demolition of 172 houses belonging to a consortium of businessmen from the South East zone of the country. The property was part of 475 houses built by the consortium at Sunshine Estate in Apo 11, Abuja.
Describing the development as ‘economic genocide against Igbo businesses in the nation’s capital’, Coordinator-General of the South East Revival Group (SERG), Chief Willy Ezugwu, said the demolition was capable of raising ethnic tension, stressing that construction of the estate followed due process with the Abuja Municipal Area Council with allocation papers duly certified by the Abuja Geographical Information Service (AGIS).
He said the demolition notice from the FCDA was issued August 10 with a 21-day grace period, regretting that DDC moved in its bulldozers August 13, barely three days after the quit order. He said the action by the FCDA did not give developers opportunity to seek legal redress, and that it took the intervention of the FCT Permanent Secretary, Biodun Nathaniel Olorunfemi, to suspend the demolition. But for this, the entire 475 houses would have been pulled down.
In 2012, the FCDA released a list of 44 estates along the Outer Southern Expressway billed for demolition. The Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) allocated these estates, along Airport Road, to developers who built and then sold to individuals. But as things stand, now, the FCT administration is claiming that some of the estates are seated on the railway corridor. But developers have a different view of the matter. They think politicians have suddenly picked interest in lands along Airport Road because of the strategic location and the network of good roads.
Tragedy struck on the morning of June 20, last year along Kubwa Express Road in Galadima, a section of Abuja, after a bulldozer being used by a demolition squad of the FCT killed a child. The child’s mother died shortly afterwards as a result of self inflicted stab wounds. The two tragedies triggered angry protest by residents and onlookers in the area. The mother had left the child in the house and gone to buy things at a market. She returned to find that the bulldozer had crushed both child and house. The protesters barricaded the express road, lit bonfires and smashed the windscreens of vehicles. The incident resulted in a heavy traffic gridlock.
A demolition squad also went to Zhayi (Jahi 1) near Shoprite to pull down structures there. Residents of the area, however, resisted the team. Notwithstanding, as the officials left the community without achieving their objective, one Mrs. Salamatu Umar reportedly died upon sighting the bulldozers. Her house had been among those marked for destruction.
AN epic legal battle, meanwhile, could commence soon between the Federal Capital Development Agency (FCDA) and Dupyomi International Ventures limited, owners of a building under construction estimated at N85m.
The property, on a plot of land worth N120m, at the Katampe district of Abuja, was demolished June 2, 2015 by the Department of Development Control of the FCDA.
The romance, now sour, between the FCDA and Sustainable Healthcare Initiative (SHI), a company owned by Dupyomi International Ventures Limited, started when the company approached the FCDA for a land search to construct a storage facility for safe keeping of ultra-sensitive drugs, vaccines, equipment and related items used in the quest by the government of Nigeria to eradicate HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases.
These drugs and equipment are said to be sourced from donor agencies, countries and individuals outside Nigeria. With space constraint in its current location, SHI requested land from the FCDA. Search was done and communicated by the FCDA to the company via a legal search report dated 13th February 2012 that plot 34, Katampe (B07) was free to be used on commercial purpose by SHI. The letter, which put the size of the plot at 3341.05m/square, was signed by the Deeds Registrar and also certified by the company secretary and legal adviser.
With assessed building plan fee of N3,507,962.50 paid into the coffers of the FCDA including N3m being part payment for the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) of the land, Sustainable Healthcare thought the coast was clear for construction of the storage facility. Donor agencies were willing to send drugs and other consumables, but not without a guaranteed storage space.
It was, therefore, a rude shock for SHI when the Department of Development Control said the Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS) had raised questions on the land and SHI had to stop construction with the argument that another allottee was laying claim to the same plot, after about N85m had gone into the construction!
Dr. Mike Omotosho, the CEO of SHI explained that the company approached Development Control for an amicable settlement but no second allottee was produced. He added that the Department produced an address in Kano with the claim that it belongs to the other allottee, but on three consecutive times, a courier firm could not locate the address in order to deliver a letter of invitation for a roundtable between the parties involved.
Omotosho said: “We have specialised skills in storing cold-chain commodities and other commodities that require special storage to safeguard donated materials from foreign partners on behalf of Nigerians. We needed extra storage space and we decided to buy a space. When we did the search, there was no problem, no encumbrance, nothing. After making the necessary payment, we started building with the approval we were given. All of a sudden, their land cartel came up and said the space is double allocation. How can it be double allocation when a search was done before we started anything at all?
“We had people who advised that we should ignore their stop work order and that this is Nigeria. But we said no, as law-abiding citizens, we wanted them to do their findings, so that we can know what to do. So, we went back to AGIS and there they said they had allocated the land to someone a long time ago but they did not certify it and that it is not our problem, and that they would sort things out. So, we insisted that AGIS should communicate to Development Control, so that we could remove the stop order and continue our work. But they kept on dragging the matter and that was when we had to bring in our lawyer.”
He said his suspicion arose when the company’s lawyer approached Justice Hussein Baba Yusuf of the FCT High Court for an injunction restraining Development Control from hindering the construction of the project but the judge refused, saying theirs was a clear and straight forward case that does not require any legal tussle and that they should just allow things to take their natural course with the Department.
Omotosho said when all efforts failed to reach out to the other allottee, the company sought the intervention of the court to restrain Development Control from tampering with the building. With a suit No. CV/120/2014 filed before an FCT High Court, all parties involved were served the Writ of Summons for the hearing of the case fixed for December 8, 2014. However, in the early hours of December 4, 2014, a partial demolition was done on the property. Omotosho said the Department denied any knowledge of this.
Subsequently, the company, through its legal adviser, petitioned the director of the Department and the letter was acknowledged via a stamp dated December 10, 2014. The petition said that at about 8pm on the night of December 3, a team of policemen took away the security guard on the property, confiscated his phone and drove him to the Berger Area of the city and left him in their vehicle for hours. At about 2am, the policemen brought and dropped him off some kilometres from the property. They told him they were not sure if he was an employee of the owner of the property and that they had called the owner to ascertain if he was the authentic security guard. They later said they had been able to ascertain that he was the employee of the owner and so could return to his post. Though the guard did not meet anyone when he got to the land, he saw that the building had been pulled down in part.
The petition reads in part: “This deliberate act of brigandage and self help will certainly not settle the issues at stake over this land. Instead, it will only create an avenue for chaos in land allocation in the FCT and a resultant loss of faith in the ability of the FCDA to grant perfect titles. This act will also undermine the nation’s judicial system if left unresolved, as it may create a faceoff between the judiciary and officials of the FCT Administration.”
The petition called for an investigation into the matter and a copy was sent to the Minister of the FCT.
With its finger crossed and expecting reactions from the Department, SHI was optimistic that it would be contacted and then it would move on with its construction. But another shock was delivered at its doorsteps when on Tuesday June 2, the Department totally demolished the entire building without prior notice.
Omotosho said that after the demolition of December 3, the company had gone to the judge and told him what transpired. But instead of issuing any restraining order, he again said SHI should not worry and that the Department of Development Control would pay damages and that has been the position of the judge until the entire structure was demolished.
“We had wanted a speedy resolution of this problem. Anyone can fall victim of none availability of drugs or any other medical equipment. What we are doing is not a business, per se, but a kind of charity work to assist the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Health to store these things. The Ministry is aware of our existence; we operate under the Ministry. When we heard that the property was being demolished on Tuesday, we began to make calls to the Department but most of their phones were switched off. They came with policemen who had no name tags and numbers.”
He said if the judiciary cannot be trusted as the last arbiter of the masses, then trouble might be looming, as people may want to take the law into their hands.
Every effort to get the reaction of the Department of Development Control proved abortive, as the director would neither pick his call nor respond to text messages.