The Federal Government may demolish no fewer than 30 illegal settlements and slums and over 6,000 illegal buildings in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as part of measures to restore the nation’s capital’s master plan.
The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, who dropped the hint on resuming office on Monday, said all illegal buildings distorting the Abuja master plan would be pulled down.
Wike vowed to flatten all illegal buildings even if they belonged to a minister or an ambassador.
Findings by The PUNCH indicate that the slums that might be affected by the urban renewal programme would include Apo Mechanic Village, Byanzhin, Dawaki, Dei Dei, Durumi, Dutse, Garki, Garki Village, Gishiri, Gwagwalape, Idu, Jabi, Kado Village, Karmo, Karshi, Karu, Katampe, Ketti Village, Kpaduma, Kabusa, Kpana Village, Kubwa, Lokogoma, Lugbe, Mabushi, Mpape, Nyanya and Piya Kasa.
Also, those who acquired lands from Abuja indigenes may lose their investments as they were regarded by the FCT Administration as illegal.
Checks indicate that the 6,000 structures that may be affected by the restoration plans included buildings that have been abandoned for a long time in violation of the building code.
A 2022 report by the Federal Capital Territory Administration indicated that at least 6,000 abandoned homes may be affected by the threat of demolition or revocation of land titles.
The figure may, however, increase as it doesn’t include the number of illegal homes or slums in the FCT, according to FCTA officials, who spoke with one of our correspondents on Monday.
Speaking in a telephone interview on Monday, the FCTA Department of Development Control Director, Muktar Galadima, stated that a new survey might have to be conducted to evaluate the current realities.
He said, “We would have to go back to the field to ascertain that figure because some of them have completed their development since we gave that figure. We would find time to go back and conduct a new survey. As of February 2022, 6,000 abandoned houses were identified.”
Unveiling his vision to journalists and FCT Administration officials after taking the oath of office alongside 44 other ministers at the banquet hall of the President Villa, Abuja, the FCT minister also said he would revoke lands that had remained undeveloped for a long period of time.
The ex-Rivers State governor warned that houses that distorted the Abuja Master plan, including those built on green areas will also be demolished, vowing to ‘’step on toes.’’
Asked if his planned demolition was not a form of vendetta against his perceived enemies, Wike simply promised a hard time for those who violated the law irrespective of their status or position in society.
He further warned that lands that had not been developed for years, or for which ground rents had not been paid would be revoked and reallocated to those who would complete the building within a short period of time.
Wike stated, “All those people who are distorting the master plan of Abuja, too bad. If you know you have built where you are not supposed to build, it will go down. Be you a minister of anywhere, be you an ambassador, if you know you have developed where you were not supposed to develop, your house must go down. Those who have taken over the green areas to build; sorry, our parks must come back, the green areas must come back. If you hate green, you must hate yourself.’’
Continuing, the ex-governor added, ‘’And those that the government has given C of O (Certificate of Occupancy) or allocated lands to them, that refused to develop and use, and they are becoming land speculators, the land is gone. I’m going to revoke them. We will take back our land and give to those who want to develop, and you must sign that you must develop at so and so time.’’
The minister took time to explain why he would not spare ground rent defaulters, stating that he would not issue a demand notice before revoking their plots.
He warned, “For those of you who also have refused to pay your ground rent; non-payment of ground rent is a breach of covenant. I don’t need to write to you to pay. So, if you have not paid, be it national whatever you call it, bank o, anywhere; big man o, sorry, I will not be tired to revoke.’’
‘’And all those who have left their old houses to be shanties for criminals; you are building houses for over 15 years, uncompleted buildings, now criminals have taken over the place, the government will take it back. All those uncompleted buildings defacing the city, particularly in Maitama and Asokoro, and Wuse, all those areas, I’ll take them back,’’ he threatened.
The former Rivers state governor also used the opportunity to address speculations that he might be sanctioned by his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, for accepting the ministerial nomination, stating that President Bola Tinubu asked all the state governors to nominate 10 persons each.
He disclosed that he wrote to his party leaders before accepting the nomination.
He noted, “They say they are going to sanction me that I took an appointment. That is ridiculous. The President wrote to every governor, 36 state governors, to bring names of people to appoint. Every PDP governor wrote a letter and nominated 10 persons for appointment to this government.
“The one they talk about is Wike. Before this appointment came, I wrote to the national party chairman, I wrote to the minority leaders of the House of Reps and Senate, I wrote to the zonal chairman of the party, I wrote to my state chairman, I wrote to my governor; all of them wrote me back and sent it. I have it in evidence, documented.’’
Wike promised to revive the FCT transportation sector by reintroducing the mass transit buses and clearing motorcycles from within the city centre.
The minister emphasised that his administration will work to develop the outer regions of the city, depopulate the city centre and bring development to the communities on the outskirts of the nation’s capital.
Vowing to rid the city of motorcycles and tricycles, he said, “Motorcycles cannot take over the city, it is not possible. You are dragging a road with a motorcycle, and even the motorcycle is not wearing any security, no helmet, and he’s carrying somebody at the back. Keke Napep (tricycles) have taken over the whole place.
“We are going to provide alternatives to reduce the suffering of the people, who may not have the means to have their own private vehicles. We must also extend development to the area councils, we must extend development.
“If you do that, so many people would not like to come and live in the city. That’s part of decongesting the city. Look at the Metro line, it’s not working, is it working? We will bring it back.”
But panicked residents who may be affected by the planned demolition exercise have frowned on the position of the minister, saying they would not support any indiscriminate destruction of properties. They appealed to Wike not to worsen hardship in the country.
Speaking with our correspondent, a Kubwa resident, Tola Anya-Nuga declared that Wike’s threat came at a time when citizens were going through a lot and the country’s economy was not doing well.
He stated, “The truth is that no one will ever support the demolition of properties but if the areas will affect or have continued to affect the citizens such as houses on canals or under high tension wires, demolishing such places is a good idea.
“Wike’s speech came at the wrong time because he presented a heart-breaking speech. It can give one hypertension. The country is tense and things are very expensive. Wike and the FG should allow the poor to breathe. He should not have talked about demolition on his first day in office.”
Another resident, Abayomi Samuel, lamented the hardship in the country, adding that the government should look for ways to manage the planned demolitions.
Samuel stated, “Whatever Wike meant by restoring the Abuja Master plan or demolishing people’s property if it is against the will of the people. I can never support that.
Abuja residents panic
“If Wike is talking about the illegal structures in metropolitan places in Abuja, the government should see how it can manage the situation especially if land-owners or house-owners got their certificates from FCDA and others.
“But when we talk about satellite towns and villages like Jikwoyi, Kubwa, etc, what does Wike want to demolish? People are struggling day and night.”
A Kuje resident, and commercial motorcyclist, who simply identified himself as Michael, said though he did not have a house that could be demolished, he hoped that the Wike-led FCT administration would not revoke his land, which he bought from Abuja indigenes.
He said, “I haven’t started building, I just bought land for keeps from an indigene. I didn’t buy from the FCTA, I bought from the indigenes, and it is not every land or house from indigenes that will be revoked or demolished.
“There are some places that have been revoked. So, if they have been revoked, they would likely not touch those places. But for mine, it hasn’t been revoked, I just bought it and I’m trusting God that it is safe.”
“Alhaji Kassim said the demolition would make life more difficult for the poor, adding that the government should first create an avenue for the survival of those whose houses may be demolished.
“Instead of looking for where to develop, Wike is looking for where to demolish. We have so many places that are not developed, let him do it first. And then, let them create a place where they can push people to.
“Even, if they want to demolish, if truly the government wants to work well, first create an avenue where they (people) can survive, then you can make a correction; if truly you are for correction,’’ he admonished.
A Kabusa resident, Chinedu Nwachukuwu noted, “Being his first day in office, the minister should have said things that would make residents glad to have him, rather than issuing threats. People living in Abuja are citizens of Nigeria, and their dignity needs to be respected by the government.’’
Stephen Aghedo, who also lives in Kabusa, warned, “This isn’t Rivers State where Wike ruled with impunity during his time as governor. This is the FCT, and he needs to be careful with his utterances and actions.”
Ade Ogundiran, a resident of Dogongada, said, “We only hope that the minister would do everything within the ambit of the law and not take irrational decisions that’ll affect residents and impede the development of the FCT.
“Mr. Wike is known for talking too much, however, he should remember that there are people who bought their lands through the proper channels, and destroying properties built on such lands is illegal.
But Juliet Ndichie expressed concern regarding the deteriorating status of the Federal Capital Territory as a modern city.
According to her, Abuja has become a safe haven for criminals, leading to a rise in various nefarious activities that pose a threat to its residents.
Ndichie, who lives in Dawaki, asked the new administration to tackle crime and make the city safe.
Martha Ibrahim, who stays in Lugbe, expressed support for Wike’s move to restore the master plan, arguing that it is in the best interest of the inhabitants.
On her part, Fatima Farouq said, “If Wike follows the Masterplan for the FCT, it will be for the growth and development of the city. It may seem difficult now, but in the long run, we will appreciate it.
Abuja was not like this and the way people are building houses anyhow, if care is not taken, we may not be able to control it, and it will be a shame to us as a nation.”
The Treasurer of the Nigerian Institute of Building, Lagos Chapter, Philips Ayotunde, endorsed the move to sanitise the FCT but cautioned against selective enforcement of the law and witch-hunt of opposition party members.
He said, “The question is if they would not be selective in their approach because that has often been the norm in Nigeria. Politicians often go after their political rivals. If only they would embrace fairness, justice, and transparency.
“I support the removal of buildings on development of green areas and removal of buildings without approvals. But they should not be selective in their approach.
“When you apply the law on those you are seeing as political rivals and the same law is exempted on your favourites, it would not result in fairness.”
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuer, Lagos State Chapter, Gbenga Ismail, lauded the move of the new minister, noting that buildings that complied with the master plan must be exempted.
He said, “Master plan is the beginning of everything and it is very important for a thriving state. However, the demolition must be applied to buildings not approved from the start. If in compliance with the master plan, it would be difficult to demolish.
“In addition, if there is an existing approval to build, then they have been permitted by law to have been in compliance. Once a builder is in compliance with the master plan, and they still go ahead to demolish it, then the owner has a case and can go ahead and take legal actions.”
A former President of the Association of Town Planning Consultants of Nigeria, Moses Ogunleye, said it was a good drive.
“It is in line with the implementation of town planning policies, and adherence to the Masterplan is the foundation. We have beautiful plans in the country but we do not adhere to them, hence this is a good move if it would not be watered down by political influences. The FCT minister should go by his words,’’ he declared.
However, the Executive Secretary, Association of Housing Corporation of Nigeria, Toye Eniola, said beyond demolitions, there was a need to thoroughly investigate all those involved in the illegality.
He said, “If the demolition (exercise) was based on doing the right things and correcting anomalies that jeopardise the master plan and put the entire city or community in danger, l will surely be in support.
“I will never support illegality and building on a green area is the height of indiscipline which must not be condoned. Nigeria is where we are today because of the indiscipline which started at the highest level of governance which invariably extended to the governed.’’
“It would not be enough to pull down those houses but everyone involved in masterminding the illegal construction in government circles from approval processes to supervision must be brought to book,’’ he recommended.
The President, the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Nathaniel Atebije, observed there may be more illegal houses than legal homes due to the high number of land grabbers and poor number of building approvals granted annually.
He noted that the growing number of illegal houses and slums was worrisome, adding that a carrot-and-stick approach has to be employed to address the dire situation in the FCT.
He stated, “If you look at houses along airport road, all those massive developments are illegal, including those that look like an organised estate. I am sure quite a good number of them have no approvals because they were built by some land grabbers.
“There are illegal organised developments and there are illegal unorganised developments which is possibly why there may be more illegal houses than legal ones. In places like Chika, Durumi, Jabi, Garki and other settlements along the airport road, slums are still expanding and it is better to evaluate how those areas can be integrated, give them a facelift so they can fit into modern living rather than demolition.
“All over the axis of Abuja, there are illegal developments and the reason is that the government has not been able to adequately take care of the needs of the people. Illegal houses have continued to multiply because the government has not demonstrated a serious political will to resolve this issue. But with the new minister, a concrete solution will be designed by the government.”
On his part, the Chairman of the Abuja chapter of the Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Osilama, stated it would be inhumane to demolish houses without adequate compensation and consideration of the current economic situation, adding that alternative arrangements should be provided before demolitions could take place.
He also advised the FCT minister to commence a review of the Abuja master plan to deal with rural-urban migration and surge in population.
He said, “The truth is the FCT is truly looking dirty, but for slums to go, he may have to pay compensation because the provision of the law doesn’t allow them to move without compensation unless they are illegal slums. There are villages that are indigenous slums.
“I am sure the minister will be properly advised. He is just coming on board and will be properly advised. In the face of the current economic situation, it is not wise to just demolish houses without proper consideration and compensation because criminality will increase and everyone’s lives will be at risk. Alternative arrangements must be provided before any demolition is done.’’