Fear, despair and hopelessness were all there was to see and hear at Monkey village, Unguwan tivi and Banana village as residents roam through piles of rubble, that they once called home. This is as stories of extortion, deceit and betrayal dogged three settlements demolished by the Federal Capital territory Administration (FCDA), when they rolled in bulldozers, laying bare what used to be home to hundreds of people.
The destruction stretches as far as the eyes can see. It is a tale of destruction that not only echoes the plight of the common man in a city overtaken by the rich, but also showing the might of the government and perhaps, what many describe as its insensitivity to the plight of a people already battered by a stifling economic atmosphere, insecurity and the struggle to etch a living.
It was a late afternoon assignment The Guardian embarked upon, having been told of another round of demolition exercise carried out by the authorities. It was indeed a sight to behold, as the environment was covered up in a smoke of dust just like a battleground.
Those whose houses were demolished could be seen scrambling to save the little of what was destroyed before dark, to keep away scavengers popularly referred to as baban bola, from stealing their properties, as they were already on the prowl, stealing from the weak and those who could not make haste to salvage their property.
These three small settlements, nestled in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), behind the old Federal Secretariat in Area 1, were inhabited mostly by low income earners, who had managed to save and to build modest houses in one of West Africa’s most expensive nation’s capital, an investment that now lies in ruins, plunging many into desperation and economic losses.
Residents say they were scarcely given time to relocate and find where to put up or take their property to, before the authorities moved in with bulldozers. They accused the FCT administration of suddenly sweeping in, wreaking havoc, displacing families and forcing children and their loved ones to sleep on bare ground without a roof over them.
Former resident of the settlement, who identified herself as ‘mama twins’ described the demolition exercise as the peak of government’s insensitivity and a deliberate ploy to plunge poor Nigerians into crime, even as insecurity is believed to be at an all-time high.
Leading The Guardian through the now chaotic rubble to a spot where her house once stood, she lamented that they were only given a week’s notice, contrary to claims that residents were given enough time and warned repeatedly. She said the trauma of the demolition was so intense that two women went into premature labour, giving birth under a tree before their due date.
“I have never seen this kind of thing in my life. This is very traumatic for me. I don’t have relatives in Abuja apart from my husband and children. So, I don’t even know where to go. I followed my husband from Lagos when he left to work here and since then, we have been in Abuja even after he lost his job. We have been managing and this house has been our covering, knowing how expensive accommodation and houses are in Abuja.
“Since morning, I have not eaten anything because we are running up and down to find a safe place to keep our belongings before these baban bola steal everything. As you can see, they are all over the place fighting with people and stealing. If you keep anything and you are not watchful, they will just steal it and put it inside their big sacks.
“Some people gave birth here. Because they have no place to stay, they now live and sleep under the tree. I don’t know where we will sleep tonight with my children. My mother gave birth to three of us, my elder sister is late, and my younger brother is in Lagos. Will I now go back empty handed to Lagos? Where will I even get the transportation fare to go and meet him and my parents?” She lamented.
She pointed to some of the demolition notices visible on a few half destroyed walls to authenticate her claims that they were only served a six day notice, which began on February 23, 2022 and ended on March 1, 2022, while on March 2, the FCDA rolled in their bulldozers.
Why were the communities demolished?
From Dei-dei, Mpape to Lugbe, airport road and many places, almost on a yearly basis, the FCDA is notorious for demolishing houses arbitrarily as some say and each time, some form of excuse was given for these demolitions.
In the case of Monkey village, Unguwan tivi and Banana village, according to reports, the FCDA had tagged them as shanties that could pose security threats to the ministries of interior, trade and investment and the federal ministry of water resources.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the FCDA claims that the villages had become a worry and security threat to the nation’s capital, as more and more shanties were springing up there and that the structures are illegal. The FCDA said series of complaints have been received from security agencies regarding the now demolished areas.
The report quoted Ikharo Attah, the Senior Special Assistant, (SSA) on Monitoring, Inspection and Enforcement to the FCT minister. Mallam Muhammad Bello, as saying that “we have been receiving series of complaints from security agencies and concerned persons. So, as part of our effort to clean the FCT of shanties, we have to start the pulling down of illegal structures.”
But residents of the areas say they have been living peacefully and that even if the government wishes to send them packing, they should have been given enough time to do so instead of the way and manner they were displaced, leaving them homeless.
Mr. Ray is an elderly man whose house was also demolished. He also feels that the notice given the community to evacuate was too short.
Sitting on a concrete fence a short distance from his demolished house alongside his family and remains of his properties, Ray sadly shakes his head as he narrates his ordeal.
“They came here on the 23rd of February and gave us a notice of demolition. We came together with our chairman, (who was not available for comments at the time of interview), and went to meet them at the development control for an extension of the time. They promised us that they would not come until after weeks, but it was all lies. We were taken by surprise yesterday, (2nd of March 2022), when they just came and started demolishing our houses.
“When you have a government that is insensitive to the plight of the people, they will continue to lie to the people and take actions that will inflict pain on the masses.
“They came on the 1st of March to say they have given us 24 hours to move out and despite all the money we had contributed as they had requested, they still came and demolished our homes,” he said.
He decried the poor handling of the demolition exercise, which he said should have been carried out after enough time was given to residents to move out instead of descending on a peaceful community at short notice, causing pain, loss of property and displacing many.
He pointed that most of them even went to their senators and House of Representative members, but still, the government refused to listen to the pleading and went ahead to demolish their houses.
“In fact, I don’t want to remember all these things because they evoke a very sad emotion in me. What are they going to do with this land now, seeing that it is a swampy area? They just want to frustrate people. Even if they want to make use of the place, they should at least give us time.
“Nigerians are trying to manage these hardships facing us in the country and they are making it harder for us. This is pure wickedness! Most of the people that are here do not know where to go. If it is raining now, it will fall on us. Let them have human feelings and consider how they will feel if they were in our shoes.
“We made an effort to buy some time; even people here contributed money so that at least they can hold on a little for us to know what to do and arrange ourselves, but they acted as if they agreed, only to turn back and descend on us and demolish our houses. The demolition just took place shortly after the notice was issued,” the man claimed.
Some observers are of the opinion that these yearly demolition exercises by the FCDA do little to better the economic lot of Nigerians, but are carried out to reclaim choice lands, which are later allocated to the rich and powerful at the detriment of those who believe they have legally purchased those lands or got them through the FCT indigenes, the Gbagyi’s.
According to another former resident, Mr. Richard, (not real name), these seized lands end up lying fallow or being given to some politician or rich men, who then turn it into a beautiful estate, mansion, hotel or garden.
Brewing humanitarian crisis of the Internally displaced
The demolition of the three villages has, however, created a humanitarian situation, where hundreds are now left without shelter, which could further escalate insecurity in the affected communities. This is because many families are taking shelter in shades with their belongings piled up or scattered around them.
“These children are supposed to be in their homes resting after school but here we are, our children are outside, we have all been displaced by our own government that should protect us,” a distraught parent cried.
According to one of the parents, the worst part of the demolition was that their representatives went and met the FCDA officials and they assured them that they wouldn’t demolish the place and gave them three months to relocate. “So, we didn’t even expect this demolition until around the month of May 2022 as they promised us. I was even going out when I saw the caterpillar, so I had to come back and see what I could save,” the victim stated, adding that they would not have been in that precarious situation if they were given more time.
Children who just returned from school nearby can be seen sitting on bare ground outside with their mothers as they look around for food to eat.
No one can tell where these families will end up in the coming days, in a country where many are struggling to get by.
As affected FCT residents count their losses, many are of the view that it is important for the government to further look into the activities of the FCDA regarding demolitions as well as creating needed public awareness so that residents do not fall foul of set standards.