Abuja: City Against the Poor


Nineteen months have passed since the Federal Capital Development Administration (FCDA) vowed to demolish all uncompleted buildings in Abuja. It had made the announcement after the murder of nine young men at an uncompleted building in Apo by security operatives. Perhaps in a bid to help cover up the senseless killings for the SSS, the FCDA promptly narrated how Boko Haram and armed robbers occupied such buildings. It said it had marked about 500 such structures for demolition.

Nobody took the FCDA or the FCTA (I don’t know the difference) seriously because what it said made no sense. Structures abandoned by the federal government alone in Abuja and all the 36 states are countless, partly because it owes contractors several trillions of naira. Almost all the abandoned personal buildings are owned by government contractors and government thieves. Who else has hundreds of millions or billions of naira to spend except beneficiaries of over-inflated government contracts?

Demolitions and threats of demolitions are bound to destroy the nation’s capital city. Our governments want to impress foreign visitors with magnificent buildings, forgetting that this is a rich nation of poor people. Since FCTA or FCDA is obsessed with demolishing structures inhabited by miscreants, it should also demolish all empty buildings in the highbrow areas. Many houses in Maitama, Asokoro and Wuse are not occupied by tenants because their owners can’t find those that can pay them N15m per year. Some are empty because they were built or bought with stolen money and their owners have no need of tenants’ money yet; rather than keep the money in banks (where it could be stolen by bank wreckers), they have preferred to buy houses in Abuja.

The number of uncompleted houses in the FCT is not 500 but perhaps 500, 000. You could find 500 uncompleted buildings in one estate alone. But this class of house owners can’t be afraid of the FCDA or the FCT minister. The latter “no fit do anything”. They can use their power only on the poor. That’s why, 39 years after Abuja’s creation, less than 3 per cent is developed: no infrastructure outside the city centre. There is no standard rule for land administration because every FCT regime comes with its own set of laws. Areas occupied for years could be “revoked” and the allottees offered alternative plots in a bush. At other times, districts are “superimposed” on plots previously allocated to the not-so-rich. Even if the allottees built houses on their land, they are denied compensation because they do not have approval of building plans. Yet, the Development Control department does not give approval in places without infrastructure. Little wonder it has been easy for mafia-like fraudsters to operate freely in all the FCT departments and agencies. My friend has just lost N23m to these fraudsters. It’s easy to fall victim to the syndicate because you may find the needed land titles in AGIS today but the titles would disappear from the computer system tomorrow. Certificates of occupancy are stolen and sold easily.

The more the federal government or FCTA strives to drive the poor away from Abuja, the more the city deteriorates. Nine out of every 10 Nigerians are poor. And the situation is worsening: more people are dropping into the poverty cesspool every day, thanks to the failure of most government policies and programmes. So, those who dream of a time Abuja will be inhabited by the rich alone are certainly fools. It will never happen.

To illustrate: the Federal Executive Council approved about N38bn contracts for the extension of Asokoro or so. It didn’t matter that an agency had been set up for the “development” of satellite towns. The agency for the development of satellite towns, like FERMA, is an opportunity to award phony contracts – contracts that take 20 years to execute while the treasury keeps bleeding. That’s what we hear always: government trying to make the rich more comfortable and keeping the poor more uncomfortable. Almost nine years ago, motorcyclists or okada riders were banned from the city. In 2013, buses were banned also. Yet, the traffic jams persist. The FCT authorities have not been able to stop prostitution – a major “industry” in the city – because the rich are involved. Politicians, bureaucrats and other gatherers of easy money have cordial relationships with women of easy virtue.

Policies meant to drive the poor away have not ensured better security for the city’s inhabitants either. Armed robbers still operate freely in Maitama, Garki, Asokoro and Wuse. The trend cannot be reversed because even robbers, 419 fraudsters and kidnappers live in those highbrow areas. Some own, or have suites in, hotels from where they coordinate their activities. Hungry criminals may live in slums (some slums persist in the city because the original inhabitants of Abuja are yet to be resettled), but some hardened ones have become rich and therefore live with the rich.

Any federal government-driven reform should start from the FCT. This apartheid – segregation between the rich and the poor – must end. If there is a master plan, it should be implemented from the start or altered to accommodate everybody. If building plan approvals cannot be given to developers in places without infrastructure, then, people should not be allocated land in places without infrastructure. To discourage speculators, land should be allocated to only those who are ready to build. Almost all the places where houses were demolished during the Nasir el-Rufai era are still lying fallow. FCTA has not built anything there, except that the plots have been re-allocated to politicians and their friends.

Abuja has been messed up by corruption in high places. Many who applied to be given land in 1980 have not been attended to. Only government officials, their relations, cronies and concubines get land in Abuja. And when the non-connected buy plots of land in undeveloped areas and build houses, the FCDA decides to revoke and share them among the same privileged class. Only when the poor are affected do we hear of efforts to “restore” the Abuja master plan. “Illegal” structures must be demolished, yet their owners are denied approvals. How do we describe these? Oppression of the poor. Wickedness in high places.

Indeed, Abuja is a lie. (Governor Rotimi Amaechi said so.) I foresee a time in the not-too-distant future that the city will explode and become uninhabitable for the rich. When that time comes, property prices will plummet because there will be no buyers. Let the people in government today keep deceiving themselves.


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