By Emmanuel Elebeke & Laide Akinboade
Recently, the Federal Capital Territory Authority, FCTA, demolished some structures in Mpape community and Minanuel Estate along the Airport Road, Abuja, saying they were illegal. It also went ahead to publish a list of 37 other estates to be demolished. Following the out- cry that trailed this action, Sunday Vanguard sought the position of key government officials directly involved in the demolition. The Deputy Director of the Development Control Department of the FCTA, Hamza Tayyub, articulated government’s stand on what has become a major controversy involving not only low income earners but also the rich and powerful in Abuja In this interview, Tayyub justifies the demolition and explains why government cannot stop the exercise in the present circumstances. The official also speaks on the challenges FCTA faces in dealing with developers; how developers are ripping subscribers off and what they are doing to bring discipline into the system. Excerpts:
What led to the demolition of Minanuel Estate?
The designation of Lugbe Airport Road has changed from Area Council to Phase 5 of the city because of the strategic importance of the road because everybody coming into the city will appreciate a well planned Abuja city. If you leave it for the Area Councils there might not be a planning consideration for a beautiful place that would give rise to a place people will like to see from the airport and new people and foreigners should have a first impression of the city. So, this was what led to the change of status and, before this, we stopped all development activities.
If an area is declared under planning, the development is put on hold. And until the planning is over or when the new planning is ready, you will not be able to implement new plans.
Somewhere along the line, we discovered that people were building estates there and we asked for their title documents and building approval. They showed titled documents from Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC, and, honestly, AMAC does not have authority to allocate land for estate right from the beginning. These papers were reading dates that were between 2003 and 2004, so we asked AMAC, have you approved estates along Airport Road?, and AMAC said they do not have the power to approve land for estate development. They also cannot approve land to build estate because there is a limit to what they can approve. They can only approve something like bungalows and at most two-storey building. Not a whole estate or a complex building because to approve such, you need professionals like architects and engineers and all the complexities involved. So they couldn’t have approved estates.
Have you gotten the alleged approved lists of estates that were approved by AMAC?
No, in fact, right from time, if somebody wants approval for estate like the estate in Lugbe FHA and AMAC, even Gwarinpa, when he comes, it is the FCDA that would plan and then give it to them and then he will bring the proposal. Honestly, AMAC didn’t approve any estate; if anybody or company asks them for the approval of any estate, what they normally do is to direct them to us; but if it is a bungalow, they just go ahead and approve but if it is a three-four-storey building and you approach AMAC, they would refer such application to Development Control.
If somebody comes and says AMAC approved estate for him, we will be surprised because it is not even in their jurisdiction to do so.
These estates have allegedly been approved by AMAC. What is FCT administration doing to alleviate the suffering of these common Nigerians?
AMAC never approved the estates. I insist the titles they got were forged, though, we sympathise with these Nigerians.
Have you informed the law enforcement agencies over the alleged forged documents?
This is another angle this thing must take because this thing has been on for a long time in so many places in Nigeria! It is not only in Abuja, forgery is everywhere. After all, people forge money and certificates, so it is not new. The problem is that it is a big challenge. Maybe now more and more people are aware because the thing is now the talk of the town. We must fight this canker worm collectively and get to the root of it.
Now, you intend to demolish about 37 more estates. What are you doing to save the affected people from the agony it might cause? Are you not worried about this?
Definitely we are; definitely we are, it is not the minister, it is the policy that has been there. When you say you have a master-plan you want to implement, you have to implement it. Any minister will do the same, it doesn’t have anything to do with this minister or that minister but the policy must be followed. It is the system, there is no minister that would fold his arms over this. The president has already given him a mandate, “ Deliver me a world class capital” and any public officer will want to do that.
Quite okay our sympathy goes to subscribers; even the subscribers need to have done better than they did because if you want to go into something, the onus is on you to make sure that you do a thorough search before going into it. You must verify the authenticity of the documents you got.
Are you sure people are aware of the position and work of Development Control?
You mean you are building and you don’t know that Development Control exists? Then you are not serious. If you are renting, you don’t have anything to do with Development Control but those that are buying do. Those who are building with their money are supposed to check with Development Control and ensure that the estate is approved before they start building. Honestly, after this demolition of Minanuel Estate, if you see the number of the people coming to find out, what they are supposed to have done. It doesn’t have to take demolition for them to find out.
But why can’t you stop development from the onset to avoid demolition?
We have a photo clip, this was when they cleared the site and, we were there and we told them to stop. This was early last year but rather, foundations started springing up. And our machine started removing the foundation. We started the demolition of Minanuel Estate right from the foundation. The more we demolished, the more they built at a much faster rate. Their belief was that once they could finish, they will be pitied, and it would end there. As we demolished, they built again. As structure increased in the site we went to demolish.
Are there no ways of stopping them by putting security men at the site in order to check them from continuing with the buildings?
We tried creating awareness by putting adverts in the broadcast media and newspapers. We tried to alert the public in addition to radio and television announcements, everything we were supposed to do under the law we did. People are generally stubborn and lawless. What is going on is lawlessness. The developers in most cases recoup their money; it is the subscribers that bear the brunt of the problem. Some don’t even buy the land, they just forge documents and divide the land and start selling to innocents Nigerians. And the same people will use their money to build and they are the people that lose at the end of the day.
What is Development Control doing about the low quality of buildings in some of these estates to avert building collapse?
The reason all these are happening is because they don’t have approval from Development Control. They will use fake approvals. Area Councils have stopped issuing approval since 2004 but what they do is to backdate the approval and say it was given in 2003. The same approval they said they got from AMAC in 2003 is the same approval they got and start building.
They will never come to Development Control, no supervision, that is why they build anything.
Many of those structures are not even safe for people to live in, they are virtually shanties; if some of them were storey buildings, they would have collapsed since.
In all honesty, those buildings are not supposed to remain standing because a lot of the developers are building nonsense.
What is FCT doing to prosecute such developers?
You see, with this problem, we are involving the EFCC to tackle the issue, especially the forgery. As you are aware, the joint sitting of Senate and the House on FCT have invited us and asked us to assemble all the documents of the estates we are proposing to remove, they promised to dig deeper into them . They will be interested to know who and who are involved in issuing those forged documents. It is a big cartel and we need to fight them . People are more concerned about why didn’t Development Control demolish earlier but the issue is that we need to fight those cartel and get to the bottom of the issue. We must know who are issuing the fake documents and bring them to book.
There is the belief that certain ethnic groups or class of people are targeted?
The way we operate in Development Control is that structure must have valid papers! It doesn’t matter who owns the land. Rather than asking, has approval been given to build on that land or is the structure legal , if not we have to prosecute it. People must build structure approved for them.
Our problem in Nigeria is that whenever there is any problem, people will start invoking ethnic and religious sentiments and it is a serious problem. That is the only way people will withdraw to their shell.
To me, those developers are criminals, you forge documents and take money from innocent people. As far as we are concerned, we have a standing rule and regulations and we are not going to be deterred by any blackmail.
The issue is that we have lined up 37 estates for removal, we just started with Minanuel . We already have a list. However, there might be others that have come after the demolition and got approval.
Can developers come for approval after starting their structures?
What we do is we go there and look at the structures whether it is of standard and if it passes quality test and you observed all the procedures and it is okay, we will not demolish but there are measures that are normally attached to that as deterrent.