By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
Something despicable has just happened to over 2,000 poor Nigerians allocated land in Gwagwalada, a thriving suburb of Abuja. The strategic piece of land, measuring over 200 hectares, was allocated to the beneficiaries drawn from all parts of Nigeria in 1992 when the Federal Capital Territory was more of a village than a township. Then, it was like buying poverty to be given a piece of land outside Maitama and Asokoro, the two most developed and preferred districts of Abuja. The mighty and powerful who control the levers of government flock around the two areas while the poor seek solace in Nyanya, Suleja and Gwagwalada and other slumps that have sprung up near the FCT.
However, the land allocated to these ordinary Nigerians was properly laid out and advertised by the Federal Government under its Site and Services Scheme through the Federal Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (FMLUD). That was in 1992 when Gwagwalada was nothing but a thick bush burnished by searing sun, ravaged by insecurity and desecrated by land speculators.
But the ever optimistic and patriotic Nigerians, who had unwavering faith in the system, damned the negative factors and invested their money in the said area. As a result, as soon as the FMLUD advertised for the sale of the land, the allottees went forward, filled the papers and paid for the land.
In one of the allocations made with Ref No: FCT/SAS/GWAL/LD/73, the then Lands Allocation Committee approved and released allocations to the over 2,000 Nigerians for the building of houses. To underscore the importance attached to the project, the Federal Government specifically designated the estate as a low density facility and clearly marked out the area from other programmes slated for Gwagwalada.
All the allottees were given the land for an initial period of 99 years and to pay premium ranging from N1000 to N3000 depending on the size of their plots while the ground rent, due for review every ten years, was pegged at N100 only.
It was a thing of joy for most of the beneficiaries, who are civil servants to be granted such allocations by government and their joy knew no bounds, especially as the price of land and house rents began to hit the rooftops as the years went by and owning a house in any part of the FCT became a status symbol.
Although the allottees might have found it difficult to clear their premium at once due to the paucity of funds at the time the land was given to them, most of them had paid up their premiums and collected their title deeds such as Certificates of Occupancy.
Armed with their papers, many of them also began building on their plots to change their status from mere tenants to landlords in Abuja. For such persons, they hold the former Minister of Works and Housing, Maj. General Abdulkarim Adisa, who signed their CoO in the year 1998 in high esteem and will always be grateful to him for his benevolence and vision to assist them poor and the weak to own houses in the FCT.
But laudable as the scheme was meant to be, the high hopes and expectations of the allottees were cut short sometimes in 2014. At that time, the then Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development summoned all the land owners to report at the headquarters of the ministry with their original letters of allocation, acceptance letters, payment of premium and any other documents that would ascertain their ownership of the land in question. The allottees complied, producing all the documents required and thanking their stars for having fully paid for their plots. For this class, they were merely waiting for the government to provide the promised Site/Services like access road, power and water to enable them to move into the site and fully develop their houses and move into them. Some others, who did not want to wait for the government had gone ahead and erected houses on their plots pending when the needed infrastructure promised by the government would spring up in the massive estate.
But how wrong were they believe that government was serious with its promise to provide services for them after allocating them the said plots of land? Perhaps, looking at the strategic location of the land and considering the value it has acquired over the years and coupled with the amount of money it can make in real terms, the FMLUD quietly confiscated the said plots of land and converted it to a strange programme called Public Private Partnership Mass Housing Scheme.
In doing so, however, none of the original allottees was informed that his land had been taken over by the same government that allocated it to them. They were not also considered as beneficiaries of the new PPP Mass Housing Scheme, which was put in place on the last administration.
By the time the owners of the plots reported on their land a few weeks after verifying their ownership, the story changed. The land owners saw strange things on their site which crushed their spirit and made them to smell a rat at once.
In place of their property, the allottees saw huge bulldozers clearing the site and pulling down any structures on sight without uttering a word of comfort to them. They are dazed and short of words.
One of the allottees, a widow and retiree, who gave her name as Mrs. Fasat Niagwa, said she had hoped to complete her house and move in before long, told Sunday Vanguard that what had been done to her could be likened to a rape and robbery.
Another disappointed allottee, Fashade Lola, complained that her building, nearing completion, was pulled down by the bulldozers sent in by the former minister of lands and her officials.
In a strongly-worded petition to the Minister of Works, Housing and Power, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, the complainants asked him to urgently intervene and recover their land for them.
They accused the former minister of taking their allocations and giving them to politicians.
They said: “We had fully paid for these plots and were duly issued with relevant titles deeds including the certificate of occupancy and many of the allottees had moved to their plots and started some preliminary construction work at their own pace.
“Work was still in progress when the former Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development directed us sometime in 2014 to come forward for what they called “VERIFICATION OF TITLES” and we all appeared with our title deeds and were duly verified and ascertained as the bonafide allottees.
“Surprisingly, we later got to know that the then Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development had confiscated the entire plots under the National Site and Services Scheme in Gwagwalada and converted it to a strange and illegal so-called ‘Public Private Partnership Mass Housing Scheme’ without the knowledge and involvement of the allottees. As if that is not provocative enough, agents of the former Minister moved into our already developed plots and bulldozed the structures on ground to give way for their illegality.
“Our plots were never revoked but illegally encroached upon and confiscated by the former minister and her agents. They have commenced development on the land, destroying existing structures on and have bringing untold hardship on us the valid owners of the plots.
Turning to Fashola, they stranded allotteess said: “We know you are a man of unquestionable pedigree with zero tolerance for impunity, injustice and flagrant abuse of the right of Nigerian citizens under any guise such as has been meted out on us by your predecessors in office.
“We write this letter in protest to draw your attention to our plight and the injustice we and thousands of other Nigerians who are beneficiaries of this scheme have suffered in the hands of the past administration. Our cursory investigation shows that our plots were illegally seized and allocated to political cronies at the expense of the real allottees with valid titles.
“We aware of your antecedents as the Executive Governor in Lagos State for eight years and we strongly believe that you are still the same incorruptible, fearless and God-fearing BRF who cannot stand by and watch this happen to helpless Nigerians.
“We plead with you today to kindly step in and restore our plots to us in the interest of justice, equity and fair play which are the hallmark of this administration,” the allottees pleaded with the minister.
However, when contacted on the development, the immediate past Minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mrs. Akon Eyakenyi, said she did not do anything personal on the said land and that whatever might have happened there was done in the national interest.
Eyakenyi told Vanguard that she could not have taken anybody’s land and converted to her personal use given her desire to make more houses available to Nigerians when she was at the ministry.
“I could not have done anything against my oath of office and there was no way I could have taken a decision against the overall national interest,” she said.
But as the dire situation confronts the poor land allottees, clipping their hopes in the balance, fear, anxiety and desperation have enveloped their troubled lives. And all they ask is: “Can Fashola remove this burdensome nightmare from their necks and make them smile once again?”.
Attached, are pictures of the bulldozers clearing the land with property of the original owners for the PPP Massing Housing Scheme.