By Luka Binniyat
A large crowd of residents of Gbagyi Villa – a suburb of Kaduna metropolis – on March 17, trooped out, carrying placards in protest against demolition notices issued to them by Kaduna State Urban Planning Development Authority, KASUPDA. The residents said they had been living in the community for decades and had acquired the necessary titles to the lands and, as such, were jolted by the intention of Kaduna State government to eject them.
Mr. Chris Obodum, Chairman, Gbagyi Community, later told journalists that the community boasted of about 3,500 buildings, 40 churches, 16 schools and 35,000 residents. He narrated: ‘The story of Gbagyi Villa is easy to understand. For hundreds of years, the area has been inhabited by the Gbagyi people. However, sometime in 2010, a suit was instituted against some members of the local community by Kaduna Polytechnic. In the course of the court proceedings, the polytechnic sought for settlement out of court. The court obliged and the matter was settled amicably.
“Thereafter the Kaduna State government issued a White Paper to that effect and the Surveyor General prepared a survey map demarcating the polytechnic land from that of the community. “The polytechnic accepted the resolution of the dispute and, thereafter, proceeded to erect a concrete wall fence demarcating its land from that of the community. “From the foregoing, it is clear to us that the polytechnic is not laying claim to Gbagyi Villa and has no pending case against us. For the Kaduna State government to claim that our community, after all these years of existence, sits on the polytechnic land is incomprehensible to us.
“Furthermore, the allegation by KASUPDA of non-possession of planning permits is false. KASUPDA knows this. It is just a veil to deceive the public and to obscure the true motive of government,” shortly after the community headed to Kaduna State High Court, presided over by Hon. Justice Hannatu Balogun, who granted an injunction stopping “the state government, the Attorney General of the state, Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Authority KASUPDA), respectively as respondents, either by themselves or through their employees, staff, servants, agents, proxies or whosoever, from demolishing or destroying the applicants’ buildings,” until the case was disposed.
The court order caused wild jubilation in the community, returning hope. Last Thursday, five months later, as Governor Nasir El-Rufai visited the place to see for himself, anxious residents lined the streets, not knowing what to make of the visit. But many of the residents, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard before the arrival of “Russau” (‘demolisher’ in Hausa tongue – which seems to elate El-Rufai), said they were sure that when the governor saw the quality and number of buildings in the community, he would be moved by compassion to forget any planned demolition in the estate.
“He must have been told that this place has mud houses, that it is a trench town abode of law breakers. I am sure he will see how decent we are. I am happy that he is coming,” one resident said gleefully. However, after the departure of El-Rufai, the wailing of the residents of Gbagyi Villa could be heard above the screaming sirens of his police outriders that cleared the path for him. The dark cloud that hung over Kaduna sky that evening could as well represent the forlorn feeling of the residents. El-Rufai later told journalists that the residents of Gbagyi Villa were illegal squatters and that anyone who did not have C-of-O and Building Permit would have his house pulled down. Since none of the residents has C-of-O, it invariably means that the ‘Villa’ will be demolished.
The governor, shown round the controversial estate by the Rector of Kaduna Polytechnic, Dr. Mohammed Bello Ibrahim, said it was unfortunate that thousands would have to lose life-savings because they broke the law. Bello had told him that Gbagyi Villa was an illegal settlement which had taken over 70% of the allocated land of the polytechnic even after compensation had been paid the original owners of the land about 40 years ago. Fielding questions from journalists, El-Rufai said: “This is a tragedy, because on the one hand, Kaduna Polytechnic got the allocation of this land, nearly 40 years ago for the purpose of establishing Mining Engineering School and subsequently a College of Environmental Studies. And not only the polytechnic would have benefited, but Kaduna state and the country.
“Unfortunately, as things stands today, according to the Rector, nearly 70 percent of the land has been encroached upon by illegal squatters. These buildings would have to go. We do not condone illegality in this state “And in Kaduna State, you cannot hide behind religion or tribe to break the law and get away with it. We will go through due process; we will give everybody due process to find out if he or she has title to the land and permission to build. If you don’t have the two, the law will apply and we will take your building down.
“It is unfortunate that some people have been deceived into thinking that this land is available for sale. It is unfortunate, and in our system, we are going to investigate all those involved in this deception and they will be dealt with. “Having said that, the law will prevail, and ignorance of the law is not an excuse. It is very unfortunate that many thousands will lose millions of life-savings for building illegally.
“My call to all people of Kaduna State is that before you start any building, get a Certificate of Occupancy and ensure you have the approval of KASUPDA to build. If you don’t have these two, your building is at risk. “The point here is that the law has been broken, and as the executive arm of government, our duty is to enforce. I don’t know any other thing, than upholding my mandate and enforcing the law.
“Going to court has very little to do with breaking the law. When you break the law, you can’t go to court and withhold action. This is a criminal conduct. The case in court is a civil matter. “You cannot steal from the state and go to court and say, ‘stop, don’t prosecute me for stealing’. They are two separate matters. We shall look into it. The rule of law must apply and we must all obey the law to be safe. This is what everyone should understand. “This is Kaduna State land allocated to the Federal Government. It is our job to ensure that Kaduna Polytechnic has its full title”.