By Omeiza Ajayi
FOR too long they lazily appeared indifferent to what was happening around them. But they are now paying heavily for that slumber. One of the immediate costs of that indolence on the part of the Federal Capital Territory is the huge distortion of its master plan by speculators, portfolio businessmen, land scammers, stranded home-seekers, and others who have no value for a planned city and its attendant benefits.
For too long, since the end of the Malam Nasir El-Rufai era, which is referenced and respected for strict protection of the city’s masterplan, and did not hesitate to pull down structures that violated it or tended to do so, successive FCT ministers have largely ignored the special status of Abuja and have carried on as if they are operating from a village with nothing to worry about.
For this laissez-faire attitude towards the protection and maintenance of the city’s beauty it inherited from the el-Rufai administration, the FCT has lost its ordered landscape, beauty, and sense of security, which characterized the town and made it one of the best places in Africa to live in, with outstanding testimonies from tourists and residents.
From Mpape, Lugbe, Gwarinpa, Dutse, Kubwa to Zuba, the story of defacing the city and changing use to what suits the speculators, is the same. Infraction with impunity appears to be the rule rather than the exception in Abuja. For this reasons, the town is in a state of decay.
Most of the areas clearly earmarked and designated as residential areas have since been taken over by illegal structures, including motor parks, business centres, nightclubs, hotels, shopping malls, schools, events centres, dumpsites, warehouses and ‘serviced apartments’ despite the attendant effects of these on the residents of those areas.
Action begins: But all of this seems about to change going by the actions and tactics being adopted by the special task force raised by the FCT under the chairmanship of Attah Ikharo. The task force called FCT Ministerial Committee on City Sanitation, has made it clear that it means business and is unwilling to sleep while on duty: if its actions are anything to go by, then it means that it is ready to match words with actions and change the ugly slide from beauty to slum.
Just days ago, the committee took its war against roadside trading, illegal markets and motor parks to Lugbe, Gwarinpa, Dutse Makaranta, Sokale and Kubwa F01 axis on the Bwari-Dutse Road and brought down illegal structures blocking the roads and causing traffic problems in the process. The distortion of these places had reached an unprecedented dimension forcing residents of the area to plead with security personnel and the task force to urgently intervene and restore the sanctity of their communities before criminal elements strike due to the congestion that currently pervades them.
Resistance, tears erupt: But the attempt to sanitise the places did not go without challenge, resistance and tears. As the task force made up of officers and men from Department of Development Control, Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB, and Directorate of Road Traffic Services, DRTS, rolled out their bulldozers to bring down illegal structures, their owners and operators moved against them.
Trouble started when the DRTS officials began impounding vehicles immediately after the demolition of the park at Zuba interchange, an action which infuriated commercial motorists and they immediately attacked the officials. The resulting chaos almost got out of control until security agents attached to the team deployed tear gas canisters and released some shots into the air to disperse the miscreants, who equally attacked and injured innocent motorists. As the attacks escalated, the team had to withdraw from the affected areas for that day.
A spokesman for the transporters, Jubrin Kyari, claimed that the motor park in contention was legally duly allocated to them with relevant documents by the FCTA Transport Secretariat and that they would contest the action of the task force. He said: “We have documents to this effect, but we are concerned that without any notice and revocation order the minister sent his team to demolish it”.
He accused the FCTA of not giving them alternative place before removing them from the roads, alleging that the minister had unwittingly moved transporters to the Zuba main road to escalate traffic problems. Some of the owners of the demolished structures began to weep and mourn, claiming that their means of livelihood had been carelessly and inhumanly wiped away without any notice from the government.
Good, timely action- landlords commend FCT
But one of the landlords in Dutse-Sokale, Augustine Oloruntoba, described the move by the FCT to demolish illegal structures in the town as a timely and welcome development that had been long in coming given the breaches that have taken place in the city’s building codes. “Abuja has to be clean and decent. We landlords of Dutse Sokale are very happy because most of our drainage channels have been blocked and water is not going through.
We appreciate the FCT Minister for his commitment to making Abuja clean. The area is looking fine but one thing we will ask is to ensure that there is no roadside trading, particularly around this Sokale Junction because of the traffic gridlock here particularly in the night,” he pleaded.
We’re determined to sanitise Abuja – Officials react
Speaking to journalists after the day’s operation, the Chairman of the FCT Ministerial Committee on Sanitation, Mr. Attah Ikharo, explained that the decision to pull down all illegal structures was in line with the determination of Minister Mohammed Bello to restore the city’s masterplan. Ikharo pointed out that the demolished property had no approvals and land titles but were recklessly erected and conscripted into the road corridors and used as markets for pecuniary gains.
Attah said: “Since we started at Iddo, Mpape, Nyanya and even the city centre, we have not entered into Kubwa axis, and we have gotten so many calls to come to Kubwa and Dutse axis. Today, we came into Dutse-Alhaji and Kubwa axis, containing clear illegalities notoriously responsible for heavy traffic gridlock in the area.
So we are here to actually clear this alignment, and remove all of these properties that breached the Abuja Master plan. We also took downward stretch towards Dutse Makaranta, which we could not finish removing much illegal structures around the alignment there, but we are hopeful, that we will actually come back to continue the clean-up exercise here.”
What pains me most is that we gave notices and I even insisted that Development Control Department should give them a second notice. So they gave first and second notices but people wiped them off, believing that government will not come,” the chairman said.
Officials of the team led by its chairman Attah Ikharo had stormed the town early Tuesday and went straight to the popular Dankogi area on the Zuba-Kaduna expressway to carry out the exercise.
Mr Ikharo explained that removing the structures was in line with the directives of the FCT minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello to maintain sanity in the city. He regretted that the inter-change had been taken over by shanties in the name of trading, causing gridlock and security threats.
“The minister is not comfortable with the abuse of the plan of the inter-change which is supposed to be ‘green’ but was converted into a transport hub that is gradually becoming a shanty and a den for criminals. The area has also become a plantain market.
“We are removing the illegal structures to reclaim Zuba because some criminals are coming to the spot so the exercise today is multidimensional; one is to reclaim the Zuba inter-change; the second is to remove shanties where criminals hide, the third is to free traffic coming from Kubwa-Dei-Dei axis that connects Zuba and Zuma Rock axis on Abuja-Kaduna expressway.
“There is a market for the traders and they should move in there and stop selling on the road. They feel that selling on the road will provide quick market for them, but we are discouraging them and appealing to them to relocate and leave the road inter-change or corridor,” he said.
On sustaining the exercise, Hassan Ogbole of the Department of Development Control, announced that after the clean-up, the Department of Parks and Recreation is expected to take over the area for proper management.
“We have done our part and it is now left for the Department of Parks and Recreation to take over the management of the area. It is either they come in as a department or hand it over to a contractor that will manage it,” he stated.
Also speaking, the Secretary FCT Command and Control, Peter Olujimi, said the committee had equally taken into cognisance residents’ outcry over the constant criminal attacks at the EFCC Jabi office junction. He noted that the red light zones for criminal elements had been identified around the cashew plantation located at that junction, stating that security cleaning exercise was meant to dislodge the criminals.