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Caramelo Lounge, Suites, another questionable demolition by FCDA

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Calm and normalcy have been fully restored at the ever-busy No 630 TOS Benson Crescent, Utako District, Abuja, where authorities of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) recently levelled top-class Caramelo Lounge and Suites, Utako, Abuja.

Apart from being the third structure to be demolished in a matter of months, the demolition like that of the Divine Wounds of Jesus Christ (an orphanage and rehabilitation home), as well as the African Independent Television, was also carried out in questionable circumstances.

Right now, beneath the veneer provided by the quietude that prevails around the destroyed structure, and the gun-totting policemen stationed there to prevent vandalisation and to ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order, a multitude of questions are still begging for answers regarding the real motive behind the demolition, as well as the real activities that took place there.

 
Before it was brought down, Caramelo was one of the notable nightclubs in Abuja metropolis. That is perhaps why its owner and Managing Director, Maxwell Eze is yet to overcome the nightmare that its destruction and loss of over N500m worth of investment has caused him, and the over 100 staff members that have been eased into the over–saturated labour market, apart from the cost of the building itself.

To Eze, it is regrettable that this massive loss of investment, is coming at a time when joblessness, scarcity of resources, worsening standard of living have seized the jugular of majority of Nigerians across religious and ethnic divides.

Few days after the demolition exercise, which was effected on Monday, May 13, 2019 by the Department of Development Control (DDC), claims and counter claims began to make the rounds.

For instance, while the FCDA (which is suddenly waking up to its long-neglected responsibilities) claimed that due notice was given to the operators that it was illegal to operate a clubhouse in a residential area, the owner of the investment claimed that the notice was sudden.
 
According to Eze, the 21-day notice of demolition was delivered on Friday, May 10, 2019, but the demolition was suddenly carried out within 48 hours and management not given enough time to remove valuables.

 
“Over N500m worth of equipment have been lost to this demolition, and the exercise has rendered direct staff of 105 unemployed,” he lamented. 

In explaining the “swift” action by the FCT authorities, the Chief Press Secretary to the FCT Minister, Mr. Tony Ogunleye said the issue was never a swift one, but had been going on since 2016 when owners of all buildings housing clubhouses in residential areas in the territory were asked to stop operations as such practice violate the Abuja Masterplan, as well as Abuja Development Control Laws.
 
Ogunleye said: “Remember that the operator of the club had informed the FCT that he came from Spain to invest in the business. Severally, he was given notices to stop the clubhouse. The owner of the building also got several notices and mails from Abuja Development Control to revert, but all these warnings fell on deaf ears. The owner of the building has at different times refused to quit the operation of the club.

“Let me say categorically that we are aware that more than 10 of his type have clubhouses in residential areas in the territory. The owner of the club at a time was always leading his members for meetings on this matter with the FCDA, where they were severally warned to stop club activities in residential areas. It may surprise you to note that while others have complied the owners of Caramelo Lounge and Suites decided not to.” 

Corroborating Ogunleye’s claims, the Senior Assistant to the Minister, Malam Abubakar Sani said that the last meeting held by all the parties came up on March 19, 2018, and the owner of the club spoke on behalf of others, adding that the meeting was chaired by the Permanent Secretary, Sir Christian Ohaa.

 
Sani justified the demolition action by referring to a document from the FCT Ministry with the identification mark 005204 titled, “Offer of Statutory Right of Occupancy.”

Paragraph 2, Sub-section 11 of the document made available to The Guardian, warns developers against erecting other structures other than the one approved.

Specifically, it said developers should “not erect or build or permit to be erected or built on the said plot any buildings other than those permitted to be erected by virtue of the land use, nor make or permit to be made additions or alterations to the said buildings to be erected or buildings already erected on the plot except in accordance with plans and specifications approved by the Federal Capital Development Authority, or any Agency empowered to do so.” 

Sub-section 111 of the document also warns against alienating the Right of Occupancy hereby granted or any part thereof by sale, assignment, mortgage, transfer of possession, sublease or otherwise without the full payment of the fees hereby prescribed.” 

In also shedding more light on the demolition, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mohammed Bello, said the facility was demolished for allegedly contravening the FCT Land Use Regulations, and that the authorities have also revoked the Certificate-of-Occupancy (C-of-O) issued on the plot. 

Mohammed, who was responding to a question posed by State House Correspondents on why the building was not confiscated, instead of demolition said the action taken was a last resort following a breach by the original owner of the structure.  

 
The minister noted that even though Abuja remains a city for everyone, the law had to take its course and the government is determined to follow the masterplan in all its dealings.
 
Bello explained that laws, rules and regulations, through the Abuja Masterplan govern everything in Abuja and that any violation of the plan would attract sanctions from relevant authorities.

According to him, “If you check the record you will be surprised how long it took to reach that painful decision of having to demolish that property. As a matter of fact, that property is no longer owned by the former owner, it has been reverted to government because it is very clear, check any C-of-O, you will see the conditions. 
 
“If there is a flagrant abuse and there are no efforts to correct that abuse, it reverts back to government. But I want you to be rest assured that for every demolition you see, maybe a hundred were saved.”

Be that as it may, some neighbours of the demolished facility, who spoke to The Guardian described government’s action faulty, hasty. They also argue that it would have been better for the FCT to seal off the entire building and deny the facility’s operators access to it until observed breaches were addressed.

A staff of the Red Cross Headquarters in Abuja, which is located near the facility told The Guardian that operations at the club did not in any way affect the day-to-day running of his office.

He said: “Throughout their presence here, our office was never disturbed for once because we open official activities by 8am and close by 4pm, while activities at the club begins to peak by 8pm and dies down by 4am. So, we’ve never had any complaints about them.”

 
The official, who preferred anonymity added: “The FCT, knowing full well that the owner of this building is different from the operator of the club would have simply gone ahead to seal off the entire compound, advance some security personnel there to keep away patrons, instead of demolishing the entire structure. To me, this is double jeopardy because the club owner has lost everything, and the owner of the building has also lost everything. The government should have shown mercy to the owner of the building.” 

He appealed to the FCT authorities to revisit the matter, temper justice with mercy by compensating the owner of the building with another plot. 

Mr. Ramalan Kadiri, who resides in a building adjacent to the ruined lounge, informed The Guardian that the action of government on the matter was too sudden. He queried the rationale behind singling out Caramelo for destruction while other such business concerns around there and in other parts of Abuja are still thriving.

“I don’t believe all these claims made by government… What government should have done was to shutdown the club and eventually force it to relocate. This is the way to go if government has the interest of the people at heart. It is really important that the FCDA should compensate the owner of the structure with another plot in the FCT.’’
 
But Mr. Austin Joshua, who works within the vicinity of the lounge, has a contrary opinion as he claimed that most activities that were carried out at the facility were repugnant.

“I am particularly happy that we now have peace in this area, the noise level before the demolition was uncontrollable. As you can see, this is a residential area and many landlords and tenants here were going through hell because of the noise, which music from that facility constituted daily. Weekends were simply horrible. You can also imagine girls dancing naked in the club. Morally and religiously, their activities here only belittled humanity.” 

An Abuja-based taxi driver, Dayo Olajumoke, who picks up and drops off passengers at the club almost on daily basis said he was satisfied with the demolition stressing that government needs to go round the entire metropolis and ensure that all such clubs located in residential areas are shut–down.

According to Olajumoke, “You may not believe that one of my uncle had a building close to this street, but was forced to sell it off because of the noise that emanated from the club. When you come here at nights, you find it difficult to move freely along this street or along the crescent because you see everywhere jam–packed with vehicles going in and coming out of the club.

“Let’s call a spade a spade, how will you feel if your children or younger ones living with you begin to peep through the widow to see men and women dancing nude? Africans, the practice is against our culture, then as believers it is against the dictates of the two major religions. So, it’s a good thing that the FCDA demolished the club.”

 


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