In Abuja 130 orphans out in the cold as FCT demolishes orphanage
These are not the best of times for the owners of Divine Wounds of Jesus Christ, an orphanage and rehabilitation home situated near Liberty Hotels, Arab Road, Kubwa, Abuja, as the Department of Development Control, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration unleashed bulldozers on the orphanage. By the time the bulldozers went off, about 130 orphans were left homeless.
When The Guardian visited the home on Friday, personal effects of the inmates, utensils and sundry belongings of the orphanage and its school were strewn across the entire plot of land, which hitherto housed the facility, while the orphans and their teachers clustered under trees writing their terminal examination.
Jointly established by Mr. Cyril Ezemoka, and his wife Victoria, as part of their contribution to the wellbeing of the society, the orphanage, which also serves as a school started operations in 2009, and was formally launched in 2011, with a staff strength of 50 workers, who ran two shifts weekly.
After the death of her husband in 2014, the management of the home fell squarely on Mrs. Victoria Ezemoka who serves as the founding mother/ proprietress.
Trouble started a few years ago when the younger brother to the deceased allegedly showed up and informed the widow that his late brother had officially transferred the property to him.
Expectedly, the claim led to litigations as both the proprietress and the deceased brother both laid claims to ownership of the property.
An eyewitness and a mechanic, who shares boundary with the facility, Mr. Onuora Oko, told The Guardian that the incident came as a surprise to all of them.
Oko said, “The FCDA people first came a few weeks ago to demolish a neighbour’s house close to this home and left, but we were very surprised when they came on Tuesday and started demolishing the orphanage. They even came from behind, broke the fence before they started the demolition. They went ahead to cease and smash mobile handsets of people that attempted to video what they were doing.”
One of the orphans, Joseph Dawaliu from Kaduna State, told The Guardian, “We are feeling very bad because since the demolition, our education has been affected as we were in the middle of examination. We are now writing our examinations under these trees as you can see. I am now a Primary 5 pupil in this school, if this problem is not solved, and a new school built for us, where do we go from here?”
An assistant to the director of the home, Mr. Victor Godwin informed The Guardian that “it was disheartening that the FCDA demolished this property without any prior notice. It is unheard of that government no longer abide by the Constitution because if it does, it ought to know that this matter is already before the courts. So, why has the government taken laws into its hands?
“You can see that the pupils are now writing their terminal exams under these trees. What our madam now does is to take these children to one of her private homes, which is far away from here to enable them sleep well, pending when solution comes. My worry is that our hostel has been destroyed; our classrooms, our computer laboratory, dinning hall, poultry have all been destroyed,” he lamented.
Attempts to speak to the proprietress were unsuccessful, but the Social Welfare Department of the FCDA has vowed to keep the orphans in its custody pending when issues would be resoled.
Commenting on the development, the acting Secretary, Social Development Secretariat of the FCDA, Hajiya Safiya Umar said “it appears the proprietress went into hiding on hearing that we were coming to take custody of these orphans pending the determination of the case.
Umar said, “My department is solely responsible for the welfare of orphanage homes in the FCT, and we make sure the rights of the children are not abused. On getting to hear about this case, the minister (of FCT) directed that we should prepare a place for them hence we are here to take them to FCT Unity Children Home in Gwako, Gwagwalada. This is the temporary place where we want to accommodate them for a while.”
She noted that her department does not want to be held responsible for any outbreak of epidemic as a result of the poor living condition the children were now exposed to.
Speaking at a joint press conference on Thursday, in Abuja, the Director, FCT Department of Development Control, Muktar Galadima, said that the structure was demolished for not complying with regulations, and for disregarding several stop work and other notices served on it, which also included a demand for the production of the title document for the land.
He, however, assured that arrangements have been made to give temporary accommodation to the orphans.
He said: “When we received this complaint of encroachment, we visited the site and served all the relevant notices beginning from stop work notice, quit notice to demolition notice in line with our responsibility of ensuring strict implementation of the Abuja Master Plan. But the proprietress did not submit any title document about the disputed property. If she had submitted, we would have put her title document together with that of the complainant and send it to the Department of Lands Administration to confirm, who the rightful owner of the land was, or is, because the facility sat on three plots of land. The issuing authority would thereafter write us formally confirming the real owner of the land.”
The director, however asked her to submit her documents so that it would forward them to the Department of Lands and the Abuja Geographic Information Systems (AGIS) for it to determine the authenticity and ownership of the papers and property.
He said: “In the beginning, we had sympathy towards these children, and we are looking for a way to cushion their hardship by relocating them so that they do not feel that they are being rejected by the society.
‘’We want to provide succour for them by getting them a temporary accommodation, even if it is for one year, so that they would have a safe place to stay. This is because this government has a human face. We hope to do that as soon as possible,” he said.
However, Mrs. Victoria Ezemoka in her response at the joint press conference took every one by surprise when she produced another title document for the same property.
According to her, her brother-in-law’s claim of ownership of the landed property was the beginning of trouble for her, and that was immediately her late husband passed on.
She insisted that the case was still in court, hence there was no need for further action by any of the parties, including the Development Control Department, but the department said there was already a court judgment on the matter, which documented evidence indicated that the case was thrown out due to absence of all parties in court.
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