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uncompleted buildings: That Abuja may be secured

By Itunu Ajayi
05 June 2016   |   3:12 am
In the wee hours of Friday, September 20, 2013, the Department of the State Services (DSS) and some soldiers swooped on an uncompleted building located near the Apo Legislative Quarters.
An uncompleted building at the Central Business District, Abuja. PHOTO: ITUNU AJAYI

An uncompleted building at the Central Business District, Abuja. PHOTO: ITUNU AJAYI

In the wee hours of Friday, September 20, 2013, the Department of the State Services (DSS) and some soldiers swooped on an uncompleted building located near the Apo Legislative Quarters. By the time the smoke of the exchanged firearms between the security operatives and alleged Boko Haram members was cleared, seven people were reportedly dead, while several others were injured. Few days later, the figure of the dead had increased to 10.

The reason given by the DSS then was that two arrested members of the sect had confessed that arms meant to be used for hitting some strategic places in and around the FCT were buried in the uncompleted building’s premises. Unfortunately, however, those cut down were later discovered to be artisans, tricycle riders and petty traders selling groceries in wheelbarrows.

In the wake of the event, the former FCT minister, Bala Mohammed, said at a meeting held with the House of Representatives Committee on Public Safety and National Security that the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) discovered over 100, 000 illegal buildings and vowed that structures that failed to be completed within the given two years of grace will be demolished. He explained that uncompleted buildings cropped up in the FCT due to revocation and re-allocation of plots, as a result of court injunctions and that there were 3, 000 to 5, 000 double allocation cases in the FCT.

Bala Mohammed said then: “Very soon, we will take a decisive action on uncompleted buildings in the FCT. We will ensure that all buildings that have exceeded the two-year period approved for building will be demolished. If we cannot demolish, we will make them police posts. This time around, we will take a definite action.”

Unfortunately, no definite or decisive action was taken until he left office with his boss on May 29, 2015.

It is common to see buildings that are 90 percent complete left unattended to in some highbrow areas in the city. The locations of these buildings lend credence to the fact that the owners are not average Nigerians. Most of them are near completion, just for people to move in. But in most cases, they are not vacant either, as people do move in, though they are usually not the owners or regular tenants. Rather, they are beggars, street urchins known as alimajiris and others in similar strata.

Just like his predecessor, the incumbent minister, Muhammad Bello is also talking tough on security in the FCT vis-a-vis the menace of uncompleted buildings among other issues. Though he did not mention issues surrounding uncompleted buildings in his maiden interaction with the media on January 25, but he did raise concern on insecurity in the FCT and part of his plans in addressing it is to do an appraisal of allocated lands that are not developed within the legally required time frame.

His prescribed remedy is for such lands to be revoked and given to more serious minded people, who are ready to develop their lands on time. Bello insisted at the event that no stone would be left unturned in order to ensure that FCT residents can sleep with their two eyes closed.

“As required by the law governing the allocation of land, all beneficiaries of undeveloped lands within Phase 1 and Phase 2 stand the risk of forfeiting the land to government for reallocation to more able and willing developers,” he said.

Scattered in and around the city are uncompleted buildings with threat marks of the department of development control. Such markings usually read, ‘Stop Work’,’ Demolish Within So And So Time Frame’, Or ‘Complete Or Risk Demolition.’

It is, however, instructive to know that those signs are usually ignored and owners of such buildings carry on as if nothing is at stake. This, of course, raises the question as to whether the department is just a fancy arm of the federal capital development agency (FCDA) or maybe the department’s personnel are so friendly with offenders that they mutually ignore one another’s mistakes. Of course, there are some ‘offenders’ that are not so lucky with the department.

For instance, when the demolition of Minanuel Estate, which comprises 372 housing units was undertaken on September 29, 30 and October 1, 2012, it elicited public outcry. Part of the reasons the department gave The Guardian for its action then was that the developer was defiant and that a notice of ‘Stop Work’ was issued right from when the Estate was at the foundation level because, according to the Bala Mohammed-led administration, the Estate negated all legal requirements.

When further probed as to why the department would wait until the houses were completed before demolishing them, the excuse was that developers in Abuja are in the habit of building at night and that the department was caught unawares and did not know when the construction was through to the completion stage.

Bello said his intention is to correct the actions or inactions of past administration and part of the move he outlined is to rid uncompleted buildings in the FCT of miscreants, who are posing security threat to the city. He said his concern stems from the fact the growing numbers of unidentified persons squatting in such places.

Street urchins and beggars are everywhere littering the city and it is mandatory that they retire to some place at night to sleep; uncompleted buildings readily serve this purpose, which is why they are referred to as squatter residences. Like the Apo building’s case, artisans usually occupy them and there may be someone, usually the oldest tenant that considers himself in charge and so collects some daily rents from others.

Squatters of those with security guards turned landlords are usually managed by such security, who collect as much as N200 from each of them per week. They also have to part with some money in order to take their bath and use the toilets in the house. This arrangement could go on for years, so long no feather is ruffled.

That may be the reason why The Guardian spotted some mats in one of such buildings located along the Tafawa Balewa way in the heart of the Central Business District. This particular building was marked by the department of development control on 1/2/2013 with the instruction that the building should either be completed or risk demolition. However, till date, the building is still standing with weeds growing right inside it. Apart from security risk, such building could serve as convenient abode for reptiles and other dangerous animals.

This was the concern raised by Muyiwa Adeola, an Abuja resident, who said those in the comfort of their offices are at risk of such buildings.

“You can see that the CBN is not too far from here. Look at the Ministry of Transport, just a few yards away. Can you imagine the scenario, whereby a snake just creeps in from this uncompleted building into one of these offices nearby?”

The FCT Minister is aware of this risk and many others like it, which was why he said he had appealed to the Muslim community at the FCT to help government in cubing the menace of street begging. He said his administration intends taking the issues of rehabilitation very seriously to give those with such social problem a sense of belonging, thereby making them useful to themselves and the entire society and that they would later be reunited with their families for re-absorption into the society after successful rehabilitation.

“In the 2016 fiscal year, the FCT Administration will upgrade Rehabilitation Centre for effective skill acquisition to make the rehabilitated persons independent and self sustenance,” he said.

Ownership of such buildings is also a subject of contention. For instance, an Army General was said to own the Apo property, but in a dramatic twist, the ownership was credited to one Mrs. Adunni Oluwole Salisu, who is believed to be former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s sister.

Although the minister had spoken and read out the riot acts to owners of uncompleted buildings in the FCT, but talk is cheap. The onus now rests on him to put talk into action so that he will not repeat the mistakes of his predecessor, which he told the world he came to power to correct in the first place.

He may also need some of the daredevil spirit of Nasir el-Rufai to be able to put things right in the capital of the most populous country in Africa.