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Opinions of Friday, 17 September 2021

Columnist: Danladi Akilu

Ongoing demolition in Abuja

FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello

The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja recently witnessed a flurry of demolitions carried out by the task team on city sanitation.

Some of the areas affected by the demolition include Lugbe Across, Lugbe-Berger, Car Wash, Lugbe Zone 5, Iddo and other settlements and villages along the Giri-Gwagwalada road close to University of Abuja.

Also affected is the Illegal Market at Yarkasuwa 6th Avenue in Gwarimpa, among others.

The decision to carry out these demolitions must have been a very difficult one for the FCT Administration due to the discomfort they have inevitably brought to the affected persons.

But the truth must be said that those whose structures were pulled down also share in the blame. As have been enunciated time and again, Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory is a creation of law. The city was created specifically 45 years ago by its founding fathers to cater for the needs of the country and to prevent a repeat of what happened in the old federal capital territory of Lagos State. That is why whatever is done in Abuja is done according to the law. The infrastructure, the city planning, the traffic and building regulations, are all very clearly spelt out in the extant laws of the FCT.

Unfortunately, the increasing influx of people into the FCT to either seek greener pastures or escape from the conflicts and unrest in other parts of the country, has brought with it the ugly consequences of proliferation of urban slums.

Consequently, virtually all sections of the city today are grappling with the problem of unplanned and unsightly settlements. From Lugbe, to Gwarimpa, to Apo, to Kabusa, Mpape, Jahi, Durumi, Asokoro to name a few are all negatively impacted by squatter settlements.

Sadly, these settlements neither conform with the Abuja master plan nor the city’s development control regulations.

What you have in Abuja are residents approaching the local chiefs to illegally acquire land and erect structures in fragrant violation of the master plan.

Today, the illegal settlements and problems associated with them are daily on the increase. In the case of Mpape, it was reported that the landlords association petitioned the FCT Administration where they made a passionate appeal to the FCT minister to come to their aid and remove the illegal structures that are making life unbearable for them.

Intelligence information also indicates that these illegal settlements are responsible for the increasing crime and criminality, traffic snarls, vandalism of public infrastructure, prostitution, kidnapping, banditry among other vices that have become more visible in the FCT.

The FCT also recently experienced an outbreak of cholera which medical experts blamed on the unhygienic conditions found mostly in these illegal settlements, ranging from open sewages, open defecation, stagnant waters, huge piles of refuse dumps, contamination of drinking waters among others.

All these issues, no doubt, have brought to the fore the inevitability of these demolition exercises. As the FCT Administration, through its minister, recently explained, Abuja is currently at a tipping point where the city could be lost completely if nothing is done to reverse this trend.

The minister also disclosed that the city has exceeded all expectations in terms of the indices of development projected by its founding fathers. From available information, it was expected that the city would have a population of two million people at the current stage of development. However, today, Abuja is home to over six million people. This huge and rapidly expanding population has outpaced the rate at which infrastructure can be provided, hence the proliferation of urban slums.

It is the fear of many that the rate at which the slums are expanding, it is only a matter of time before a breakdown of law and order in the FCT ensues. This is one of the main challenges that the FCT Administration is currently facing, how to continue to cater for a city and a territory that is increasing at an alarming rate and the problems that have come with it.

As the FCT minister also explained, a city is like a human being. It needs to be rejuvenated, protected and taken care of. Once a disease enters a city, it reaches a point where you can’t reverse it.

Painful as the demolitions might seem, Abuja residents and other Nigerians should try to understand that the nation’s capital is the city for all Nigerians, including those in the executive, judiciary, businessmen, civil servants, artisans, among others. There is a need to protect the sanctity of the master plan.

If efforts are not made to fight and save the city through enforcement of regulations, then all the reasons that were advanced for moving the federal capital from Lagos to Abuja and the gains made so far would be lost completely.

That’s why it is very important for all stakeholders, including residents, the National Assembly, security agencies and other Nigerians to really look at the issue beyond just individuals and give their support to the FCT Administration. There is also a need to take a holistic look at why this city was created in order to have a better understanding of the ongoing demolition.