Two indigenous communities in Abuja earmarked for demolition are living on borrowed time, as the Federal Capital Territory Administration has resolved to go ahead with the exercise, writes Olawale Ajimotokan
It was business as unusual on a sunny and dry afternoon in Utako, a commercial district in the heart of Abuja.Â A cluster of people were drinking as they sat under a decrepit shed in Utako Village to discuss social issues affecting the community and the nation.
But apparently they were oblivious that the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has sanctioned the demolition of the community, a development which will pave the way for earth mowers to roll in and level the community.
Utako Village is an unplanned community that borders three popular roads, including Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Street, Augustus Aikhomu Road and Obafemi Awolowo Way in the Utako district in the west central flank of Abuja.
It is a haphazard mix of structures lumped at a corner at the end of both Aikhomu Road and Okonjo-Iweala Street. Its outlook is a complete contradiction to the gated houses that adorn its surroundings on the other sides of the roads.
A network of alleys that lead particularly to nowhere plus a series of open gutters, in some cases as wide as craters, and pile of refuse are common features.
The village was founded by the indigenous Gbagyi people, the original dwellers of Abuja, the Nigerian capital city. It is a thriving hub of shacks harbouring low-wage earners with little skills, who can barely afford the cost of the duplexes and block of terraced apartments that dwarf them across the road and in many parts of Abuja.
Pipe borne water is lacking in this community that was founded about the same time the city emerged some 30 years ago.
But a bombshell sealing the fate of the community was dropped by Galadima Muktar, the Director of Development Control Unit at Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC), one of the units directly under the supervision of FCTA.
Muktar said that the process of resettling the inhabitants of Utako Village had been set in motion.
According to him, the relocation of the indigenous community within Phase 1 and 2 of Abuja precinct was part of global developmental issue.
He said that Utako village dwellers and other communities in the nearby Jabi would be resettled in Shere Garuwyi, stressing that the FCTA was making consultations regarding how to go about the resettlement project.
Muktar added that while the indigenes of Garki are scheduled to be moved to Apo Resettlement Town where 95 per cent of the project has been finished, villagers from Durumi, Alaeyita and Piwoyi will be resettled at Wassa.
â€œFCTA is in the process of resettling the villagers in Utako to Shere Garuwyi. The processes have begun and consultations are ongoing. The exercise is across board as it affects all the indigenous communities within phase 1 and 2 of Abuja,â€™â€™ Muktar said.
But the Chief of Utako Village, Abdulahi feigned ignorance when THISDAY sought his view on the impending exercise to relocate the dwellers to Shere Garuwyi.
Abdulahi said that the impending demolition of the village was news to him. He added that AMMC, the government agency in charge of city planning and building approvals, had not officially notified them of such plan.
â€œHonestly, this is information I am just hearing from you. We have not received any notice from the authority that this village will be relocated. It is a speculation which I cannot respond to because as you can see the people are at peace here and going about their businesses. We have not been told by the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council that this placed will be levelled. In fact, I am very concerned about your enquiries and donâ€™t know what to say in furtherance,â€™â€™ he said.
He, however, admitted that in the past, there were efforts by FCTA to relocate them to Shere Garuwyi when the present Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai was the FCT Minister.
He said since the initial proposal left the people to live in fear and uncertainty they have not been bothered by the authority about any resettlement plan.
He described the community dwellers as law-abiding citizens who are making positive contributions to the economic development of FCT and Nigeria.
But the Acting Coordinator of AMMC, Hajia Safia Umar said Utako Village and some other indigenous communities in the heart of Abuja were already becoming a menace to the society.
Umar said that AMMC would not shirk its obligation to keep the city clean and ensure the maintenance of security at all the time.
THISDAY gathered that the fate of the community appeared sealed following a flurry of petitions to authorities by neighbours on the opposite divide, stating their support of the plan to relocate the village.
In some of the petitions to AMMC, they complained about the security implications of the unchecked influx of all manner of people in the village at odd hours.
But as expected there have also been opposition by the villagers against any move to relocate them to Shere Garuwyi.
One of the dwellers, Musa Illela, voiced his objection on the ground that Shere-Garuwyi, which is a community under Bwari Area Council that borders Mpape, another settlement which FCTA wants to demolish, is a neglected community that has no waterÂ and is riddled and filled with muddy drainages.
â€œI have established my business here in Utako for more than a decade. This is where I know as my home. Moving to a new place for whatever reason is not good for business. Government can make this place better by providing the basic infrastructure instead of relocating everybody. Shere Garuwyi is not an option,â€™â€™ Illela said in defiance.
Few metres and close to the road, Nathaniel Danielâ€™s visage was that of disbelief and in a burst of seconds it transformed into sadness, the moment the reporter approached him. He sat lonely and miserable, as though deserted and abandoned on an improvised stool outside his electrical stores, waiting for patronage that came in bust and fit.
Â â€œI am not very happy because since morning I have barely made sales. The customers are not coming and the economic hardship is affecting business. Everybody is complaining and the commoners appear to be hardest hit. I am sad and now you have fouled the mood with this heartbreaking news of an impending demolition. Where do I go if this eventually happens?â€™ lamented Daniel.
But after a deep reflection he determined that any message hinting on the planned demolition of the community by AMMC should be taken with a pinch of the salt because the authority has not issued any notice to the residents to that effect.Â â€œI am not very happy because since morning I have barely made sales. The customers are not coming and the economic hardship is affecting business. Everybody is complaining and the commoners appear to be hardest hit. I am sad and now you have fouled the mood with this heartbreaking news of an impending demolition. Where do I go if this eventually happens?â€™ lamented Daniel.
â€œWe have received no official correspondence on this. The truth is nobody has told us anything and there is message to the contrary from the village chief. Therefore, I will regard this is a rumour and continue to tend to my business. There is no reason to begin to fret as that will only encourage the authority to consider that option, even when I donâ€™t have such intention. You are only disturbed by what you know and not by mere speculation,â€ he said.