House Demolitions and Empty Estates in Abuja
For a Mass Campaign for Low- Cost Decent Housing for Working People and the Poor
Recently there have been repeated demolitions of houses in Abuja in their hundreds, and sometimes in thousands. Mr Ikharo Attah, the chairman FCTA Ministerial Task Force on City Sanitation said “We carried out all the clean-up or demolition, as you call it, with strong empathy because we understand that we are also part of humanity.” This was a total lie. He couldn’t even call it “demolitions” because he knew there was no way you can destroy people’s homes with ’empathy’ or ‘humanity’.
By Omole Ibukun, DSM Abuja
It started with the hostels in the UNIABUJA student village of the Iddo area of Abuja, where I was a victim myself. It happened under the terror of gun wielding soldiers enforcing a demolition for which most students had no prior notice and most were off to class when the bulldozers came and pulled down their homes alongside everything in it. I lost my shop already before I knew a demolition was going on. My rented apartment fell after I could only pick few things. No compensation, nothing at all. The only ’empathy’ we were shown was the many sophisticated types of guns held by scary military men. Since then such demolitions have hit Lugbe, Mpape, Gwarinpa areas of the city. Before then it was Apo residents that grappled with the demolitions. But why does it keep happening?
The history of demolitions in Abuja started as far back as 2008 when my uncle had to move down to our home town with his family because their home got demolished in Abuja. That painful tragedy started a spiral of poverty and sickness, and years ago he died. As at then, up to 800,000 residents were forcefully evicted from Abuja by the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El Rufai. In his book “Accidental Public Servant” in 2013, the present Governor of Kaduna stated that he did not regret the demolitions, but thirteen years after the 2008 demolitions, there is no solution the ‘squatter problem’ in Abuja.
The fact that demolitions are not ending for over a decade and even have to be repeated in some locations is proof that squatters are not the problem of Abuja like the FCT Ministry always wants us to think, and demolitions can never be the solution. There is a housing problem that the Ministry is not attending to.
As at January 2020, there are 3,000 housing estates in Abuja but most of them are empty because they are so expensive that the average civil servant in Abuja cannot afford it. Some pundits have proposed the solution that the Federal Government should acquire these empty estates from the owners and subsidize them as low cost housing for the working masses in Abuja, but the problem is that the same politicians and their cronies own some of the Estates and they can’t acquire anything.
In 2019, the ICPC claimed to have recovered assets worth 0.5 Trillion from forfeiture of abandoned Multibillion Naira housing estates in Abuja, but those estates were not converted to low cost housing for the poor people building makeshift houses in Abuja. We are well aware of the fate of recovered loots in Nigeria these days. As at 2016, news reports exposed the then Minister for Interior, Lt-General Dambazau who owns many shopping plazas in Abuja including a huge estate that is worth billions at Wuse Zone 6.
The conflict of interests within the upper echelons of power on the issue of addressing Abuja’s housing problem genuinely is obvious. This is why the FCT ministry throws the blame on poor people building low cost housing for themselves to have a roof over their heads.
It is totally insensitive to take the roof from above people’s heads because of some old blueprint without providing a better alternative for them. Alternatives like taxing or taking over the empty houses in Abuja and relocating those of us they call “shanty dwellers” into those empty residences before pulling down our homes. That’s very easy. Alternatives like fixing a maximum amount for rents for all kinds of apartments in Abuja and major cities in Nigeria, based on standard of living and the minimum wage in the country. We know they won’t try these alternatives on their own because of conflicting interests but we, the average Nigerians, can make them do it by taking direct collective actions, like campaigns, rallies and protests about this. The land is nature’s free gift. We are humans and we deserve to live comfortably too. Abuja belongs to all of us, not just the rich.
According to Prof Sampson Duna, Director-General Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute (NBRRI, the solution is simple. He said, “But if we can come up with agitation that all houses in Abuja are either to be occupied or government should place a heavy tax on them, I am sure that would be the solution.”
However, it is doubtful this limited measure will be embraced or carried out by an anti-poor capitalist government. Even if they impose heavy taxes on those unoccupied houses the proceeds will not be used for building low-cost housing for working people and the poor. This is why the agitation has to be linked to building a mass political movement that fights for mass decent social housing and against all anti poor policies, and also seeks to wrest power from the thieving capitalist ruling elite in order to begin the socialist transformation of Nigeria such that the resources of the country will be used for the benefits of all.