Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Durbar Hotel, Kaduna, has been a household name since the Federal Military Government, under the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, built the facility in 1977. It was one of the hotels used for the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77).
Durbar used to be a tall, magnificent edifice sandwiched between the popular Independence Way and Muhammadu Buhari Way (former Wharf Road) as well as Sokoto Road in the city centre.
A beautiful first-class hotel, it had lush gardens and trees around it, which made it a lovely sight to behold in its glorious days.
However, the hotel ceased to be the property of the Federal Government when the late Kano-based business mogul and airline operator, Alhaji Muhammadu Adamu Dankabo, bought the hotel in 1992.
Dankabo of Kabo Holdings Limited reportedly bought the hotel at the cost of N90 million. But it was later taken over by a firm, Nasimatume said to be owned by Alhaji Mohammed Abacha, son of late Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
In 2000/2001, according to the Abachas’ lawyer, Mr. Reuben Atabo, the Federal Government took the family to court over the ownership of Durbar Hotel.
Atabo said his client won the case at the lower court, but the Federal Government appealed the judgment. At the appellate court, his client again won the case, but the Federal Government appealed against the judgment and went to the Supreme Court, where the case has been pending since 2015.
It was gathered that the Kaduna State government had written several letters to the Abacha family, asking them to develop the site of the hotel because its status was an eyesore.
The state government, as gathered, said the old collapsed structures of the hotel had become hideouts for criminals in the city, which was undergoing urban renewal.
Atabo told our correspondent: “When Kaduna State government’s letters got to us, we told the government that no development can take place at the Durbar Hotel until the case at the Appeal Court is decided and done with completely.”
The Abacha family said they were in shock when, a fortnight ago, when bulldozers of the state government demolished the structure. The entire premises has been turned to a desolate, empty pile of rubble at the mercy of scavengers. It was unbelievable to many passers-by that the structure, which hitherto commanded and attention, would go down.
A passer-by, who identified himself as Audu, captured the mood of onlookers as the bulldozers tore through the land and skeletons of the structure, “Durbar na daa, ta gama yawo,” he said in Hausa, meaning “the old Durbar Hotel has ceased to exist.”
It was further learnt from unofficial sources that the structure was brought down to provide space for the urban renewal programme of the state government, which aims at giving Kaduna Metropolis a new look.
But Nuhu Garba, the public relations officer of the Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Authority (KASUPDA), which carried out the demolition, said the structure was legally demolished by KASUPDA following certain infractions.
He said: “The structure has been a nuisance and a hideout for criminals and it is against the laws regulating urban planning in Kaduna.
“The demolition followed an assessment the agency carried out, which showed that the property did not meet the safety standards set by the authority’s regulations. This is to protect the lives of citizens living around the area and also the road users,” Garba said.
Our correspondent learnt that on June 26, 2015, about a month after the Governor Nasir El-Rufai administration was inaugurated, the then Secretary to the Kaduna State Government, Balarabe Abbas Lawal, wrote a letter to Alhaji Mohammed Abacha on the Durbar Hotel. The letter was titled “Need for urgent rehabilitation of the building of the defunct Durbar Hotel in Kaduna.”
In the letter, the state government drew the attention of Alhaji Abacha to the dilapidated state of the property. It described the facility as an eyesore as well as a security risk. “Hoodlums and other miscreants have taken shelter in the place and are daily terrorising innocent passers-by,” the letter added.
Government said the development was unacceptable and directed that, as a matter of urgency, Abacha should mobilise and commence the rehabilitation of the property within two months from the date of the letter or “decide on what you intend to do with the property and inform the government of your decision within seven days.”
The state government, the correspondent gathered, also sent a reminder to the Abacha family head on August 13, 2015. Government noted that few weeks to the expiration of the deadline it gave, no activity was taking place at the site. “Innocent passers-by continue to be molested and harassed by hoodlums taking shelter in the dilapidated building,” the government noted.
The letter, signed by the Permanent Secretary, Political and Economic Affairs, Ja’afaru Ibrahim Sani, also noted: “In view of the fact that it is a sacred constitutional responsibility of the state government to protect lives and property of its citizens, it is giving a final notice to rehabilitate the property within a period of one month or the government will be forced to take appropriate steps to take over in the overriding public interest.”
But the management of Durbar Hotel, through its counsel, Atabo, wrote the state government, explaining why it had not taken any action on the property.
The owners of the hotel said, while they were saddened by the ugly state of affairs and the continued security threat posed by the structures of the hotel to innocent passers-by, the property was in the hands of the Federal Government having taken over same since 2001.
The letter reminded the state government that the aggrieved shareholders of the company filed an action against the Federal Government challenging the legality of its action by taking over the property.
It said between 2002 and 2003, meetings were held between the owners of the hotel and the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) to find ways of amicable settlement but the meeting was deadlocked and the parties went back to court and proceeded with the trial leading to series of other court actions.
The Kaduna State government apparently, in furtherance of its letter to the Abacha family on August 31, 2015, caused to be advertised a bid on some properties in the state and listed among them a 30-hectare plot at no 28/30, Muhammadu Buhari Way from interested developers.
It said the state intended to maintain Kaduna’s role as a successful meeting destination and the hub of the country. “Building a new five star hotel in a new low risk way maximizes many other investments and helps to complete the three pillars that are vital for every citizen; employment, residential and tourism.”
After the publication of the bid, the owners of the hotel ran to court on February 16, 2016. They sought a declaration that Durbar Hotel was the title holder of the property and that it was entitled to its lawful use. They argued that any invitation to any member of the public or company to develop the property was “illegal, arbitrary and unconstitutional.” They wanted the court to declare the advertisement null and void.
By late last year, when the state government commenced its urban renewal programme, it was obvious that controversy over what to do with the property would arise. Many of the structures along Muhammadu Buhari way including trees and other monuments, were uprooted to accommodate the road expansion and the construction of new and befitting structures.
For demolishing the structure, the owners of the hotel returned to court and secured a restraining order against Governor Nasir El-Rufai and agencies of the state government from demolishing and taking over the facility.
The order was consequent upon an exparte motion brought before the court by the management of the hotel. It prayed the court for an order of interim injunction restraining El-Rufai and agencies of the state government from demolishing, taking over, or tampering with the property.
Justice Hannatu Balogun of the State High Court granted the order while the case has been adjourned.
While some commended the demolition of the hotel in view of the security threat the premises of the hotel had become, some others argued that because of its historical significance, Durbar Hotel should have been spared and preserved as a national monument as soon as the case between the Federal Government and the Abacha family is settled at the Supreme Court.
The hotel was constructed by the General Obasanjo-led military regime and was handed over to Arewa Hotels, a conglomerate of New Nigeria Development Company (NNDC) to manage before the controversial change of ownership of the once bubbling hotel.