By Fred Ezeh
Construction giant, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, has vowed to come down hard on illegal occupants of its staff quarters in Kubwa and other parts of Abuja, particularly those who have been dismissed but still occupy their respective apartments.
The harsh reaction stems from a recent raid od the camp by security agents who came unannounced, on the claims that the settlement had become a den of criminals and a threat to peace and security of other residents of the district.
The public affairs department of the company, in a statement recently, informed Abuja Metro that the action of the police could be part of its constitutional duty to prevent crime, but the company espressed concerns that the police was yet to explain its action to the management, despite several letters written in that regard.
However, a senior security official of the company and other senior staff have denied ever raising the alarm to the police about any degeneration of law and order in the camp, even though many neighbouring residents have claimed that the camp has become a hub of criminals.
According to the residents, the police raided the camp asking them to honorably vacate the camp or risk forceful eviction for reasons relating to crime. Predicably, the action of the police sent jitters down their spines as they claimed the issues relating to their stay on the property was still in court awaiting judgement. They said their stay or eviction would depend on the final outcome of the court judgement.
In view of this, the fear of the company’s management has been that the police never occupies a residential camp unless they had strongly established that it had become a security threat to other members of the society. There was also convincing evidence that justified their fears.
Dei-Dei Police Barracks, Abuja, Lagos-Idimu Mobile Police Barracks, Lagos, Dumez Camp, along the Abuja-Lokoja highway, and Nyanya transit camp, Abuja, are some of the camps that were occupied by police due to the inability of the intended occupants, for whom the camps were built, to fully control them.
In the aforementioned camps, the police claimed to have taken over such estates or camps in order to prevent hoodlums from turning them into havens for criminal activities, from where they could become a threat to civil society.
Julius Berger built a number of camps decades ago to serve as quarters for junior workers who were moved from different construction sites across Nigeria to Abuja to build infrastructure in the federal capital territory. The camps were developed in locations such as Ushafa, Kubwa and Mpape, among others. The junior workers’ camp located in Kubwa was the most popular because of the large number of occupants.
The first set of workers that arrived Abuja from Lagos and other parts of Nigeria were housed in the camps. High-capacity buses and trucks were always available to convey the workers from the camps, to their designated work stations and back. Unfortunately, social amenities in the camps became overstretched as the volume of occupants swelled. Many family members joined their bread winners in the camps and many children were born there.
However, in 1999, there was a clash between the junior workers and the company’s management as a result of unfavourable policies. The unrest, Abuja Metro learnt, led to the destruction of properties and equipment belonging to the company in the camp. The biggest loss was the looting of the company’s cash safes and other assets by the workers and other hoodlums who took advantage of the occasion to vandalise the offices. It was the timely arrival of the police that saved the day. The perpetrators were arrested and whisked away.
Disturbed by the ugly development, the management, after an emergency meeting, terminated the appointment of thousands of workers that it felt were involved, one way or the other, in the frascas. Though the management paid the affected workers their full entitlements, some workers refused to leave the Kubwa camp, claiming that their were wrongly sack.
Most of the affected workers sued the company. Prior to that, petitions were submitted to several organisations, including the National Assembly, the National Commission for Human Rights and other right groups, insisting that they were victimised by Julius Berger. The company’s lawyers were mandated to take up the case in court, which is yet to come to closure.
The dismissed workers relaxed and even invited their friends and relatives to the camp. Prior to that, over 90 percent of the workers had sublet the apartments to tenants without the knowledge and consent of company. The construction firm claimed that the occupants have enjoyed free amenities at the expense of the company, without any financial contribution toward the maintenance of the amenities.