…Tears, pains and rubble everywhere
From MAGNUS EZE
As members of Dominion City Church from different parts of the world worshipped at the African Peace Hall of the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja, in commemoration of the end of the week-long National Youth Summit last Sunday, one issue that occupied the minds of Pastor Nobert Onaga and members of the Wuse Zone 3, Abuja branch of the church, was where they would carry on with church activities from this week.
Their worship centre was part of unauthorised structures that crumbled under the bulldozers of the Development Control Department of Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) of the Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA) at the weekend.
Traders and others wept profusely as the bulldozers demolished the popular Canopy Market in Wuse Zone 3. Nearby gardens along Bamenda Street, including Golden Heart Garden where the church was located were not spared.
Traders who had reportedly ignored previous warning by the capital territory officials were shocked when the demolition team, with full protection from a combined security squad, moved bulldozers into the relief market mainly occupied by furniture, office equipment, electrical and electronics dealers. Several food kiosks were also affected.
While the bulldozer reduced the market to rubble, occupants of the adjacent IK Garden, where sprawling businesses thrived including restaurant and furniture outlets did not have the slightest inkling that the place was also on the line. Some of them had carried on with their normal businesses, while others trooped out to witness the devastation taking place at the Canopy market.
Other victims of the demolition exercise like African Town Garden, Ngozi Garden as well as occupants of Body Park along Abidjan Street, Zone 3 said though their premises had been marked for demolition, they thought that attention would only be on Canopy market. So, it was a huge shock to them when the bulldozer turned and faced their premises.
No fewer than 2000 traders and businesses were said to have been displaced by the demolition exercise.
One of the most devastating cases was the destruction of African Town Garden at 21Bamenda Street, Zone 3 where everything was turned to rubble. The exotic garden commissioned February 14, this year housed a pastry, car wash, upscale restaurant, bar, salon and newly mounted marquee for event centre as well as other equipment. All these turned to ruins after the unfriendly visit by the Development Control officials and their bulldozer.
Proprietor of the garden, Mr. Clement Aguiyi, said he lost over N100m investment, adding that about 30 staffers have been thrown back to the job market.
When Daily Sun visited the demolished sites on Saturday, it was tale of sorrow and frustration. While some people looked confused and forlorn, many were seen packing the rubbles. Those who deal on scraps had a field day buying off corrugated iron sheets, rods and other mangled items including household equipment. Some others were also buying the planks and wooden furniture.
At Golden Heart Garden, some Dominion City members were seen parking what was left of the church property including chairs, musical instruments, lecterns, books, curtains and decoration items among others scattered on the premises. Also in the ruins was a large billboard bearing the church’s theme for the year; “2016: My Year of Jubilee.” Some of the men had hectic time dismantling the skeleton of the marquee used as worship centre. The cover was part of the things destroyed.
The story was the same everywhere. A big furniture dealer at IK Garden simply called Angel, whose wares still littered the place told Daily Sun that some young men within the area helped her remove them as the bulldozer rolled in, adding that they watched over the goods through the night.
For Abuja residents, the demolition of Canopy market was disaster foretold since the FCTA had repeatedly warned the traders of the imminent action.
Speaking when she led FCTA officials to some of the sites earmarked for demolition Thursday, Acting Coordinator of AMMC, Mrs. Safiya Umar, had insisted that having served the affected structures with final demolition notices, the next line of action was actual removal exercise within less than 24 hours period, because most of the places had been marked since 2011.
According to her, “If we marked your property for removal, within 12 or 24 hours, definitely on the dot, we will be there to the remove it. Every inch of land in Abuja has a purpose, because the city is an establishment of law.”
On the Canopy Market, the AMMC boss said the market was on transit corridor, and the FCT Transport Secretariat needed the place, “so they asked us to help clear the place, since it was us that gave the traders the place temporarily.”
She stated that government was magnanimous enough to have settled the traders temporarily for up to seven years in the place, noting that they were expected to have organized themselves and find where to rent and move in.
Umar said resorting to court could not help the traders any longer because “They took us to court, but the court has thrown their matter out, so they don’t have any locus standi to create an informal market, whereas there are two formal markets there.”
Daily Sun gathered that the AMMC had recently gone tough on implementation of the Abuja Master Plan through removal of illegal structures within the city centre.
By last week, the structures earmarked for immediate removal were stores, restaurant and bar located within Nkisi Parks and Recreation Centre (near Asokoro Community Secondary School) and EFAB Mall in Asokoro and Area 11 respectively. Also, all structures within parks that have taken different identities away from relaxation spots.
Before this period, several illegal structures in Wuse 2, particularly along the highbrow Aminu Kano Crescent and Adetokunbo Ademola Street had been pulled down.
Director, Development Control Department, Mr. Murktar Galadima, dismissed the allegation of removal of structures without adequate notification, arguing that “whatever we do, we always follow due process; if you see us marking; we must mark again and again, before actual removal.
“We discovered that where we had marked earlier on some have been covered, and some are still there. So whatever we are doing now is just like serving final demolition notice.”
A member, Board of Trustees (BOT) Wuse Zone 3 Market Traders Association, Mr. Ifeanyi Asiegbu, confirmed that they were notified since 2012 that the FCT Transport Secretariat would make use of the transit corridor, but appealed to government to relocate them to another place.
Nonetheless, Aguiyi said that he got approval to stay there for five years in the first instance, and was shocked that AMMC served him first quit notice on Wednesday, brought final one on Thursday only for them to roll in the bulldozer Friday even when the one week period stipulated had not elapsed.
He reasoned that it was inconsiderate on the part of the authorities to have destroyed people’s livelihood without care even when they knew that the rail project would not be developed in the near future.
The proprietor of African Town Garden was not alone in this regard; some traders who agreed that adequate notice was actually given to them however saw the demolition as ill-timed because of the current hardship in the country.
Mr. Chukwudi Nwadike, a dealer in fairly used office equipment whose shop was destroyed said “This demolition will bring more frustration and hardships to people that are already suffering because of the economic recession. Nigerians are really suffering, so this is not when to add more pain to them.”
While the AMMC officials insisted that nothing could have saved Canopy market from demolition, some traders attributed their woes to internal wrangling within the market association.
They bemoaned the ouster of their former Chairman, called Tony by some interests within the market, accusing the current leadership of inability to present their case well and doing the required lobbying even when members had been allegedly levied heavily for that.
For them, they would now have some break from the leaders of the association since Canopy market is gone. “At least nobody will come to me again to say contribute money for task force or court case,” one of the traders remarked. Even at that, victims of the demolition would count their losses for a long time.