…As Army flexes muscles over Abuja’s highbrow district
From MAGNUS EZE, Abuja
The military high command has seemingly taken the war to the doorsteps of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), with the alleged seizure of over 400 plots of land allotted to some highly placed Nigerians by the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA).
The Nigerian Army was said to have on Saturday, September 3, 2016, without any provocation, sealed off the road leading to the 230 hectares of land known as the Maitama Extension District and drove out the workers of Kakatar CE Limited, the company providing engineering infrastructure for the district.
The Army claimed the land belongs to it. It did not, however, show any document to buttress its claim of ownership but effectively deployed its officers and men to ward off any of the workers from the site.
The engineering company maintains a site office in the area, while the FCDA also has oversight function offices in the yard to provide supervision for the contractor.
By that aggression, the company’s vital working facilities like asphalt-producing plants, rock crushers, state-of-the-art fabrication workshop, heavyduty earth moving equipment like dozers and excavators, trucks and other equipment were trapped.
They could neither be maintained nor repaired while those needed to be moved out for external jobs in other locations like Karshi and Kyami, where the company is also working for the FCDA, have also been barred from leaving the premises by armed soldiers.
The Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Alhaji Mohammed Bello, has not stoked any fire since his appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari last year. But an avoidable fight has been brought to his domain by the army who claimed that its vast land in the area has been encroached on by the firm being run by a civil rights lawyer.
In the beginning
There have been all manners of stories surrounding the area today called Maitama Extension. Rumour mill has been awash with stories that the new district stretching over 230 hectares of land with over 400 plots already allocated to Nigerians and duly captured in the Abuja Master plan, is owned by a former President and managed by a firm suspected to be one of his “disguised firms.”
Daily Sun gathered that what is termed the “Urban Fringe” including Usuma and Mpape districts was a green area and was supposed to constitute a buffer zone between the city, on the one hand; and the regional space, on the other in the original Abuja Master Plan.
However, it was utilized by previous administrations for the building of the various barracks, Asokoro District, Guzape District, Sunrise Hills Estate and parts of Apo. These urban fringes were re-designed by previous ministers in accordance with the powers conferred on them by the Land Use Act.
It is important to note that under the Master Plan, what is now known as Maitama Extension was supposed to be a Sports Centre but was redesigned by previous administrations.
In short, the Maitama Extension was carefully planned as a highbrow residency for the mighty and powerful in the doorsteps of the military barracks for an added security. Perhaps, that explains why it was tucked on the fringes of the Lungi Barracks, near the powerful Brigades of Guards of the Nigerian Army between Asokoro and Maitama districts.
The district was actually designated as such by Senator Adamu Aliero, the Minister of the FCT under the Yar’Adua administration in 2008 alongside Katampe and Katampe Extension. Virtually all the plots were alloted by that regime to the various allottees. It was eventually awarded to Kakatar for the provision of infrastructure in 2011.
The company has gone far in the provision of relevant infrastructure under the terms of the contract as evident in the FCDA budget, which earmarked N2.5 billion for the settlement of outstanding liabilities to the company and the continuation of work on the Maitama Extension project in its 2016 project recently approved by Buhari.
Implications of the action
As the issue raised dust in the FCT last week, the Army came out boldly to justify its action, saying that the land was its own and that it merely took back what belonged to it to avoid further encroachment.
According to the Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman: “The said property is on Nigerian Army land and the army will not allow anybody to encroach on its land. Consequently, the property has to be sealed to prevent further encroachment.”
But the implications of this precarious development may likely cost the FCDA a fortune as indications were that allottees of plots in the district might resort to legal actions if nothing is done urgently. It was learnt that the plot owners themselves were already boiling for legal action against the Nigerian Army and the FCDA over the forceful takeover of their property duly paid for.
So far, neither the FCDA nor the FCTA has been able to speak on the issue as they seem to be handicapped and dumb-funded since the face-off. The situation has heightened tension among plot owners, who fear that they may also be denied access to their plots under construction as clearly stipulated by the army warning that nobody would be allowed access.
One other implication of the military’s seizure is that the construction of the official residences of the Senate President, his deputy, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and other principal officers of the National Assembly, at various stages of completion in the contentious district also came to an abrupt end.
However, the company expressed surprise over the action of the Nigerian Army, saying that it had not breached any known law to warrant the action of the soldiers.
Its spokesman, Mr. Austin Ekeinde, said the action of the army is causing it huge losses and untold hardship for hundreds of families that depended on the company; whose workers are now being forced to stay at home:
“It is instructive to note that at no time did the company suggest or claim that the land upon which it was using as a site to coordinate the project belongs to Kakatar. Never!
“All that we have been doing is to speedily complete the contract in accordance with the terms and pull out our equipment so that the plot owners can move into their property and live happily.
“We have been very good neighbour with the Army and certainly our presence has been beneficial to them. No notice of any security breach or infraction has ever been sent to us by the Army. No enquiry as to our presence or intention to recover any land was ever sent to us before locking us out.
“We believe there is a failure of intelligence here. A fact check would easily have revealed that the land in question belongs to over 400 allottees and that it is the place to host the official residences of the Senate and deputy Senate President and that allottees have already developed their plots to advanced stages.”
Some Nigerians have also spoken against what they considered as overzealousness on the part of the military authority. The days ahead would certainly be interesting given the imminent legal fireworks if nothing is urgently done to resolve the issue amicably.