•Traders, developer head for court to resolve crisis
By MAGNUS EZE
One issue that needs the immediate attention of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Mr. Mohammad Bello, is the unresolved dispute over the allocation of stalls at the Wuye ultramodern market in the Abuja metropolis.
Due to incessant fire outbreaks and the need for modern markets in the territory, the administration of the then FCT minister, Mr. Abba Gana, had in 2002, set out to develop four markets, including Wuse, Mabushi and Garki markets.
Checks by Abuja Metro revealed that it was due to a protest to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) by traders of the then New Wuse market popularly called ‘Bakassi market’ after fire razed the makeshift market, that Gana relocated the traders to Wuye market.
An action/implementation committee that included some traders was immediately constituted and thereafter, allocation papers for the Garki, Wuye and Mabushi markets were issued to the traders being resettled after the purchase of forms and payment of some fees to the FCDA.
Armed with their letters of allocation of shops/open spaces, the traders had looked forward to developing their shops; but instead, a private developer emerged and commenced development. The traders under the auspices of Association of Wuye Ultra-Modern Market Allottees (AWUMMA) said they had expected all the parties involved to sign the Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement. But instead, the traders were clearly excluded in the agreement between the FCDA as represented by the Abuja Investment and Property Development Company Limited and the eventual developer, All Purpose Shelters Ltd.
The involvement of a developer came during Mallam Nasir el-Rufai’s tenure as FCT minister.
At this point, the market developer allegedly asked the allottees to pay about N6million for a shop.
Not wanting to resort to self-help, the traders headed to court to seek redress.
Abah Dennis and 706 others suing for themselves and representing all persons allocated with shops and/or open spaces by the FCT minister and the FCDA and who are also disputing the imposition of additional money as purchase prices for the said shops and/or Wuye ulta modern market, Abuja, approached the FCT High Court.
Justice O. A. Musa in a reserved judgment on Suit No FCT/HC/CV/440/2012 delivered on April 29, 2015, granted the following reliefs without cost:
* That the plaintiffs are entitled to occupy, use and enjoy their shops and/or open spaces allocated to them by the first and second defendants (FCT Minister and FCDA) in the said Wuye market;
*Ordered that the defendants allow the plaintiffs to have and enjoy quiet possession, occupation and use of their various shops and/or open spaces allocated to them by the first and second defendants and;
* Perpetually restrained the defendants, their servants, agents , privies, howsoever described from re-allocating or in any other way giving possession of the plaintiffs’ shops and/or open spaces in the Wuye ultra-modern market to any other person.
Sequel to the said judgment, Justice Musa on June 9, 2015 issued a warrant for the possession of the Wuye ultra-modern market by the plaintiffs, which was duly effected and carried out on July 2, 2015.
It was at this point that All Purpose Shelters Limited on October 8, 2015 vide motion No. M/9948/2015 urged the Court of Appeal, Abuja to set aside the warrant for possession and give injunction retraining the defendants ( in this instance, Dennis Abah and 706 others) from frustrating their (the developer) lawful administration of the market.
The market developers averred that the warrant for possession was issued without jurisdiction by the High Court since the judgment of April 29, 2015 was a declaratory relief that merely declared a right not enforceable by execution.
They also claimed that there was no need for the warrant for possession, especially as most of the plaintiffs/ judgment creditors had not paid for the costs of construction of the shops and stores and other legal and statutory fees to the appellant (developers) and those who paid and met the conditions of payments have been given possession by the appellant.
Contrary to the expectation of the appellant (All Purpose Shelter Ltd), the Appeal Court on January 22, 2016, dismissed the application for totally lacking in merit.
Justice Moore Adumein ruled that, “the execution in this case has not been shown to be irregular, because it was levied by officials of the lower court. It is also regular because it has not been shown that the number of shops now occupied by the first set of respondents is beyond that awarded by the trial court. In the absence of any special circumstances shown by the applicant, the execution duly carried out by the officials of the lower court cannot be set aside”.
A ding dong
Abuja Metro investigations showed that trouble started from the inception because the number of persons given allocation papers by the FCDA was far higher than the number of available shops in the market. It was gathered that 5,605 traders/allottees got allocation papers, while only about 1,600 shops are in the market after the building plan approved by the FCDA Development Control Department.
For the developers, since there was shortage of shops, they based their processing of applications on first come, first served basis.
All Purpose Shelter Limited claims that as at February 2012 when the market project was completed, they had collected deposits from over 1,000 of the allottees; while about 707 others headed to court.
This was quickly countered by the traders association which alleged that only about 200 allottees paid to the developer for the shops.
Aside the High Court judgment, Abuja Metro also gathered that the 707 litigants who got the judgment were disposed to paying some money to the developers but were opposed to paying N4.4million demanded by the latter, which they see as prohibitive.
The chairman of AWUMMA’s 13-member enforcement committee, Mr. Nnaemeka Nwobodo, told Abuja Metro that their members were ready to pay N1.5million as statutory fee, but the developers demanded N6million.
Nwobodo, who said they were initially negotiating with the FCDA to pay between N500,000 and N700,000 depending on the category of allotment before the developer appeared on the scene, explained that the traders could pay N2million if the payment is staggered for five years in line with mortgage rules.
But, the market developers said the issue was beyond payment as the available shops and spaces would not be enough for the 707 allottee litigants. All Purpose Shelters claimed it had given out 1,250 shops to allottee traders, “who have paid and collected their keys”.
The developers also expressed shock that the number of the allottees has continued to grow since the judgment of the FCT High Court, pointing out that, from the original 707 persons that went to court, they now claim to be about 1200.
The Company Secretary/Legal Adviser of All Purpose Shelters, Mr. Lekan Ogunleye, explained that even if AWUMMA members agreed to N4.4million, it would not still work out because of the limited number of shops in the market.
He asked:“Where would we get the shops to give them?”
Nonetheless, AWUMMA has insisted that there was a foul play in the whole process. The traders believed that officials of the FCDA compromised the master plan of the market. They alleged that portions of the land earmarked for the market were sold to private individuals, including some state governors and senators during the period, who erected plazas and residential buildings there.
In fact, checks revealed that the area in question was built up by mainly former governors and senators, including a principal officer in the current National Assembly.
There was also the story that Yemisi Suswan, wife of former Benue State governor, who is a key promoter of All Purpose Shelters Limited, used her position to get former First Lady, Patience Jonathan to have interest in the market.
Mrs. Jonathan had allegedly influenced her husband to come and commission the market even in the hit of the crisis surrounding the project.
Abuja Metro could not ascertain whether Mrs. Jonathan has shops in the market, but blocks of shops are named after her and her predecessors namely, Turai Yar’Adua, Stella Obasanjo and Fati Lami Abubakar.
But, the market developers would not want Mrs. Suswan to be dragged into the matter,because according to them, her company won the bid to develop the market long before her husband became governor. They recalled that 64 companies tendered for the Wuye market. They also lamented that the BOT that was to last for 13 years reversionary period has unfortunately not taken off because the market was yet to become operational.
Checks by Abuja Metro revealed that the developers obtained the C of O of the land from Abuja Investment and Property Development Company Limited and deposited it with one of the commercial banks that financed the project.
They urged for peaceful resolution of the matter, because according to Mr. Ogunleye, even if the plaintiff win the suit at the Appeal Court, they may not be enter the market as those traders that paid the developer for shops might still head to court.
Just like the developers, the traders also want peaceful resolution of the issue but they believe only the FCT minister holds the key to amicable settlement. They urged the FCTA to evict those who allegedly encroached on the land earmarked for the market and demolish their structures to maintain the original master plan. Where that is not done, the traders want those that would not be accommodated in the market to be given new spaces, even from an adjoining empty spaces within the area.
Nwobodo, who said many of their members had died out of frustration because of the lingering disagreement over the market, urged the FCTA to come out clear and enforce the judgment of the FCT High Court.
“The masses have judgment and the government, including the police looked the other way. Just imagine what would have happened if the judgment had been the other way round. Government is talking about creating jobs and growing the economy and we are being treated this way. We are being trampled upon because we are not big men and women”, Nwobodo stated.
Special Assistant on Media to the FCT Minister, Mr. Sani Abubakar, said there was nothing the FCTA could do at this period because the matter was before the court. However, he urged the parties to meet and sort out their differences.
“The parties know their obligations, both the traders and the developer. The only role of the government is to provide the enabling environment. The FCT administration provided the land, gave it out to a company to build, operate and transfer. Based on that agreement, both the company that developed the market and the traders know their obligations. It is left for them to resolve the knotty issues between them”, Sani said.
On the allegation that the master plan was tampered with and portions of the land shared to highly placed politicians, the minister’s media aide said he was sure that due process was followed.
However, he advised those who have any grievances to go to the Abuja Investment and Property Development Company and get their grievances sorted out.ABUJA METRO FOR MARCH 23, 2016 (Picture of the entrance to the market sent to you)