11 August 2012

Nigeria: Demolition Trauma Kills Nine in Abuja

Photo: Anthony Omuya/Daily Nation

There is no respite yet for residents of Mpape, a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as the authority has vowed to go on with the proposed demolition of the area despite court order against the move.

Residents of Abuja's sprawling suburbs and slums that were marked for demolition have been gripped with tension and related psychological trauma.

In Mpape, Weekly Trust gathered that about nine people had died since news broke out that the area would be demolished.

The renewed tension in Mpape is coming despite last week's court judgment restraining the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) from the demolition, which ordinarily would have given residents temporary reprieve.

The FCTA has maintained that 10,288 illegal structures including churches and mosques in Mpape must be removed. The Minister of the FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed stressed that while the authority upholds the rule of law, the court has justified the mandate of the administration for such action.

"Eight people had died as a result of fear of the unknown. They are among those who came back from work and saw their houses marked with red paints and as a result, fainted and either died on the spot or in the hospital. I know of a man who committed suicide by hanging after his house was earmarked for demolition. Go to Maitama Hospital and see how Mpape residents have taken over the premises, all as sick people.

"Most of them are old people who used their last resources to put up houses they will spend their remaining years on earth in, believing that the former Minister of FCT, Nasir el-Rufai's promise that Mpape will not be affected by demolition was true," one Mr. John, a resident, said.

Many of the residents had devised various strategies to survive the Federal Capital Territory Administration's onslaught on their well being. They had embarked on protest marches; some also headed to court to stop the impending demolition, while others had turned to some human rights organizations among others to help out. Well as it is, all thss had turned out in vain.

With the demolition now certain, and very soon, some of the residents are making efforts to move out of the community to some safer areas that may not be affected by the exercise.

Uche Chukwudi, a middle aged trader who resides and trades in the community, said he doesn't want to be displaced by the exercise and has gone to Ushafa in Bwari local Government Area in search of accommodation for the family and business.

"I am apparently relocating. I have already secured a place there; I have paid for both a shop space and shelter. I went to Ushafa last week and finished up every arrangement.

"In spite of the court ruling, I have made up my mind to vacate Mpape. I want to avoid subsequent tension. I might decide to remain and some months later the same issue might prop up. I am sick and tired of everything."

The District Head of Mpape, Malam Abubakar Ibrahim Gimba told Weekly Trust that the whole exercise is bad and unfair to millions of people residing in his domain. He said though the natives are not affected but how can the native live without other people who are contributing to the economic and social activities of the community?

"I am pleading with government to stop the idea. They are going to displace millions of people. These people are Nigerians like me and my subjects (the natives), like any other top government officials, why displace them? The most decent thing for government to do is to make alternative arrangement for them before they are moved out. Build a mass housing or a decent community for them according to government so called taste or standard.

"If they cannot do that, provide infrastructures, that is, access road, electricity, water, schools, hospitals and give the residents a mass housing building plan for them to develop their plots or houses according to prototypes not for government to wait for people to invest their last resources to build house and now coming to say you'll pull the structures down. Do you know how much we are talking about here? We are talking about billions not millions."

The chief said he is not happy with the unfortunate development because government will only share the plots to top officials and the elite after the exercise, arguing that the elite are not more Nigerians than those who will be displaced by the demolition.

He further confirmed the fact that a good number of Mpape residents are in hospital due to the shock and trauma while a few others had died as a result of the impending exercise.

Bassey Dem, a school teacher said he learnt that Mpape's demolition has become the center of attraction because lands have been allocated to 'big people' in government.

"Mpape is close to Maitama, in fact it is just a few kilometers from Maitama. It is basically the express way that separates the place with Maitama that is why politicians have vowed to get it.

"There are a lot of intrigues going on over Mpape. We learnt that a wife of a top person in government has been given a huge expanse of land to build a gigantic estate in Mpape. All these are why the Mpape case is so serious and different from other areas."

Meanwhile, a statement by the National Human Rights Commission and signed by its chairman, Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinaku and made available to Weekly Trust reveals that the urban poor suffers a great deal in such state policies.

"In all these (demolition) cases, there have been allegations that due process was not followed; that there was inadequate notice to the affected communities; that there was no thought given to alternative accommodation or resettlement of the affected communities; that vast populations have been rendered homeless and destitute; and that governments have over-reached their powers with arbitrary and unjustifiable measures against poor people. There are also allegations that these demolitions are in preparation for the affected lands to be discriminatorily re-allocated to more well-off persons.

"The Commission proposes to initiate and adopt a set of guidelines against forced evictions and arbitrary demolition of human settlements in Nigeria. I appeal to both State and Federal authorities to support the Commission in this objective. Section 16(2)(d) of the 1999 Constitution mandates government to ensure that "suitable and adequate shelter.... are provided for all citizens", he explained.

According to the statement, "shelter is both a human need and a basic right. It is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, both of which have been voluntarily accepted by Nigeria and are binding on public institutions and government in Nigeria.

"Where demolition of human settlements occurs without due process, it is regarded as forced eviction or enforced homelessness and violates the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under our 1999 Constitution.

"There is a global consensus on the safeguards against forced evictions. The United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in 1976 agreed that major clearance operations should take place only when conservation and rehabilitation are not feasible and relocation measures are made," the statement concluded.

The Federal Capital Territory Administration has proposed to demolish 19 villages - Idu, Karmo-Dape, Tasha, Gwagwa, Suburi, Zauda, Jahi, Gishiri, Mabushi, Mpape, Kuchigoro, Chika, Aleita, Piwoyi, Lugbe, Pyakassa, Tudun-wada, Dei-dei and Guzape.

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