The Director of Finance of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Tony Okecheme, was swept away by a flood in August at Galadimawa Roundabout, Abuja. The incident made headline news, unlike a similar one involving a 17-year-old guard, Tuesday Bala, who died on June 2 as a result of flooding in the same neighbourhood.
Mr Bala was on duty at House 8, 1st Avenue, Efab Estate, Lokogoma District, Abuja, when a flood dragged him away from his duty post.
The owner of the 4-bedroom apartment, Mohammed Ahijo, narrated to PREMIUM TIMES the ugly experiences of the residents of the estate every time it rains heavily.
According to Mr Ahijo, flooding has led to the loss of properties worth tens of millions of Naira in the estate.
As part of efforts to address the perennial crisis, the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) pulled down a part of Mr Ahijo's house that stood on the waterway.
Mr Ahijo's story reflects the pains of many families living in more than 30 estates in the Lokogoma district of the Nigerian Federal Capital Territory. They have suffered heavy damage from flooding. Many of their houses have either been demolished or marked for demolition by the government.
According to sources including the leadership of the landlord associations in the estates, more than 120 houses have been marked for demolition.
At Efab estate alone, 11 houses, two churches and a water factory with more than 30 employees have been demolished; while seven out of 10 marked houses in I-Pent 2 estate have also been demolished.
According to the FCDA, the affected houses were built on waterways and road corridors by developers in violation of the approved government plans.
However, some of the developers insisted they received appropriate approval from the same agency.
FCDA tricked us - Landlords
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Ahijo said the FCDA had initially proposed a tripartite committee of the developers, the residents/owners and representatives of the FCDA to appraise the situation and options to the demolition of the marked properties.
He said the authority had also pledged to ensure adequate compensation from either the government or the developers to ease the pain of the house owners.
The demolished houses
"But unfortunately, the committee was never formed. A week after the pledge, what we heard in the news was that FCDA said it was ready to commence the demolition of houses on the waterways.
"They called our structures illegal but they never explained which of those buildings are illegal or legal since we bought our properties directly from the developer with approval. We had thought before demolition, they should have evaluated the houses affected to know if they can compensate us or not."
Corroborating Mr Ahijo's claims, the chairman of I-Pent 2 estate's landlord association, Stanley Agwu, said the association held a meeting with the permanent secretary of FCDA, Christian Ohaa, before the commencement of the demolition exercise.
"The permanent secretary promised they would run a check through the estates to ascertain whether the developer or the FCDA is to blame. He said there would be a tripartite committee meeting. That was what we were waiting for before bulldozers arrived so suddenly," Mr Agwu said.
He also alleged that the authority refused to clear the debris after the demolition. "All they did was just to demolish without packing the rubbles."
Also, a retired banker living in Efab estate, Mike Edoja, told PREMIUM TIMES that the dredging of the canal should not be the responsibility of the developer.
"As it is, the canal is the federal government's responsibility as all the water in the district are channelled into it. It is part of the basic infrastructure that the government ought to provide for the residents, Mr Edoja said.
"It is painful that nobody cares. Some are even blaming us that why did we buy houses built on the waterways? FCDA is not saying anything about compensation neither is the developer. We are left to bear the brunt. It is very unfair. My family is scattered everywhere, some are at friend's place."
He called on the government to intervene due to FCDA's limited budget.
"FCDA said it does not have the budget to channel the canal but we are saying it could access the ecological funds to do it. We are not asking for too much. All we are asking is for the government to work on the proper channelisation of the waterways so as to prevent reoccurrence of this problem," Mr Edoja said.
House owner engages Ozekhome to seek justice
Another house owner at Efab estate, Ruth Jeremiah, said she moved into the house barely two years ago after paying N20 million to Efab Properties Limited. She then renovated the structure with another N22 million.
She said she has engaged a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, to pursue her quest for justice.
Mrs Jeremiah shared with PREMIUM TIMES, a copy of the response to her enquiries from Efab Properties Limited through its lawyer, identified simply as Ajoku.
In the company's response dated July 8, the developer denied any case of flooding in the estate since it was built more than 17 years ago, until that of June this year.
"Note that the company has been in occupation for the past 17 years and the flooding of June 2019 is the first of its kind, which was caused by the massive rainfall that overran the canal that run through Lokogoma district. Your assertion that the area is flood-prone and that such incident happened sometime in 2011 is not true."
But other residents told PREMIUM TIMES that the estate developer was not sincere with its claim. They recalled that the estate was also flooded in 2011.
But while Mrs Jeremiah has approached a lawyer, Mr Edoja said he could not afford the cost of legal action. "As a retiree, where do I see money to take to a lawyer?"
In his reaction to the development, the Director of the Department of Development Control, Abuja Metropolitan Council, Mukhtar Galadima, said the ongoing demolition at Lokogoma district is not just due to the recent flooding but part of efforts to address major infrastructural issues like building on water pipelines and road corridors.
"For now, our concern is saving life first which is why we are demolishing those houses on the waterways and those on the sewer lines," he said.
Mr Galadima admitted that FCDA has not packed the rubble from the sites but said the authority was awaiting the rain to subside. "It is not true that we have abandoned the place like that. After we remove the debris, we are going to do flood marking to map out all the corridors of flood plains and green areas along stream valley so that no developer in the future would be allowed to build there."
He explained that most of the buildings FCDA was demolishing were those not originally on the approved plan issued to the developers.
"What we are demolishing are mostly what the developers added. They expanded beyond the boundaries that were given. Peace Court Estate is an example of such estates. We are not out to bring pains upon the people who have worked hard for their money.
"We are also working on forwarding our case and concerns to the office of the Secretary to the Government Federation (SGF) so that with ecological funds we can clear this river immediately against next year's rain. It is not just about demolition, we are demolishing for a purpose which must be actualised.
"Meanwhile, the policies as regards to the payment of compensation is that for every structure you are going to remove, if that structure is covered by the land title given by FCTA administration, you have a valid development permit and it is also confirmed that the developer in question built inline with what was approved, then you will be considered. If you don't meet these three criteria, there is no compensation. If you meet these criteria, it is duly and legally bound on us to compensate the owners.
"However, our legal secretariat is the one that will handle the case of developers that violate the given boundary by the FCTA and therefore led to these people losing their homes. We are currently compiling the report of such cases and we will forward it to the secretariat for them to take actions, including prosecution where it is necessary," the official said.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, the chairman of Efab Properties Limited, Fabian Nwora, said he has approval from FCDA. But he did not register his commitment to compensate those who lost their houses.
Also, Aliyu Bala, the Chairman of Construtii Proacti, the developer of I-Pent 2 and 5, said he did not want to talk to a journalist. He, however, instructed his secretary to talk to PREMIUM TIMES.
But the secretary, who refused to give her name, also refused to speak, saying she has no knowledge of the matter.
"What can I say? I don't know any details about the matter and I cannot talk about it."