On March 10, 2020, bulldozers and a battery of armed police officers invaded Dakwa, on the boundary between Abuja and Niger State. They demolished 100 buildings, and some people’s dreams of owning houses, distressing many families and house owners while others now live in anxiety.
Emmanuel Okoro (not real name) had hoped that by the end of June he and his family would have moved into the house he had been building at Dakwa, a suburb of Abuja, and up until March, those plans were firmly in place.
However, on the morning of March 10, bulldozers from the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), accompanied by about 100 policemen stormed Dakwa and demolished about 100 houses, including Emmanuel’s.
The FCDA, which said the area was being developed illegally, had planned to demolish about 200 houses that morning but when outraged residents, who said they were caught unawares, scrambled to collect valuables from the ruins of their houses, authorities feared that there might be a riot and halted the demolition exercise.
Later, the residents obtained a court order stopping the FCDA from proceeding with its action. While that provided respite for some, many like Emmanuel are completely distraught.
“I can’t believe I will remain a tenant up until this moment,” he said. “I had planned to move to my house with my family in June but these people shattered my plans. I have accepted my fate. Even if I cry from today until tomorrow, no government or its official will look in my direction, hence, my indifference,” he said.
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The cause of the controversy is a dispute over land ownership between the Federal Capital Territory and Niger State. Dakwa, a burgeoning town in the Dei-Dei district, lies on the boundary between Abuja and Niger State, it is still disputed under whose jurisdiction Dakwa lies.
While the Niger State government still insists that Dakwa is part of Tafa Local Government Area in the state, FCT authorities are yet to back down on its claim that the area is part of Bwari Area Council in the capital city.
Four months after, many victims and those who were lucky to have spared that day in March still live in anxiety. Many whose property have not been demolished, cannot proceed with construction work.
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When Daily Trust visited the area, it was gathered that the residents, both landlords and tenants, still live in fear while awaiting a judgement that would clear the ownership tussle.
A resident, who simply identified himself as Tunji, said they are still praying fervently “to get a favourable judgement from the substantive suit already in court.”
Also speaking with Daily Trust in an emotion-laden voice, a victim, Ogamba Reagan, said, “I have lost all my money, I don’t know my hope. I lost up to N1.5m. People say the land matter is in court, we are just waiting for them to give us feedback on whether to continue or if they would find another place for us, which I doubt.
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“Honestly, this crippled me economically. It is not easy, but life goes on. It is part of life. Definitely, what does not kill you will make you stronger. I’m just waiting for final resolution before I sell off the land and find a better place.”
Another victim, Eyamba Asuquo, said, “Seriously, that demolition crumbled me, I can’t lie to you, because I had spent a lot of money worth over N1m there and at the end of the day, nothing came out of it.
”Mr Asuquo said they did a lot of investigations before investing in the land.
“On a more serious note, that place belongs to Tafa Local government,” he said.
“What they are telling us right now is that we shouldn’t pass the boundary of Tafa, and also give the required gap.
”He insists that his plot lies on the Tafa side of the area but he is waiting for the court’s decision.
While the Department of Development Control of the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council, who carried out the demolition, argued that they had marked the houses for demolition since 2018, the residents said they were not aware of any quit notice because moved to the area recently.
The Director of Development Control, Mukhtar Galadima, who led the team, insisted that the residents had encroached on the land meant for the Abuja Automobile Market.
Galadima said the land is under the management of the Abuja Investment Company Limited and covers about 201.9 hectares accused the authorities of the Tafa Local Government of scamming the community by giving them permission to develop the land.
“We are here to recover the land. We were here in 2018 to mark the place for demolition and even removed some structures but some people have been adamant.
“This is not an area in contention; it is clearly a land in the FCT. That is why we are here to remove illegal structures. The marking is for the occupiers to remove their valuables. We have been announcing this for a week.
“How can they say where we are demolishing is within Niger state. Our previous markings on the buildings were obliterated by members of the community by covering them with dark paints,” he said.
He also went ahead to point fingers at certain individuals for being responsible for the situation.
“I have noticed that some people are trying to be mischievous, particularly the Mai Angwa (district head) because they sold the land to the ignorant residents and they pushed them to go to Tafa Local Government to get title documents and Tafa is in Niger State.
But the Niger State governor, Sani Bello, who was represented by his Deputy, Alhaji Ahmed Ketso, in a swift reaction to the demolition exercise visited the affected area alongside the Tafa Local Government chairman, Ibrahim Ijah.
Addressing the aggrieved residents, Ketso said, “Information reached us that the FCT is carrying out demolition and that the people living within the community perceived that it is in Niger state.
“The governor decided to direct us to see what is happening. I have with me the Commissioner for Lands; Permanent Secretary in the Local Government; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands; and the Surveyor-General.
“All of us are here just to take on the spot assessment of what is happening here and we believe that we have an outstanding boundary problem between Niger State and the FCT.
“We believe that if there is anything that anybody wants to do since the issue is before a reconciliation committee, we didn’t think that anybody would do anything without first approaching the reconciliation committee. What they have done here is an act of illegality,” he said.
But one of the executive members in the community association, Ibrahim Suleiman, at one of their meetings, produced copies of title documents issued to some residents by the Tafa Local Government Authority.
He said the actions of the FCT officials clearly showed that they were doing the bidding of someone powerful in the society.
Suleiman, however, appealed to residents of the community to remain calm while awaiting judgement from the court. He allayed the fears of property owners but added that those whose plots fall on the Abuja side should shelve their plans pending the determination of the suit.
No one knows when the court will resolve the issue and that means that many people might just be in limbo for months or maybe even years.
This content was first seen on DailyTrust Ng