Appraising FCT’s efforts to restore city’s master plan

In this report, ELEOJO IDACHABA writes that it appears that the days of a former minister of the federal capital territory (FCT) during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Malam Nasir el-Rufa’i, are here again as illegal structures are being targeted in order to restore the territory’s master plan.

The recent renewed efforts by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to restore the territory’s master plan in accordance with the dreams of its founding fathers which former ministers carried out with vigour have indicated that re-built illegal structures’ owners will soon have themselves to blame.
Of late, a new helmsman charged with the responsibility of overseeing order in the territory, Ikharo Attah, appears to have picked up the gauntlet with dynamism as his voice rents the air both on radio and television while trying to explain to residents the rationale behind the new energy.

Attah as chairman of FCT Ministerial Committee on City Sanitation has left no one in doubt that the era of ‘business as usual’ in the FCT is over as he goes after traffic gridlocks, sanitation and unplanned settlements leading to the demolition of such in almost every nook and cranny of the territory.

Speaking recently, Attah said, “Anyone who thinks the current FCT administration is out to massage any ego would be disappointed because the minister has made it clear that it shall no longer be business as usual.”
In the last two months, as Blueprint Weekend’s investigations have revealed, the attention of the Committee has been focused on pulling down illegal structures put up by desperate squatters along the airport road bordering the University of Abuja, some parts of Gwarinpa, Lugbe, and Mpape.

While carrying out the exercise in Mpape standing along the road recently, Attah insisted that the exercise would be a continuous one until residents were willing to comply with the town planning act of the territory.
“Today’s work is a little massive than we thought because we removed some massive structures that are on the roadside without any allocation paper, no building plan and they harbour scavengers and criminals that led to the blocking of the road.

“Knowing that the structures are blocking the road and knowing that they don’t have documents, we have to come here. The road market at Mpape has been a problem as the place was before now impassable. We have notified the chairman of Bwari area council, Mr. John Gabaya, and he promised that they would re-build the market and make it modern.
“We told him that the market cannot be by the roadside, so must give way because it was impeding the free flow of traffic and more than 85 percent of the market have been converted to residential shanties which contravenes the urban and regional planning act. So, we have come here to remove them and you can see the work we did today and Mpape is looking cleaner every day. That is the vigour with which attempts to correct the master plan is being carried out.”

Attah added that, “From the way we are seeing Mpape, this exercise may enter the second quater of next year. Once we clear and we see them coming back, we would keep on clearing until we are sure that Mpape residents are ready to comply fully.”

Iddo Sarki/varsity community

Mpape is not the only place in the territory that Attah and the task force have so far visited. Less than two months ago, the administration demolished more than 137 illegal hostels, hotels and other buildings at a settlement known as Iddo Sarki community adjacent to the University of Abuja that were built illegally.

While justifying the demolition despite the hues and cries from tenants and residents, especially students of the university, Attah reiterated the administration’s policy, saying it aws in line with ministerial directive to remove every contravention and illegal buildings within the nation’s capital because people bought those lands from local chiefs illegally.
He said no local chief has the authority to sell lands or transfer any valid title to buyers of land as it contravenes the provisions of the Land Use Act.

“The FCTA is pained about what is going on here. The minister had briefed the directors of Development Control, heads of Security Services and Directorate of Road Traffic Services with a matching order to stop what he termed extreme illegality.

“These people are taking advantage of the closeness of the University of Abuja to this place to sell every available land here. You can imagine that someone here had built a house that runs into hundreds of millions of naira without a proper approval, but based on ordinary agreement signed with unauthorised persons. The minister has ordered that this place be cleared as a signal to people.

“Those who want to build hostels for students can approach the administration and the university management and do it on build, operate and transfer (BOT) or build, operate and own (BOO) arrangements with a proper allocation and development approval from government.”

This reporter also gathered that the portion of land on which land grabbers raised those illegal structures originally belongs to the Nigerian Navy and they had complained severally to the FCTA authorities about the encroachment.

Task force’s visit to Gwarinpa

Gwarinpa, the largest estate in West Africa, was also not spared the visit by Attah-led task force as some shanties and illegal structures that also harboured criminals were recently pulled down in an early morning exercise aimed at cleaning the estate. Attah, who led the operation, said 49 suspected criminals stopped passersby and dispossessed them of their belongings after the joint team had finished its operation.

“Most of the criminals took advantage of the cleanup exercise and went on a looting spree, dispossessing passersby of their belongings. This shows why we are demolishing illegal structures. There are illegal structures and shanties almost everywhere in Gwarinpa Estate. These are criminal hideouts which we will not allow them to stay,” he noted.
Sometime last year, in a bid to restore order to the ever-busy Dutse Bwari road, Attah and his team visited the place where they gave matching orders to traders along that corridor and a bank which fence impeded the flow of traffic to vacate.

After several deadlines given to owners of such premises to comply had failed, bulldozers from the territory pulled down parts of the perimeter fence of a bank and some commercial buildings located by the roadside on the busy Dutsen-Alhaji axis connecting Bwari and other towns to the city. Justifying the move, Attah restated the determination of the FCTA to rid the city of traffic congestion.
“What happened here is a distortion of the approved land use. The entrance of the commercial property is contributing immensely to the traffic bottleneck on the Dutsen-Alhaji to Bwari road, so they have to go.”

Why master plan?

According to Dr. Obinna Umeh of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, the Abuja master plan for the physical development of the territory was drawn up in the 80s with projections having the year 2000 in mind.

“At the inception, the capital city was chosen by Akinola Aguda panel to be the seat of federal government of Nigeria away from Lagos as a result of intractable land use problems and also serving dual purpose of the seat of federal and Lagos state government at the same time.
“To give effect to the choice, in June 1987, the Federal Capital Development Authority commissioned International Planning Associates (IPA) to produce a master plan for the new capital city and its regional grids,” he said.

He said the master plan approved in 1979 provides the general framework to guide orderly development of the city. The concept, he noted, is based on the principle of a functional city with a crescent-shaped structure, occupying a prominent position in the North-east quadrant of the Federal Capital Territory which is emphasised by an axial focus on the highest point of Aso Hill.
“The plan coordinates land use, transportation, infrastructure, housing, light industry, commercial, recreational, agricultural and other uses in a manner that recognises their interrelationship and spatial requirements. It has four phases with incremental planning model as foundation for implementation.
“It adopted incremental model of staged growth planned to occur in stages so that construction of one sector is completed before the next is begun to reduce the impact of noise, dust, and disruption accompanying a continuous long term construction programme. The intention is to provide maximum flexibility to accommodate a broad range of socio-economic groups and cultural affiliations.”

The recall

The drive towards restoring the master plan of FCT has been a continuous exercise. Back in 2012, then FCTA director, Development Control, Malam Yahaya Yusuf, said the Authority would carry its bulldozers to Lugbe, a settlement on the airport road if the estates, shanties, shops among others in that region fell short of the master plan.
He said, “As a law abiding department of government, we are waiting but the moment a decision is reached on it, those illegal structures and shanties in Lugbe would be removed especially those ones outside the native village while provision is being made to gradually resettle the indigenes.

“With regards to estates and mass housing projects that have come up in Lugbe axis, we reached an agreement with the Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN) but that agreement was on both sides- that they are going to stop any further illegalities that the bulk of those estates constitute while we would wait for the redesign of Lugbe that is being carried out by the Urban and Regional Planning Department to see how the estate fits in or not.
“It is the outcome of the redesign which would soon be ready that would determine what would happen to those buildings but where people during the intervening period still continue with development in that area even when we have not got that redesign to integrate Lugbe into the city in place, we would pull them down.

“Yes, we reached an agreement with REDAN that they would monitor their people to make sure that they do not continue along the line of any illegality while on our own part, we understand the fact that the whole essence of development is to promote it in an orderly way, hence if a building is on ground and we don’t know exactly if such a building is going to be acceptable within the framework of the new redesign that is being done, we may not pull it down.  However, we would wait for the frame work to see if it takes care of it and if it doesn’t take care of it, we would remove it.

“If the redesign does takes care of it but requires some amendment here and there, we would ask for such amendment to be carried out  as a way of showing that we are involved in the synergy of ensuring that FCT is worthy of our pride.
“We expect REDAN to tell their members to stay action on further developments until the redesign comes and if out of pressure of facilities developers took from banks and all that, they go back to work on site, it is unfortunate we would have to remove the structures.”

Presently, the FCT authorities appear resolute in its determination to ensure that Abuja remains one the finest cities globally.