Maitama District seizure: Ex-presidents, 400 others to forfeit plots to Army
…Senate President, House Speaker’s residence, other principal officers’ residences affected
…mosques, churches stalled
…FCDA confused, plot owners with occupancy certificates unsure of their fate
An ugly development that may torpedo the relationship between the Nigerian Army and the Federal Capital Development Administration, FCDA, is building up and may soon crystallise into either a show of force or prolonged legal tussle.
Whichever way that spar goes, it is certain that the seeming cordial relationship between the duo will undoubtedly face a turbulent test, leaving both parties in bad shape and their romance in a sour taste.
The spat is curiously being masterminded by the Nigerian Army, which on Saturday, September 3, 2016, without any provocation, sealed off the road leading to the 230 hectares of land known as the Maitama Extension District and drove out the workers of the company, Kakatar CE Limited, providing engineering infrastructure for the district. The army says the land belongs to it. It did not however show any document to buttress its claim of ownership but has effectively deployed its officers and men to ward off any of the workers from the site. By that aggression, the company’s vital working facilities like asphalt-producing plants, rock crushers, state-of-the-art fabrication worshop, heavy duty earth moving equipment like dozers and excavators, trucks, etc have been trapped: they can neither be maintained nor repaired while those needed to be moved out for external jobs in other locations like Karshi and Kyami, where the company is also working for the FCDA, have also been barred from leaving the premises by armed soldiers.
It is not as if the new Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Mohammed Bello, has stoked any fire since his appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari last year, but it is the military high command that is taking the avoidable fight to his doorsteps, claiming that its vast land in the area has been encroached on by the firm being run by a civil rights lawyer, Azibaola Robert, a sibling of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In fact, the rumour mill has been awash with stories that the entire Maitama Extension, a new district stretching over 230 hectares of land with over 400 plots already allocated to Nigerians and duly captured in the Abuja Master plan, is owned by former President Jonathan and is merely being managed by Kakatar CE, also suspected to be one of his ‘disguised firms’.
To worsen matters for the company and the FCDA, the massive parcel of land overlooking the Katampe, Mpape, Guzape hills, shares direct borders with the Lungi Barracks of the Nigerian Army, making it possible for soldiers to always provide security for the Kakatar premises. Since inception of its construction activities there in 2011, as a rule, no visitor had access to the vast Kakatar premises, which hosts its construction facilities, without being cleared by armed soldiers, who man the gates. And Kakatar paid stipends to the army for the services. The relationship between the company and the army had been very cordial until that fateful morning when soldiers claiming to ‘be acting on instruction from above’, changed their attitude and decided to act as an ‘enemy’ to the company and its workers.
“We are on order from the Chief of Army Staff to take over this place and not to allow anyone in or out of the premises,” a junior soldier, mounting sentry at the first gate, warned a journalist, who attempted to penetrate the compound.
“It was one of our generals, who led the team of soldiers to take over this place last night but we do not know the reason for our being here,” the soldier, said but refused to give his name.
But the Nigerian Army appears to have been either misinformed by unverified but lingering suspicion that Jonathan and his family own the vast and alluring Maitama Extension District, or is merely driven by pecuniary factors to use brute tactics to forcefully seize the land from the allottees. The point remains that as at the time of the invasion, there has been no claim by Kakartar that the said land belongs to it. Findings also show that even when a former FCT minister renamed the district after president Jonathan, he swiftly rejected the ‘Jonathan District’ appellation and ordered the said minister to revert to the popularly known ‘Maitama Extension’. A close scrutiny of the list of the owners of the allotted plots shows that former President Jonathan is not among the owners of plots there though the FCDA generously gave parcels of land to some powerful leaders, other heads of state, serving and former top military officials, serving and previous top party leaders and some powerful and influential traditional and religious leaders in the country. In short, the Maitama extension was carefully planned as a highbrow residency for the mighty and powerful in the doorsteps of the military barracks for an added security. Perhaps, that explains why it was tucked on the fringes of the Lungi Barracks, near the powerful Brigades of Guards of the Nigerian Army between Asokoro and Maitama districts.
And, as an unwritten but operational rule, in every district where FCDA awards contract for the development of infrastructure, it is customary for the contractor to be provided with a temporary space for building of its site offices. The FCDA also maintains an oversight fuction offices in the yard to provide supervision for the contractor in the execution of the contract. It is perhaps, for that reason, that Kakatar was provided with an area to use as its temporary site yard to execute the contract awarded to it by then Minister of FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed in 2011. The district was actually designated as such by Senator Adamu Aliero, the Minister of the FCT under Yard Adua government in 2008 alongside Katampe and Katampe Extension. Virtually all the plots were alloted by that regime to the various allottees. It was eventually awarded to Kakatar for the development of the frastrucures and made history as the first Abuja district’s infrastructural development project in the history of the FCT to be awarded to a wholly Nigerian construction and engineering firm and the company never shied away from its responsibility.
Under the project, KCE is to construct a total of 23 kilometres of road of various types, four major bridges to link the various communities and into the Kubwa expressway, a clover-leaf interchange linking the district with the expressway, provide 26.4 kilometres length of storm water line of various sizes, 31.8 kilometres length of four sewer line of various sizes; 38.7 kilometres length of water supply lines with relevant accessories and a booster pump station and 1000m3 of clean water reservoir.
In addition, the company is expected to construct a network of electricity distribution and telecommunication ducts with a 33 KV/11KV injection substation and 11/0.415KV transformer as well as underground cables for distribution and plot connections.
Apparently to prove that it is capable of doing what a foreign firm can do, the company has gone far in the provision of relevant infrastructure under the terms of the contract. This is clearly evident in the FCDA budget which has earmarked N2.5 billion for the settlement of outstanding liabilities to Kakatar and the continuation of work on the Maitama Extension project in its 2016 project approved by President Buhari just last week. Interestingly, all the workers of KCE are Nigerians and they have taken steps to deliver quality job worthy of celebration. Infact, at completion, the Maitama Extension District is expected to be an improved version of the present day Maitama District, Abuja.
But like a thunder from the blues, the Nigerian Army dealt a deadly blow to the smooth working operations of the company and does not appear to be in a hurry to lift its siege on the land. A few days after seizing the premises, the Nigerian Army came out boldly to justify its action, saying that the land was its own and that it took it back to prevent further encroachment.
Te Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman said: “The said property is on Nigerian Army land and the army will not allow anybody to encroach on its land. Consequently, the property has to be sealed to prevent further encroachment,” Usman warned.
But the takeover of the company’s premises and the denial of access to its workers, has thrown up many questions than answers because of the over 400 plots of land already allocated to top Nigerians in the same premises. Although top management staff of the company went to the Army Headquarters last Monday to find out why the army descended on its site office, they were not given any concrete answer by the army.
The NA did not also say what has become of the fate of the top Nigerians who own the plots and whether they had also seized the plots as part of its property along with the property of Kakatar which is believed to run into billions of Naira. There has been no other communication with the company ever since.
However, the implications appears to be that with the army takeover of the Maitama Extension land and its unwillingness to allow the construction company’s workers access to the land, the owners of the over 400 plots have also forfeited them to the army, leaving the FCDA, which issued them the plots with certificates of occupancy, with more trouble than comfort at a time of national economic crisis that is biting everyone harder.
The development is likely to leave the FCDA in a tight corner because while it may not be able to physically shrug it out with the army, it would nonetheless be battered by the lawful owners of the ‘seized’ plots on the Maitama Extension. In fact, given the status of the plot owners, who include some powerful former Nigerian leaders, top politicians, influential religious, traditional and business leaders, it is to be expected that both legal and brutal forces would be applied on the FCDA by those likely to be deprived of their prized plots by the army. It was learnt that the plot owners themselves were already boiling for legal action against the Nigerian Army and the FCDA over the forceful takeover of their property duly paid for. This may become an unprecedented legal challenge that neither the military nor the FCDA can contain with given the huge amount that the plot owners could claim as compensation from the two likely respondents.
Already, the FCDA appears to be handicapped and tongue-tied since the face-off between the military and Kakatar broke out last week. The beleagued allottees being denied access are expecting the minister or his representatives to speak on the status of their plots but they have not been forthcoming apparently because they are as puzzled as the company by the action of the military.
The army’s action has created tension among plot owners, who fear that they may also be denied access to their plots under construction. The fear is heightened by the clear warning by the military that nobody would be allowed access to the land in question and soldiers have also effectively barred anyone from accessing their plots since the day the order was made on September 3.
The seizure of the land by the army also raises fear that the construction of the official residences of the Senate President, his deputy, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and other principal officers of the National Assembly, which was at various stages of completion, has also come to an abrupt end.
In fact, the residences of the senior government officials are at the level of being completed while the provision of infrastructure by the company has also reached an advanced stage. But many privately-owned property are already completed and ready for occupation waiting for Kakatar to complete its contract and handover. The major bridge linking all the facilities and segments in the district, has been completed along with many roads, water, sewage ducts etc.
In a bid to ensure that everything goes as planned in the district, Senator Dino Maleye, who is the FCT Senate Committee Chairman and his House Committee counterpart regularly carry out oversight duties on the site and particularly on the official residences of the National Assembly principal officers under construction there. Both men have not raised any concern with the ongoing work at the site seized by the army and may spit fire over the puzzling development once they resume from vacation.
But faced with the sudden threat and the disruption of its operations, Kakatar has expressed surprise over the action of the Nigerian Army, saying that it had not breached any known law to warrant the action of the soldiers.
The Spokesman for the company, Mr. Austin Ekeinde, said in a statement released in Abuja that the action of the Nigerian Army is causing its company huge losses and untold hardship for hundreds of families whose workers in Kakatar are now being forced to stay at home.
“It is instructive to note that at no time did the company suggest or claim that the land upon which it was using as a site to coordinate the project belongs to Kakatar. Never!
“All that we have been doing is to speedily complete the contract in accordance with the terms and pull out our equipment so that the plot owners can move into their property and live happily.
“We have been very very good neighbor with the army and certainly our presence has been beneficial to them. No notice of any security breach or infraction has ever been sent to us by the Army.
“No enquiry as to our presence or intention to recover any land was ever sent to us before locking us out.
“We believe there is a failure of intelligence here. A fact check would easily have revealed that the land in question belongs to over 400 allottees and that it is the place to host the official residences of the Senate and deputy senate President and that allottees have already developed their plots to advanced stage,” Ekeinde said.
Apparently angered by the development, fiery human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has slammed the Nigerian army for its brutal action, describing the forceful takeover of the company’s premises as dictatorial and unwarranted in a decent democratic setting.