By Damian Ugwu
Last Monday, the new Minister for the Federal Capital Territory Nyesom Wike, threatened to demolish any building that contravenes the Abuja master plan.
Addressing the media shortly after his inauguration as substantive minister by the president, Wike sent shock waves down the spine of many residents of Abuja by declaring that he would step on toes to ensure that he restores the master plan of Abuja. “If you know you have built where you are not supposed to, it will go down. Be it a minister of anywhere, be it an ambassador… if you know you have developed where you are not supposed to, your house will go down,” he declared. A few days later, it was revealed that the proposed mass demolitions would impact approximately 6,000 buildings in 30 areas of the FCT.
The FCT Minister’s threat of forced eviction must be addressed immediately. Steps must be taken to prevent any potential harm or injustice caused by such actions. The gravity of this situation cannot be overstated, and all parties involved must take responsibility and work towards a satisfactory resolution.
In my opinion, the proposed action is rushed and unwise, particularly considering the current economic challenges Nigerians face. It would endanger many people in the FCT and should be carefully reconsidered.
More concerning is the minister’s intention to remove people from their homes without following procedural safeguards and offering them alternative accommodation. This would amount to forced eviction, which violates international human rights law.
While I admit that the federal government and the FCT authorities have the right to ensure that buildings and businesses are constructed within the stipulated guidelines, they must do so in a way that respects the human rights of those affected. This includes providing adequate notice of any proposed eviction, conducting an impact assessment study, and providing alternative accommodation to those impacted.
About 2 million Nigerians have been forcibly evicted from their land or residence across Nigeria in the last ten years. Many of these evictions were carried out in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. The authorities often carry out these forced evictions disregarding their obligations under international and domestic laws, and directly violating court orders. In some cases, these evictions are often carried out with brutal force, often resulting in injury, death, massive destruction of property, homelessness, miscarriage, trauma, loss of livelihoods, separation of families, and children deprived of access to education.
Between 2003 and 2008, over 800,000 people were forcibly evicted from the FCT by the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA). The evictions were ostensibly carried out to implement the Abuja Master Plan, the infrastructural developmental blueprint for the Federal Capital, Abuja. However, since the creation of the FCT in 1979, the Government of Nigeria, through the FCDA, has failed to provide the requisite housing and infrastructure for the new capital. The provided accommodation was, in many cases, too expensive for many residents and workers who had migrated to Abuja, mainly from the former capital, Lagos. Resettlement schemes for communities losing their lands to the FCT were also inadequate. These failures led to the growth of numerous informal settlements, distorting the intentions of the Abuja Master Plan.
According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Malam El-Rufai, as the FCT minister, displaced about 700,000 people and destroyed an estimated 200,000 properties between 2003 and 2007. The commission found that the demolitions were carried out without adequate notice, providing alternative accommodation, and without compensation for displaced people. The body also said that the ruins were often carried out in a violent and discriminatory manner.
Against this background, I find the recent threat by Nyesom Wike to be rash and insensitive. When the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, Leilani Farha, visited Nigeria in 2019, she stated that forced evictions should only be carried out in the most exceptional circumstances and only when all other options have been exhausted. She also said that when forced evictions are unavoidable, they must be carried out to minimise the negative impact on those affected.
The minister should immediately halt his plans for mass evictions and establish a moratorium on demolitions until adequate regulations are in place to ensure that evictions comply with international human rights standards. The minister and the FCT authorities should also carry out wide consultations with all affected people before any eviction is carried out. Conducting an Eviction Impact Assessment Study on all areas and houses proposed for demolition is also necessary. Any person affected by a proposed eviction should be served adequate written notice within a reasonable time and adequately compensated when evicted.