New Telegraph

November 29, 2023

Demolition: When anger, tears couldn’t stop bulldozers

Gishiri is one of the indigenous communities, located in the Katampe District of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It is located not far from the popular NICON Junction on the Nnamdi Azikiwe Road but has survived various demolition exercises embarked upon by the FCTA as part of its urban renewal campaigns. The community has over the years, experienced an unusual expansion, due to the influx of people into Abuja. It has no planned development, except for some ancient landmarks that have long ceased to be recognised by the government and the majority of its residents. Uncontrolled development The community is said to have been designated as a major road corridor, linking the Gwarinpa Housing Estate and other parts of the city. Several water and sewer pipelines run through the community but these have been disrupted due to uncontrolled development by both indigenes and non indigenes living in the community. Already, many modern estates have be- gun to spring up around Gishiri, thereby sandwiching the community from all corners. It is home to a number of red light spots which attracts women of easy virtue as well as other fun seekers every night. It was learnt that because of its proximity to the City Centre, many indigenous people took such advantage to build illegal structures and also grant lease to interested people, on plots of land that have been officially allocated or earmarked for specific purpose projects. It was not clear if the indigenous people in the community have been statutorily relocated and compensated, but it was con- firmed that they exceeded the precincts allowed by government for their village’s coexistence with modern and legal development of Abuja. It was further gathered that desperate shelter seekers were ready to pay rent for any manageable apartments there, hence the unprecedented rush at appropriating land for illegal structures in the community.

Demolition exercise Since after the ugly and hard to be for- gotten experience of 2008, when the com- munity was last hit by the bulldozers, the threat of demolition had become like the “old man’s fable” there. In fact before the latest demolition exercise, almost everybody thought that Gishiri had been adopted for integration in government’s urban renewal plans. Therefore when residents sighted three bulldozers rolling into the community, it was like a nightmare for the people. Although, officials of the Development Control Department had marked the il- legal structures many years ago, many residents couldn’t comprehend the reality facing the community until it was too late. The seemingly confused people had no other option than to let loose their long bot- tled tears. Many were seen running helter skelter in order to salvage their properties being crushed to pieces by the bulldozers. Voices of agony Some of the victims who were caught in the demolition web, with teary eyes, said they were trapped in Gishiri because of its proximity to the metropolis. Some of them noted that they were not oblivious of the fact that the village will one day be visited by bulldozers, but were motivated by the philosophy which suggests that no risk, no success.

One of the victims, a middle aged lady who declined to mention her name, said she and many others rented apartments there, in spite of the high cost. She disclosed that the rent for some of the apartments ranges from N400,000 to N650,000, per annum. She stated that she chose to take an apartment tbere because walking from Gishiri to Maitama where she works is a short distance. According to her, rent in this village may be very expensive, but its proximity to town was an advantage and enough consolation. Some of the victims said that because of the urgency of their shelter needs at the time they paid for the apartments, they didn’t consider the fact that Gishiri could be demolished anytime. Mixed reactions While many victims of the demolition counted their losses and were confused as to the next move of their lives, some of the residents in the community said the exercise was long overdue, because many criminals have taken advantage of the ghettos to hibernate to the detriment of national security. According to them, people no longer sleep with their eyes closed because of the increasing crime rate in the place. One of the victims who hails from one of the States in North Central Nigeria, noted that she never slept with her two eyes closed throughout her two year’s stay in Gishiri. “Let me be honest with you, I don’t want to be selfish here; the level of insecurity in Gishiri was too much.

Even though my house has been demolished, I am happy because it always pained me to see inno- cent people attacked and their items stolen from them. Yesterday, a pregnant woman was stabbed and her phone snatched from her. “Those guys operate as a syndicate. They work together with their gangs in Mpape and Mabushi, snatching phones, bags and other valuables from vulnerable residents as early as from 8:30pm. When I am out till 8pm, I don’t bother coming back because it is dangerous. “It was hard to stop them because it was like some of those people with rope round their waist were supporting them, because after attacks, when one reports, they simply say there is nothing they can do”, she narrated. According to her, Gishiri has been a safe haven for armed robbers and all sorts of criminals in the city. FCTA reacts Senior Special Assistant to FCT Min- ister on Monitoring, Inspection and En- forcement Ikharo Attah, said that apart from the illegal structures sitting on water pipelines, the places was mapped out as a road corridor. Attah noted that the most disturbing fact about the community, was the fact that criminal elements have taken over every available spaces to foster their criminal activities. “We came here today to attack the tri- ple illegalities associated with squatter settlements, the criminals’ den inside the cashew plantation in Gishiri, where we recovered cocaine and other hard drugs. “It has been cleared because we had warned the indigenes about giving out places for the erection of makeshift struc- tures. “Today the bulldozer hit the area. All the cashew trees have given way during the removal exercise, so that we can save the city. Those that built into the flood corridor, and the issue of contravening FCT Urban and Regional planning Act as well as the Abuja Environmental Protec- tion Board (AEPB) Act, which stipulates what people are expected to do on land, all of these infractions have been removed,” he said.

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