By Kevwe Ebireri, Abuja
Thursday June 19, 2014 seemed like a normal day for Ezekiel Bitrus, a slender, dark skinned man in his mid-thirties who had lived in Alungu-Lungu, a remote village in Gwarinpa Estate, Abuja, for the past six years with his family.
With his household, he had breakfast and then left for town in search of his daily bread.
However, at about 10 am his normal routine was cut short as he got calls from his wife and neighbours that demolition agents from the Development Control department of the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, were demolishing houses in his area.
On March 4, officials from the FCDA had visited the village and marked several houses for demolition, claiming that the land had been bought and now belonged to a new owner.
They returned the following day to effect demolition of the marked houses, shops and shanties but were resisted by the residents of the area who subsequently filed a case at the Federal Capital City, FCT, High court in Kubwa.
The residents who spoke to our reporter said that the court issued an order compelling both parties to maintain the status quo until the determination of the suit, and so they were taken by surprise when the bulldozers arrived and started demolishing structures on Thursday.
When Bitrus returned home at about 11am, the bulldozers where already close to his house and together with his wife, he was able to salvage a few of his possessions before everything else came crashing down.
He is however mostly pained that he could be treated so shabbily in his own country without a thought to how he and his family as well as those of many other would survive.
“My worry here is this thing that was done to us cannot be done to foreigners. We are citizens of this country just as Mr. President and we don’t see any reason why we cannot enjoy our country. I don’t know where to start because I am drawn back to 10 years ago,” he said sorrowfully.
In all about 150 houses were demolished and over 500 persons rendered homeless; the demolition drew wide protests and caused a traffic gridlock on Thursday that lasted over four hours and left many commuters stranded.
Ikechwukwu Anih, who pastors what was described as the biggest Deeper Life Bible Church in the area, is another victim who recounted the bitter experience of Thursday.
Anih said the church was the first point of call for the demolition agents who did not give them the privilege of carrying out their belongings before destroying the church.
Apart from the church, Anih also lost his house and was only able to rescue a few personal belongings before the rest were destroyed.
Two members of staff at the Kelina Hospital, Gwarinpa, not too far from the village, who would not like to be named, were also affected by the demolition exercise but were luckily assisted by their employer who assisted them relocate to the hospital where they are temporarily residing.
One of them who welcomed our reporter to her new room said although the houses were marked to be brought down about two months ago, the chief of the village, Zanya Easy Zakka, had assured them that the matter was being sorted out and that there was no cause for alarm.
In an interview with Zakka, he confirmed that indeed the matter was before the court and that he was shocked to see the demolition team on Thursday pulling down structures against the court order issued.
The chief debunked stories that the land which had been cleared by an estate developer was encroached upon, adding that the development control department did not hold any discussion with them over the legality of the land before showing up on March 4, for marking of buildings.
He said that the Gbagyi people were peace lovers but could become violent if pushed to the wall and urged the federal government to ensure that people are not pushed to a state of hopelessness where they become willing tools for evildoers.
Zakka also confirmed a widely reported account that a baby was killed during the demolition exercise and that its mother committed suicide afterwards.
But the public relations officer of the development control department, Kalu Emetu, said that the report was not true but was made-up to attract public attention.
Emetu said that the case with Lungu village had been in court for some months and that judgment was recently delivered in favour of the department.
“Squatter settlers encroached on Plot 64, Kafe District, in Lungu Village, which was meant for an estate. Development Control marked the area for demolition since March 2014 and the villagers went to court; the court finally struck out the case.
Fifty four illegal structures, 17 shanties, 5 shops and one church were removed and I am not aware of any death,” he said.
The reported death could not be independently confirmed either as none of the residents available could identify who the baby’s mother was or where she lived but kept pointing in different directions.
A resident who gave her name as Peace said she only heard the rumour and later saw an ambulance with Kelina Hospital inscribed on the sides drive into the area.
When our reporter called at the hospital, she was told by the receptionist on duty that from the records no ambulance left the hospital on Thursday and that there was no record of a patient that was stabbed.
The deputy director, legal and special assistant to the executive director of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Harry Ogwuche Obe, who visited the scene to ascertain the legality of the operation, said the aim of the visit was to find out the human rights issues that emanated from the demolition.
“We have to go and interview the other side to find out what actually happened. We are interested in due process. We are not saying that there should be no demolition, but there are processes that must be followed before this should happen. What we want to ascertain is whether those steps were actually followed,” Obe said.
It was gathered that the land had been bought by a private estate developing company, HolyField, after beating two other real estate developers – SunShine and Deltahan – in the struggle for the purchase.