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Cut off from ancestors, FCT indigenes want compensation for desecrated graves

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OFFICIALLY, it is known as Apo Hill. But for the indigenous community whose forefathers lived in the area before the creation of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) – the Gbagyis of Garki Chiefdom – it is Garki Hill. And, for the natives, amidst other rocky hills that dot the landscape of the FCT, Garki Hill sticks out like a painful sore thumb. And the pain will not go away.

A frown appeared on the Palace Secretary, Lazarus Nyaholo’s face as he glanced in the direction of Garki Hill, looming in the background, during an interview with The ICIR at the palace of the Sa’peyi – the Chief of Garki.

Palace of the Sa’peyi, Chief of the Garki indigenous Chiefdom, FCT

For the people of Garki Chiefdom, one of the major communities of original inhabitants in the FCT, the Garki Hill is not only a cultural and spiritual heritage, but the wide, expansive hill also spotlights the marginalisation and deprivation that had been the lot of the original-inhabitant population of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital territory.

Over the years Garki Hill served as a final resting place for Garki chiefs – according to the natives, 16 Sa’peyis were buried on the hill. Also, in previous times, they took their children up the mountain during some major cultural events. The hill was a pilgrimage site for the natives.


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But things are no longer the same.

Over the years Garki Hill served as a final resting place for Garki chiefs – according to the natives, 16 Sa’peyis were buried on the hill.

 

Separated from the roots

Nyaholo, palace secretary of the Garki Chiefdom, explained how the fortunes of the hill and the Garki indigenous community took a different turn following an action taken by the Nigerian government through the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (MFCTA), the ministry that oversees the FCT.

“Garki Chiefdom has had 17 chiefs out of which 16 were buried on that (Garki) hill. Annually we used to have some cultural events during which we take our young ones up the hill and tell them the history of the community. The hill is our cultural heritage. It is the abode of our ancestors because 16 kings are buried on top of that hill. Even as we speak when a king dies we will do ceremonies and take his body to the top of that hill for burial. But because the part of the hill from where we used to have access to the top of the hill has been allocated to Hot FM (a radio station) to mount its transmission equipment, we no longer have access to the hill. We can no longer climb up there because that area has been blocked by Hot FM,” Nyaholo said.

Lazarus Nyaholo, Palace Secretary, Garki Chiefdom

The indigenous people were not consulted before the allocation was made. That is the case in all land allocations made by the FCT authorities, in line with the law which recognises the territory as ‘no man’s land’.

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“We only noticed that construction work was going on on the hill and when we asked we were told that the government allocated the place to the radio station,” Nyaholo added. The indigenes protested. It was an exercise in futility.

It is bad enough for the natives that the presence of Hot FM has made it impossible to access the hill. The situation is made more unbearable by the activities of the radio station.

“If you listen to Hot FM they will say they are broadcasting from Apo Hill because that hill happened to fall within the FCT demarcation of Apo District. But in actual fact it is not Apo Hill, it is Garki Hill,” the palace scribe said, “Our heritage is being buried.”

“If you listen to Hot FM they will say they are broadcasting from Apo Hill because that hill happened to fall within the FCT demarcation of Apo District. But in actual fact it is not Apo Hill, it is Garki Hill,” the palace scribe said, “Our heritage is being buried.”

It is against the backdrop of the situation with Garki Hill that the FCT original inhabitants are now demanding compensation from the government and individual developers for the ‘desecration and destruction of their heritage.

Shuaibu Espata, District Head of Ake community in Kuje Chiefdom, under the Kuje Area Council of the FCT, in an interview with The ICIR, said the natives are asking for compensation for the desecration and destruction of the graves of their forefathers and other departed family members when they are forced to vacate their ancestral lands to make room for development of the FCT.

“We are relocated from our ancestral lands, leaving the graves of our forefathers and family members behind and they will now be destroyed. The desecration and destruction of our graves is a big issue which deserves huge compensation but they don’t pay any compensation for that. They don’t consider the heritage that is destroyed,” Espata said.

Serah Tukurah, an indigenous advocate, said the government should have taken note of “heritage sites” of original inhabitants in the conception of the FCT. The sites, if properly managed, could have served as tourist sites, attracting revenue for the government.

Serah Tukurah, indigenous advocate
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“The impression that Abuja had no history, and that there were no cultures and civilisation here before the creation of the FCT is wrong and unjust,” Tukura told The ICIR.

“The impression that Abuja had no history, and that there were no cultures and civilisation here before the creation of the FCT is wrong and unjust,” Tukura told The ICIR.

The management of Hot FM did not respond officially to the issues raised by the natives. Senior staff of the media organisation did not speak on the record. But a management staff, who pleaded anonymity, told The ICIR that the “ownership of the land” is not in doubt.

Faulty foundation

The present situation of Garki Hill illustrates the story of forced displacement that had been their lot since their ancestral habitation was designated as Nigeria’s capital in 1976. The FCT was formed from parts of the old Kwara, Niger, and Plateau states. The bulk of the landmass was carved out of the old Niger State.

Nyaholo told The ICIR that the marginalisation of the original inhabitants was a result of the faulty foundation of the FCT project.

The FCT was created upon the promulgation of Decree Number 6 of 1976. The need for a new capital city followed the realisation that Lagos, hitherto Nigeria’s capital, had become congested with little or no space for expansion.

Decree 6 of 1976 gave the Federal Government rights over land within the location chosen as the new capital territory.

Official government records stated that the population density of the territory prior to the takeover was sparse with a population of 120,000 residents living in 840 villages.

Nyaholo claimed that information made available to the Federal Government by a committee that recommended the territory as Nigeria’s new capital was faulty.

Nigeria’s Head of State at the time, Murtala Muhammed, a General, declared the FCT, Abuja, as the country’s capital in a broadcast on February 3, 1976, following the acceptance of the recommendations of a committee set up in August 1975 to review the need for a new federal capital city and the suitability of Abuja for that purpose.

The committee headed by Akinola Aguda, a retired judge, also include Mohammed Isma (Secretary), Ajato Gandonu, a geography professor and town planner, Tai Solarin, an educationist, Owen Feibai, O.K. Ogan and Pedro Martins.

Nyaholo argued that the committee did a shoddy job.

“When the foundation is faulty, even when the building is completed there will be problems. The faulty foundation of the FCT was when during the creation of the FCT, the committee gave the Federal Government the impression that the indigenous people here are sparse and as a result, they can be easily resettled. The reason for this was that during the assignment they did not go down to visit the indigenous communities, they were flying by air. The only places they visited physically are Suleja and Keffi which are not even part of the FCT. But they visited Suleja and Keffi because they were the local government headquarters of this area as of then.

The reason for this was that during the assignment they did not go down to visit the indigenous communities, they were flying by air. The only places they visited physically are Suleja and Keffi which are not even part of the FCT. But they visited Suleja and Keffi because they were the local government headquarters of this area as of then.

“The recommendation by the committee was what the Federal Government used in taking the decision that all the indigenous people in this area would be resettled within their former states.”

Resettlement blues

The entire FCT was 8000 sqm and at the time, it was decided that it is only in the city centre (250 sqm) that people will be resettled.

For other indigenous people within the area designated as the FCT, the option of staying or resettling was given.

As a result, with the FCT being formed from parts of the old Kwara, Niger and Plateau states, indigenes affected by the creation of the new capital were resettled in areas within any of the four states they happened to come from.

Indigenes from the former Plateau State were resettled in areas such as Nyanya, Karu, Jikwoyi, and Mararaba, which are now in present-day Nasarawa State.

The old Kwara State contributed towns such as Abaji and Rubochi to the FCT and the indigenous communities were largely not resettled, as the areas were far away from the FCT city centre.

The old Niger State contributed most of the areas in the FCT city centre and the indigenous populations in Wuse and Asokoro all relocated from their ancestral homes.

Based on the option of staying or relocating given to original inhabitants that were not in the city centre at the time, Maitama natives initially chose to remain in the FCT. However, when development caught up with them they were resettled in the Maitamayi and Kukwaba areas of Kubwa, a satellite town in the FCT.

Garki Hill / Apo Hill.
Photo: Ihuoma Chiedozie, ICIR

Nyaholo observed that the Kukwaba people, who are now in Kubwa, had their ancestral home at the current location of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja. The Kubwa Maitamayi natives had their ancestral home at the present location of the Transcorp Hilton.

However, the Garki natives stayed put in their ancestral homes located within the FCT city centre and have since resisted a series of attempts by the government to resettle them.

Nyaholo said the Garki natives refused to relocate because of the injustice and unfair practices that characterised the resettlement of other indigenous communities.

He said, “For Garki and other communities that are still within the city centre, there is resistance to attempts by the government to resettle. The question is if you remove the indigenous people from this area, and you are not building schools or hospitals or industries here, you are removing them to bring in other Nigerians – what is the justification for that?”

The question is if you remove the indigenous people from this area, and you are not building schools or hospitals or industries here, you are removing them to bring in other Nigerians – what is the justification for that?”

An indigenous community resettlement area in the FCT

For purposes of urban planning, some members of the Garki indigenous community whose houses are affected by infrastructural projects – such as road expansion and other government projects – are relocated to places like Apo Resettlement – a habitation set up for FCT original inhabitants within the city centre.

“The initial idea was that the indigenous people will be resettled but because of the experience from other resettlement done in the past, which were never tidy, the indigenous people have rejected that option, unless when it is very necessary,” Nyaholo added.

For the purpose of construction of the Jabi Dam, the indigenes living at the location were resettled in Bwari, an area council on the outskirts of the FCT.

Nyaholo was critical of the resettlement arrangement.

“The first thing the government constructed for the indigenes who were resettled were zinc houses known as batchers. But wind destroyed the zinc houses so they had to build block houses for them but, if you look at the structures, if you are six feet tall, you cannot lie down and stretch your legs properly. That was the type of houses that were built for them.”

It was the same story for the Maitama natives that were relocated to Kubwa.

“It was the same type of houses that were built for them and they don’t even have spaces for expansion. At that time two bedroom houses were built for families. That was more than 40 years ago. Those families have increased in size since then but they have no space for expansion. There was no consideration for future expansion of these indigenous families,” Nyaholo observed.

The indigenous community resettlement at Kubwa, FCT

Beyond accommodation challenges inherent in the resettlement process, the arrangement also created conflict among different communities of indigenous people.

Most often, resettled natives are relocated to live in areas where there are existing indigenous communities.

Lazarus blamed the government for cases of communal crises that resulted from the arrangement.

“For the Maitama people that were relocated to Kubwa, there was an already existing indigenous community there known as Kubwa which has its own inhabitants. So the Maitama people that were relocated became strangers in that community and that now led to conflict among the communities. The Kubwa people were already farming on the available farmlands. When the Maitama people came they couldn’t see any land to farm. It became a source for conflict.”

Palace of the Chief of the indigenous community in the Maitama settlement area of Kubwa, FCT

Espata, District Head of Ake community in Kuje Chiefdom, lamented the inherent injustice in the resettlement process in an interview with The ICIR.

The septuagenarian noted that the indigenes are shortchanged in the resettlement process. The process usually involves the enumeration of individuals in various households that are to be resettled. The number of persons in the various households is used to determine the size of plots and other amenities to be allocated to them in the resettlement area.

“Government officials go from house to house to count people. What we have experienced in the past is there is no justice in the resettlement process. For example, during the enumeration, you will see households that have 20 persons but they will count and say there are only 16 persons. What happens to the remaining persons?”

In line with plans to develop the Gude district, a new layout in the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) of the FCT, the government is planning to relocate indigenes in the earmarked area to the Kuje Chiefdom. This is to enable the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) develop the new district.

Espata added, “They want to bring people from AMAC to our place. We welcome them but what we are saying is the movement should be justified. Because in the past there was no justification and our people were cheated because they misrepresented the number of economic trees and number of children above 18 years in our households. It is based on the number of persons in households that plots are allocated among the indigenes. If less than the available number of children above 18 are reported, what happens to those not captured? Where will the head of the household get land for them?”

The district head added that the natives are demanding a review of the amount paid as compensation for economic trees in their farmlands which are taken over by the government.

No more farmlands for indigenes

Espata was particularly unhappy with the impact of the resettlement process on the livelihood of the indigenous population – who are largely peasant farmers.

Shuaibu Espata, District Head, Ake indigenous community, Kuje Chiefdom

The old man spoke angrily when he told The ICIR that indigenes in the Kuje Chiefdom no longer have lands to farm. Their farmlands have been allocated out and are now the property of ‘strangers’.

“We no longer have any place to farm in Kuje Chiefdom. Somebody will come from Lagos, or any other part of the country, even from abroad, and tell us ‘this is my land’ because the government has given him allocation. And there is nothing we can do.”

Some civil society organisations have urged the government to carve out farm settlements for the natives. Espata said the indigenes need farmlands in order to survive.

“We want the government to take another look at the areas that were allocated, like my area Kuje, Gwagwalada, and others, we want the government to earmark places for us to farm. There is no land for farming in Kuje now. But the government will be allocating 50 hectares, 100 hectares to individuals to erect buildings.”

The plots of land allocated for the construction of buildings were hitherto farmlands cultivated by several indigenous households. It was their sole means of livelihood.

Resistance

In some instances, natives who are being dislodged from their ancestral homes by developers who have obtained government allocation for land tried to put up resistance. But they ultimately lose out on the superior resources available to the developers. The police are usually deployed to drive away the uncooperative natives.

To avoid losing out totally, some residents resort to negotiating compensation with the developers. Economic crops on the farmlands the natives are giving up are usually leveraged for the negotiations. But in the end, the natives only receive a mere pittance – sums such as N100,000, N200,000, or N300,000 – as compensation before the allottees take control of the allocated plots.

Stripped of their ancestral lands, the indigenes, in the quest for lands to cultivate and raise their families, are forced to move further inside the bush, to areas that are not yet developed. But, as is usually the case, it is just a matter of time before development catches up with them in the new location – the place will also be allocated to different individuals and the indigenes will be forced to move again.

it is just a matter of time before development catches up with them in the new location – the place will also be allocated to different individuals and the indigenes will be forced to move again.

“I don’t know how long our people will continue moving. Maybe until we are pushed to the wall, then we will retaliate,” Espata wondered.

Some youth groups among the FCT indigenous communities had threatened to embark on militancy to protest against the marginalisation of the original inhabitants. A representative of the FCT indigenous youths, who pleaded anonymity, told The ICIR that the Federal Government only listened to the cries of the people of the Niger Delta – Nigeria’s oil producing region – after their youths embarked on militancy. The Niger Delta militants targeted Federal Government oil infrastructure, including pipelines which were routinely blown up, disrupting the country’s oil production capacity.

The FCT youths are considering launching attacks on Federal Government assets in Abuja, including office buildings and other public infrastructure. “That is an option we are looking at,” the youth representative said.

But Espata informed The ICIR that the elders have advised the youths to refrain from taking up arms.

“We don’t want them to go into militancy, we want to do things legally, constitutionally. That is what we are telling our youths.”

On August 17, 2022, FCDA bulldozers rolled into Durumi 3, an indigenous community around the FCT city centre. The Durumi natives have resisted moves by the FCTA to relocate them. The bulldozers demolished a local market operated by the natives. Some houses and a church belonging to natives were also brought down.

Demolition at Durumi 3, an indigenous community in the FCT, on August 17, 2022

The demolished structures were tagged ‘illegal structures’ by the government.

Elisha Yakubu, Deputy Youth Leader of the Original Inhabitants Development Association (OIDA), an umbrella body of FCT indigenous people, questioned the rationale behind the ‘illegal’ tag.

Elisha Yakubu, FCT Original Inhabitants Development Association (OIDA) youth leader

“What is illegal? Is my house as an indigene an illegal structure? Am I an illegal person in my land?”

Yakubu stressed that before the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, and the creation of the FCT in 1976, the Durumi community was already in existence at its present location.

“So the people calling our houses illegal structures, don’t they have houses in the states where they came from?” he asked rhetorically, noting that members of the community would not agree to leave their ancestral homes for other Nigerians.

“Some people have been coming to meet us that the government allocated them plots on our lands. How can you allocate my ancestral land to someone that is just like me to build his own house? What is the justification for that?”

Conspiracy of Nigeria against Nigerians

The FCT is bigger than many states in the country but due to its ‘no man’s land’ nature, the territory is administered by a ministry – the FCTA – and as such, is treated like a parastatal of the Federal Government. Unlike the 36 states governed by elected governors, a minister presides over the FCT. The natives do not have the luxury of electing their governor. Also, unlike the states which have three senators, the FCT has just one senator. The territory is also not represented in the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

It was largely to address these imbalances that the natives, with the support of some civil society organisations, pushed for the creation of an Office of the Mayor of the FCT, and the nomination of a minister from the FCT to the Federal Executive Council, in the Constitution Review process. The intention was that the Mayor and the minister would be selected from among FCT original inhabitants.

The intention was that the Mayor and the minister would be selected from among FCT original inhabitants.

The National Assembly voted against the proposals.

“I call it conspiracy of Nigeria against Nigerians. There is a judgment of the Supreme Court that said we shall be given a ministerial slot but it has not been enforced,” Nyaholo said.

Clement Wassa, a journalist and community leader, told The ICIR that the situation of the FCT original inhabitants demands empathy from other Nigerians.

Clement Wassa, community leader

“Our status as indigenes is not even recognized by law because official documents say this place is a no man’s land,” Wassa said. “Unfortunately most Nigerians are not empathetic, they can’t place themselves in the shoes of the other person.”

Wassa said the situation has affected the economic wellbeing and self-worth of the indigenous people.

Compensation is done in line with international best practices – FCDA

The Department of Resettlement and Compensation of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) handles issues relating to resettlement and compensation in the FCT. The FCDA, under the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (MFCTA) was created by Decree No. 6 of 1976, with responsibilities of planning, development and administration of the Federal Capital City and the Federal Capital Territory as a whole.

The ICIR contacted the Department of Resettlement and Compensation over the FCT natives’ demand for compensation for ‘desecration of graves’.

Public Relations Officer of the department, Felicia Okoro, told The ICIR that compensation in the FCT is done in line with international best practices.

“When it comes to compensation in the FCT we don’t do anything outside the laid down rules and guidelines. It may interest you to know that government does not come to any community unless they are fully compensated and resettled before any work is carried out in that community. Even if a project is in overriding public interest, unless the community is moved and resettled, we cannot start the project. Compensation in the FCT is done according to international best practice.”

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