IN 2006, a factory worker James Sunday decided to erect a building in Kado village, a suburban area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
He spotted an empty piece of land and, along with his brother, approached the chief of Kado Community in Life Camp Danlami Audu to discuss his intentions to build on it.
According to Sunday, Audu permitted him to develop the land without directly asking for any form of payment, and by the end of the year, Sunday had completed his building.
“He didn’t tell us to pay a particular amount, we just willingly gave him a token of about N10,000 to buy kola nut with,” he said.
Sunday lived in the house with his family till one evening in December 2018, when he returned from work to meet red markings on the walls of his building.
He reported this to the chief’s brother, whom he identified as Bikko, and was reassured that there was nothing to be worried about.
One Saturday morning in January 2019, while Sunday was at work, he got a call from home that his house was about to be pulled down.
He rushed home to see his building being destroyed by bulldozers and noticed some uniformed police officers in the area.
Attempts to dissuade the workers from causing further damage yielded no results as his pleas fell on deaf ears.
Recalling the incident, his wife Gloria Sunday said they were left at the mercy of scavengers present at the scene.
“Everything was outside. They stole many things except this bed and this chair because they were too heavy,” she said.
Sunday lost most of his belongings along with his house and has been forced to move into an incomplete building where he now lives with his wife and two children.
It’s a similar story for Joseph, a local barber who lived in the same community as Sunday. He acquired a piece of land in 2011 and built a house where he lived with his family for eight years.
“Normally in this village, if you want to have space, you go to the chief or his brother and let them know. They tell you the amount to bring, and then you negotiate with them, and they give it to you.
“The man who sold this land to me, I gave him N15,000 for the space. Later on, Chief came and said he didn’t want any building there, so I sent the same person to him with N10,000,” he said.
He erected a building on the said piece of land and lived there with his family for over eight years.
Joseph had returned from his brother’s burial ceremony in 2018 when he also noticed red markings on the walls of his building.
“I don’t know if it was FCDA that marked my building. I came back and discussed with my neighbours about it,” he said.
Joseph learnt from his neighbours that they were required to vacate the land as a new owner had acquired it. According to him, that was the only notice given before bulldozers showed up at their residence and demolished their houses.
“They didn’t tell us they were coming on any particular day. We only knew that there was a mark on the building already,” he said.
Like Sunday, Joseph lost valuable properties to the demolition as he had very little time to salvage his belongings from the rubble.
The experience of the two men is shared by many other residents of the city who have been stranded after losing their homes and belongings to demolition due to the illegal acquisition of land.
Demolition is a common occurrence within the FCT. Government agencies frequently remove structures considered illegal as some buyers fail to purchase land through relevant authorities before putting up structures within the city.
Chairman, Task Force on City Sanitation, FCT Ikharo Attah, in an interview with The ICIR said thousands of illegal buildings had been demolished within the city and that many more were billed to be removed, especially in areas such as Mpape, Dutse-Alhaji, Ushafa, among others.
Who owns the right to land in Abuja?
The Land Use Act of 1978 provides that all land within the state’s territory is vested in the governor and shall be administered for the use and benefit of the citizens within the state.
The Act generally vests all urban land within a state in the governor and non-urban land in the local government where they are found.
The absence of a governor in the FCT places all land within the city under the control of the Minister for the FCT.
In an interview with The ICIR, Human Rights Lawyer Maxwell Opara said every land in Nigeria’s capital qualified as urban land and therefore could not be controlled by chiefs or local authorities.
“In the FCT, there is no rural land. All the land here is being targeted as urban land. Since there is no rural land here, it means that all the land in the FCT belongs to the office of the Minister for FCT,” he said.
Opara noted that the FCT Minister solely reserved the right to allocate land within the city and said purchasing land from chiefs or other local authorities leaves buyers at the mercy of the Minister.
“Anytime they are going to demolish it, they do not even require anything from you. They will just go ahead and demolish it and nothing will happen. That is why everybody is advised to avoid buying land from chiefs,” he said.
However, many residents within the FCT remain ignorant of the approved means of acquiring property in Abuja and continue to purchase land through local authorities.
In Kado village, as with many other areas in the city, land is often illegally acquired through community heads.
Sunday and Joseph told The ICIR that the only approval they sought before building houses in Kado was that of the Community Chief Audu, whom they believed had authority over land within the area.
Audu, however, denied allegations levelled against him over the illegal sale of land within the community.
In a phone interview with The ICIR, Audu denied any involvement with Sunday or Joseph and added that he had never given permission or taken money from any resident in exchange for land.
“For me to go and say build land here? I will never. When somebody comes to me to tell me that he needs land, I tell the person that all the lands that are remaining are people’s property. I don’t have land to give anybody,” he said.
In the FCT, the Abuja Geographic Information Systems (AGIS) was set up in 2003 by the Nigerian government to control all matters relating to land acquisition and registration in the city.
The AGIS is responsible for preparing and issuing Certificates of Occupancy and other instruments showing title in addition to land allocation.
Chairman, Task Force on City Sanitation Attah, warned residents to avoid purchasing land from local chiefs, adding that the channel responsible for land allocation in the city is the AGIS.
“The Land Department in AGIS is there. Just walk up to the reception, they will tell you how to acquire land. We have said it over and over again, don’t buy land from local chiefs,” he said.
He also described buildings erected on illegally acquired land as an aberration and a distortion of the FCT master plan and urged residents to report chiefs who indulge in illegal sales of land to the police.
Many Abuja residents still occupy buildings erected on illegally acquired land and are at risk of losing their businesses or homes to demolition.