Abuja land probe: Matters arising

By Casmir Igbokwe

 

Published: Sunday, 20 Apr 2008

My encounter with the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in July 2005 was by accident. The KLM flight I took from Amsterdam was billed to land at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. But a big cargo plane had crash-landed and blocked the only functional runway in Lagos then. After hovering in the air for over 30 minutes, we found ourselves at the Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana. And since the airport authorities in Lagos could not remove the cargo plane that day, we were forced to land in Abuja from Accra. Moving through the streets of Abuja was a delight to me. The city was glittering like the European city I was just returning from. It was a total opposite of the bedlam called Lagos.

I later got to understand that the magic hand that transformed Abuja was Mallam Nasir el-Rufai. When he assumed office as the FCT Minister, he vowed to restore the Abuja master-plan. To achieve his aim, he had to revoke the allocation of some plots of land. He also demolished structures, most of which were allegedly built on sewers and water lines.

This, no doubt, was and remains an unpopular decision. For one, the demolition affected many prominent Nigerians. Some of them are former Heads of State, Yakubu Gowon and Abdulsalami Abubakar; former President Shehu Shagari; former Vice- President, Alex Ekwueme, and former Anambra State Governor, Chukwuemeka Ezeife. Some not-so-prominent Nigerians were also affected.

Some of these individuals had lamented the treatment meted out to them. Some, according to the FCT Minister, Aliu Modibbo Umar, had been putting pressure on him to return their revoked plots. Some took legal action and, as at the last count, over 800 cases are said to be in court over land allocations.

Apparently to douse tension and right some perceived wrongs, the Senate Committee on the FCT decided to undertake a public hearing on the sale of federal houses, allocation and revocation of plots of land in Abuja. The committee said the probe was not targeted at any individual. But, from what transpired at the hearing last week, el-Rufai seemed to be the main target.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo‘s government reportedly allocated 37,938 plots in Abuja to individuals and organisations between 1999 and 2007. Some of the allocations were contentious. Some were revoked. Aggrieved parties were aghast. They poured out their venom. Some called for the head of el-Rufai. Even some columnists and public commentators joined the fray. They labelled Obasanjo a monster, a demented despot and so on. El-Rufai got the worst tongue-lashing. The whole thing, to say the least, became a sentimental exercise in ad hominem and name-calling.

This is understandable. While not holding brief for anybody, it is pertinent to note that land anywhere is a contentious resource. A man could kill his brother because of it. Instances abound where aggrieved sons have either beaten up or killed their fathers for not giving them the lion‘s share of their landed property. Indeed, any investment in land is an investment well made. And if that investment is in a place like Abuja, the investor may never experience poverty again.

Besides, some may have spent their lifetime savings to acquire the property in Abuja. Visionary civil servants in particular usually go into real estate when they make some money. That serves as a buffer against penury. And during retirement, they will continue to live comfortably from the proceeds of their investment, pension or no pension.

This is why it is painful that some of them had to lose their property in controversial circumstances. Obviously, mistakes might have been made in the allocation, revocation and reallocation of the choice property in Abuja. Some allegations have it that some civil servants working under el-Rufai sold some of these plots illegally to unwary buyers. Some alleged that the former FCT Minister revoked the lands and reallocated them to his cronies and family members.

Even the Chairman of the panel probing the allocations, Senator Abubakar Sodangi, is alleged to have participated in the allocation process. Last Thursday, the Acting Director, Abuja Geographic Information Services, Mallam Yahaya Yusuf, accused him of acquiring 20 plots of land in Abuja. Yusuf was reportedly interrupted when he started reading the particulars of the plots. Sodangi denied acquiring 20 plots, but admitted having three.

In any case, all law-abiding Nigerians, including el-Rufai’s wives, are entitled to legal acquisition of lands anywhere in Nigeria. It is only when that acquisition goes against due process that it becomes an issue. He who seeks or dispenses justices must be above board. It will be disheartening if it is later discovered that the probe is nothing but a witch-hunt and that those crying foul are part of the mess in the first place.

This is why the panel must be very careful in the discharge of its duties. Rather than the emotional outbursts that have trailed the probe, the committee should look at issues dispassionately. If any civil servant had engaged in allocating lands illegally without the knowledge and consent of the Minister, that civil servant should be identified and punished. If el-Rufai is the one that is deliberately at fault, then the law should take its course.

My concern in all this is that things have gone wrong and continue to go wrong in Nigeria because we like to circumvent the rules. If the law prohibits building on a sewer and you deliberately violate that law, I have no sympathies if the property is demolished. That Singapore is prospering today is partly because their law is no respecter of persons. Recall that a Nigerian who was caught with hard drugs in that country was executed despite pleas for clemency by the Nigerian government. It pained us as a people, but that is their law.

This is not to say that those who have genuine complaints as regards the revocation of their lands should not be compensated. They should. But with due respect to such people, I believe that el-Rufai did his best to make Abuja what it is today. If not for his efforts, by now, the FCT would have become another bedlam. The Senate President, David Mark, hit the nail on the head when he noted (in his opening speech at the start of the public hearing), that he admired the zeal with which the last administration handled issues of the master-plan of Abuja. He hoped that this administration would keep to the master-plan and improve on the job done by the immediate past regime.

This seems to be the most sensible thing to do.

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4 Comments »

  1. 1
    vivian mgborogwu Says:

    i need a land to buy in abuja 120 by 120 tell me the price

  2. 2
    sandrar Says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  3. 3
    Parag Says:

    Landing at the Accra airport accidentally provided you and us too with some useful information.

  4. Sign: zdbrw Hello!!! zmuag and 9997escdssnqcz and 7671 : I love your blog. 🙂 I just came across your blog.


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