Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria has a large number of illegal structures which shelter homes and businesses. Some of these structures were built on flood plains, over high voltage lines, on sewage disposal lines, waterways, green-areas and at locations preventing expansion of major road networks to decongest traffic. Lives and property are at risk and some of the inhabitants are unaware of the looming danger. The public, government and planning authorities each had roles to play in creating the problem. The cost of demolition, resettlement and compensation liable is very high in cases where it was due to the planning authorities’ negligence that the structure was erected, this cost exceeds the estimated combined value of loss of life and property in case of a natural disaster. It is up to the new administration and the council engineers to determine whether or not to bring down all the illegal structures, take a selective approach as their predecessors in office have done due to financial constraints and social pressure or continue to ignore the problem and allow nature to take its course in due time.( Breach Of Abuja Master Plan). This issue is far from black and white and both sides present strong arguments.
For demolition of illegal structures and settlements
The Federal Capital Development Authority’s mandate is to “To oversee the Infrastructural and Physical Development (Planning, Design and Construction) of the new Federal Capital; ensuring that it conforms to and surpasses the standards of new Capital Cities around the world; also paying special attention to Inclusivity, Functionality, Design and Aesthetics.”
Some stakeholders are of the opinion that these illegal structures should be brought down due to several factors which include; Environmental factors: With the increasing number of illegal structures, waste management has become a major challenge, improper waste disposal has many negative impacts on not only the residents occupying these illegal structure but on the surrounding community. Air pollution is also prevalent as a result of blockage of drainage systems and carbon monoxide emissions from the private generators as some of these structures are not connected to the national grid.
As a consequence of the improper waste management, public defecation, air pollution and water pollution, the health of residents of the community at large is at risk. The population density is increased which increases the pressure on scarce social amenities. These conditions nourished a background for epidemic outbreaks, such as Cholera, to happen. Furthermore, another major concern is the security of lives and properties. The law enforcement agencies find it more than difficult to control the area. The lack of law enforcement and the booming population, led to a large increase of crime rate. Armed gangs, illegal businesses, like prostitution and drug dealing, as well as riots and rapes, are happening more and more often.
Last but not least, these structures bring financial implications for the government. These eyesore buildings affect not only tourism of the country, but also investors become skeptical about investing in these high-risk areas. This in turn contributes to the high rate of unemployment and affects the potential growth and development of the city.
Against demolition of illegal structures and settlements
From a different point of view, past demolitions in Abuja have rendered over 800,000 people homeless. Some analysts have argued that shelter is both a human need and basic right and the Federal Capital Development Authority have violated international, regional and local instruments which they are parties to, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Where demolition of human settlements occurs without due process, it is regarded as forced eviction or enforced homelessness and violates the prohibition against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Also in the international human rights law, corroborated by the African Charter, evictions can only be seen as lawful if they are considered to be necessary mainly in “exceptional circumstances.” When such “exceptional circumstances” are proven to be real and not mere speculations, due process has to be followed which includes States are in obligation to ensure before evictions that all possible alternatives are worked out together with the persons affected. This includes the provision of alternative resettlement plan and compensation for the affected persons, a key missing link in all the demolitions that have taken place till date in Abuja.
Likely fallout from these demolitions is an upsurge in crime rates in the affected areas further escalating the fragile security experienced in the country. The Nigerian state is battling with a terrorist group in three of its six geopolitical zones, the North-West, North-Central and North-East. Kidnapping and armed robbery are not uncommon in the South-East and South-South, while armed robbery is prevalent in the South western part of the country. These demolitions are likely to compound the insecurity in the country as the affected persons see themselves as victims of society and thus will not hesitate to resort to violence and criminality.
Another implication of these demolitions will be an upsurge in commercial sex work, exploitation and trafficking with an attendant increase in the incidence of sexual transmitted disease (STDs) and HIV/ AIDS.
Thousands of children are also likely to drop out of school due to the displacements and the demolition of their schools.
With this brief about the demolition exercise in Abuja, what are your thoughts? Is it worth the pain?