A development that may rock the relationship between the Nigerian Army and the Federal Capital Development Administration, FCDA, is building up and may crystallise into a show of force or legal tussle.
The spat is masterminded by the Nigerian Army which, on Saturday, September 3, 2016, sealed off the road leading to the 230 hectares of land known as the Maitama Extension District and drove out the workers of a company, Kakatar Civil Engineering Limited, providing engineering infrastructure for the district. The army says the land belongs to it. It did not, however, show any document to buttress its claim of ownership but has deployed soldiers to the site.
By that action, the company’s working tools, like asphalt-producing plants, rock crushers, state-of-the-art fabrication workshop and earth moving equipment like bulldozers and excavators, as well as trucks, are trapped: they can neither be maintained nor repaired while those to be moved out for external jobs in locations like Karishi and Kyami, where the company is also working for the FCDA, have been barred from leaving the premises.
It is not as if the new Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Mohammed Bello, has stoked any fire since his appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari last year, it is the military high command that is taking the fight to his doorsteps, claiming that its vast land in the area has been encroached on by the firm being run by a civil rights lawyer, Azibaola Roberts, a cousin of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In fact, the rumour mill has been awash with stories that the entire Maitama Extension, a new district stretching over 230 hectares of land with over 400 plots allocated to Nigerians and duly captured in the Abuja master plan, is owned by Jonathan and is merely being managed by Kakatar.
To worsen matters for the company and the FCDA, the massive parcel of land, overlooking the Katampe, Mpape, Guzape hills, shares borders with the Lungi Barracks of the Nigerian Army, making it possible for soldiers to hitherto provide security for the Kakatar premises.
As a rule, no visitor could access the vast Kakatar premises, which hosts its construction facilities, without being cleared by armed soldiers, who manned the gates. The relationship between the company and the army had been very cordial until that morning when soldiers, claiming to ‘be acting on instruction from above’, changed their attitude and decided to act as an ‘enemy’ to Kakatar and its workers.
“We are on order from the Chief of the Army Staff to take over this place and not to allow anyone in or out of the premises,” a soldier, mounting sentry at the first gate, warned a journalist, who attempted to penetrate the compound.
“It was one of our generals, who led the team of soldiers to take over this place, last night, but we do not know the reason for our being here,” the soldier said, refusing to disclose his name.
‘No to Jonathan District’
The point remains that as of the time of the invasion, there has been no claim by Kakartar that the said land belongs to it. Findings show that even when a former FCT Minister renamed the district after Jonathan, the former President swiftly rejected the ‘Jonathan District’ appellation and ordered the said minister to revert to the popularly known ‘Maitama Extension’.
A scrutiny of the list of the owners of the allocation shows that the former President was not even allocated any plot in the said district by the FCDA, which, however, generously gave vast parcels of land to former heads of state, serving and former top military officials, top former ruling party leaders and some powerful and influential traditional and religious leaders in the country.
In short, the Maitama Extension was carefully planned as highbrow residency for the mighty and powerful in the doorsteps of the military barracks for added security. Perhaps, that explains why it was tucked on the fringes of the Lungi Barracks, near the powerful Brigades of Guards Headquarters of the Nigerian Army between Asokoro and Maitama Districts.
And, as an unwritten but operational rule, in every district where FCDA awards contract for the development of infrastructure, it is customary for the contractor to be provided with a temporary space for building of its site offices. The FCDA also maintains an oversight function offices in the yard to provide supervision for the contractor in the execution of the contract. It is, perhaps, for that reason, that Kakatar was provided with an area to use as its temporary site yard to execute the contract awarded to it by then Minister of FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed in 2011.
The district was actually designated as such by Senator Adamu Aliero, the Minister of the FCT under Yar’ Adua government in 2008 alongside Katampe and Katampe Extension. Virtually all the plots were alloted by that regime to various allottees. It was eventually awarded to Kakatar for the development of the infrastructure and made history as the first Abuja district’s infrastructural development project in the history of the FCT to be awarded to a wholly Nigerian construction and engineering firm and the company never shied away from its responsibility.
Under the project, Kakatar is to construct a total of 23 kilometres of road of various types, one major bridge to link the various communities, provide 26.4 kilometres length of storm water line of various sizes, 31.8 kilometres length of four sewer line of various sizes; 38.7 kilometres length of water supply lines with relevant accessories and a booster pump station and 1000m3 of clean water reservoir.
In addition, the company is expected to construct a network of electricity distribution and telecommunication ducts with a 33 KV/11KV injection substation and 11/0.415KV transformer as well as underground cables for distribution and plot connections.
Fate of allotees
Apparently to prove that it is capable of doing what a foreign firm can do, the company has gone far in the provision of relevant infrastructure under the terms of the contract. This is clearly evident in the FCDA budget which has earmarked N2.5 billion for the settlement of outstanding liabilities to Kakatar and the continuation of work on the Maitama Extension project in its 2016 project approved by President Muhammadu Buhari. Interestingly, all the workers of Kakatar are Nigerians and they have taken steps to deliver quality job. At completion, the Maitama Extension District is expected to be an improved version of the present day Maitama District, Abuja.
But like a thunder from the blues, the Nigerian Army dealt a deadly blow to the smooth working operations of the company and does not appear to be in a hurry to lift its siege on the land. A few days after seizing the premises, the Nigerian Army came out to justify its action, saying the land was its own and that it took it back to prevent further encroachment.
The Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Col. Sani Usman, said: “The said property is on Nigerian Army land and the army will not allow anybody to encroach on its land. Consequently, the property has to be sealed to prevent further encroachment,” Usman said.
But the takeover of the company’s premises and the denial of access to its workers has thrown up many questions than answers because of the over 400 plots of land allocated to top Nigerians in the same premises. Although top management staff of the company went to the Army Headquarters last Monday to find out why the army descended on its site office, they were not given any concrete answer.
The authorities did not also say what has become the fate of the top Nigerians who own the plots and whether they had also seized the plots as part of its property along with the Kakatar site which is believed to run into billions of Naira.
There has been no other communication with the company ever since.
However, the implication appears to be that with the army takeover of the Maitama Extension land and its unwillingness to allow the construction company’s workers access to Kakatar site, the owners of the over 400 plots have also forfeited them to the army, leaving the FCDA, which issued them the plots with certificates of occupancy, in a dilemma.
While the FCDA may not be able to physically slug it out with the army, it is likely to be battered by those allocated the seized plots. In fact, given the status of the plot owners, it is to be expected that legal and physical forces could be applied on the FCDA by the allotees. It was learnt that the plot owners were boiling for legal action against the Nigerian Army and the FCDA over the forceful takeover of the property duly paid for.
The beleagued plot owners expect the minister or his representatives to speak on the status of their plots but he has not been forthcoming allegedly because he is as puzzled as Kakatar by the action of the military.
The seizure of the land by the army also raises the fear that the construction of the official quarters of the Senate President, his deputy, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and other principal officers of the National Assembly, at various stages of completion, may be stalled.
In fact, most of the official quarters of the senior government officials are at the level of being completed while the provision of infrastructure by the company has also reached advanced stage. But many privately-owned property are already completed and ready for occupation. The major bridge linking all the facilities and segments in the district has been completed along with many roads, water, sewage ducts and electricity lines.
Kakatar has expressed surprise at the action of the Nigerian Army, saying it had not breached any known law to warrant the action by the soldiers.
Spokesman for the company, Mr. Austin Ekeinde, said in a statement that the action of the Nigerian Army had caused the firm daily losses estimated at hundreds of millions of Naira and caused untold hardship for thousands of families whose workers in Kakatar are now being forced to stay home.
“It is instructive to note at no time did the company suggest or claim that the land upon which it was using as a site to coordinate the project belongs to Kakatar. Never!”, Ekeinde said.
“All that we have been doing is to speedily complete the contract in accordance with the terms given by the FCDA and pull out our multi-million equipment so that the plot owners can move into their property and live happily.
“And as a proof of our sincerity of purpose, and good neighborliness, no notice of any security breach or infraction has ever been sent to us by the Nigerian Army.
“Nigerians should also note that no enquiry as to our presence or intention to recover any land was ever sent to us before the costly invasion locking in our equipment and driving away thousands of Nigerians working with us.”
Apparently angered by the development, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, slammed the Nigerian Army, describing the forceful takeover of the company’s premises as dictatorial and unwarranted in a decent democratic setting.