DAYO AYEYEMI visited the Federal Government-owned FESTAC housing estate in Lagos where residents have cried out over what they described as indiscriminate demolition of their properties.
Affected residents, comprising landlords and tenants in Ado Royal Garden Estate, FESTAC Phase 2, Abule Ado, Lagos, have decried the indiscriminate demolition of their buildings by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA).
The demolition of houses by the authority, they said, had not only thrown them in the streets but also cost them fortunes.
Since the demolition, they lamented that the center could no longer hold as they are have turned to send their wives and children to friends’ houses.
They also stressed that apart from the emotional trauma they suffered, the children’s journey to schools was affected.
The site visited by the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday revealed that many houses were demolished by the FHA, while some (buildings still standing) were already marked for demolition.
Besides, the fear of demolition rent the entire community’s landscape. Some affected residents were seen combing the rubble for their valuables.
Also, scavengers were sighted turning the rubble for iron rods and other stuffs they can pick up for sale.
Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, one of the affected landlords, Thomas Uchenna, a trader, said he was preparing to move to his new house on November 25th, when the bulldozer from the FHA suddenly moved in and pulled down the building on the allegation that he built close to the road. He said he had hardly slept since the demolition.
He said: “The house cost me N100 million to build (both land and construction), and I wanted to pack in last November 25, before FHA came and started demolition
“They came and started the demolition from one end and suddenly jumped some houses and moved to middle and demolished my house and that of my neighbours.
“The allegation was that we built on the road and when you check very well, it’s not true. If it is about road, they should have started from the expressway and not indiscriminate demolition they embarked on.”
“What we have seen is that they would demolish house A, leave house B and move to house D. They just came from behind to the centre of the road and demolished my house and others.
“In this street alone, they have demolished eight houses,” he said.
Uchenna claimed to have bought the land from the surveyor hired by the landowners to survey the entire land in the community last year.
He said he was not aware that the FHA was laying claims to the land as of the time he bought it.
However, he alleged that all the regulatory agencies in charge of building permit, control and safety commission visited the site when he was building.
He said: “I currently squat with one of my friends around here. It has been difficult for my wife and children. It affected the children going to school but what can we do?”
He said he bought the land for N8.5 million and paid N5 million for the omo oniles.
“I have been to FHA office but I was told to come back next week,” he said.
Another affected resident, Emeka Ugo, said though he has two houses and a plot of land with foundation in the estate, the FHA had marked one for demolition and issued a stop-work order on the construction.
He claimed to have stayed in the community since 2013, saying FHA just surfaced two years ago to lay claim to the land.
Since the demolition began, he said houses worth billions of naira have been demolished by the FHA.
Currently, Ugo said residents, whose houses had been marked for demolition have been living in fear, not knowing when it would be their turn.
He said: “The way FHA is operating, they numbered some houses and asked the landlords to pay compensation. Some paid as high as N10 million, while they demolished houses that sprang up after the number issued. It is sad that Nigerians have been subjected to this treatment despite the harsh economic situation in the country. Where do we go from here?”
Another resident, Uche, a student, described FHA as a “scam”, querying why the authority waited for so long and allowed people to build houses before coming to demolish them.
Another affected resident, who simply identified himself as Sunday, alleged that officials of FHA were just working for themselves and not the government.
“What I see is personal interest on the part of FHA staff. They are not working for the government,” he said.
Efforts to get the Oba of Abule Ado to talk proved abortive as no one was there to attend to Nigerian Tribune after several knocks at the entrance gate to the palace.
Meanwhile, the management of FHA, in a published statement, has stated their side of the story.
According to the statement, the demolished structures were at the centre of major roads because they were built outside the masterplan without approvals.
The document explained that after the development of the first phase of FESTAC Town, the management of Federal Housing Authority designed the second phase with a standard layout for development.
Due to litigations that arose between the authority and some families, and subsequent court orders, the management said the development was delayed.
“Unfortunately, this situation was capitalised by some persons who started selling parts of the land to individuals.
“On noticing this, management quickly placed caveats; warning members of the public not to patronise such illegal transactions. The caveat later advised the pubic to visit FHA offices for legal searches if they must transact such business.
“The result of those transactions was the springing up of many illegal developments, built without approvals and against the master plan.”
The management alleged that houses were built at the centre of major roads, very close to the canal, without proper setbacks and very close to oil pipelines.
According to the FHA, the area was rapidly developing into a modern slum, adding that the authority’s attempt at checking this was met with heavy resistance.
In 2018, it said the authority sought the collaboration of the Lagos State government, because of security concerns, in order to be able to enter the site.
“The team started serving ‘Stop Work’ orders and eviction notices in 2019,” it said.
The management went to say that it was not until in 2021 that it decided to embark on the demolition of the illegal and substandard structures that had rapidly sprang up in total disregard of the existing layout, and in defiance to the numerous Stop Work orders that were issued by the authority.
It said it embarked on the exercise because:
“The substandard buildings under construction in the encroached areas were on swampy land, with large chances of collapse due to soil type and behaviour, and therefore, require both professional approvals and supervision.
“Some of the structures were at the center of major roads because they were built outside the Masterplan.
“The buildings never had approvals and were not supervised by our professionals, and, as such we cannot vouch for their integrity.
“Other structures were on road setbacks, drains and other infrastructure.
“Houses were built below the level of the roads and prone to collapse because of soil settings.”
However, after several appeals from some of the affected persons, who admitted to have illegally built on government land, the statement read: “the management decided to reconsider the exercise.”
At a stakeholders meeting in FESTAC Town Lagos in January 2022, the management said it decided to reconsider the demolition exercise and try to salvage as many buildings as possible without compromising standards. This was on the condition that all developments along the roads must be demolished, adding that all buildings close to the canal and pipelines must go.
“That every building not certified by FHA officials must undergo integrity test. That all forms of developments must stop.
“Contravention notices and conditions for regularisation were served on affected building. The authority would then carry out a VRR exercise: Verificaton and regularisation exercise, and, where necessary, recovery,” it read.
The FHA management, according to the statement, has started the implementation of the exercise as agreed.