Apo Resettlement Scheme, designed to resettle indigenes of communities displaced by the creation of Abuja as capital, has long become a honey pot for corrupt officials.
At the centre of the Apo Resettlement District, on the fringe of the Abuja city centre, sits an imposing High Court building, distances away from a police station and a school.
With no hospital or market in this sprawling community developed for the indigenous people of Abuja, and inhabited by mainly low income Nigerians, the court, and the police post, and the school are about all of government’s presence in the District.
Daily, children cover long distances on foot to the crowded school, from some of Abuja’s most horribly designed homes, handed to the parents by the government as compensation for their lands confiscated since 1976, for the development of Nigeria’s sprawling capital city.
“You build court and police station to check people, but you don’t give them houses to live in,” said Gimba Gbaiza, the leader of Greater Gbayi Development Initiative, a group dedicated to the cause of Abuja natives, which has followed the three-decade old resettlement effort.
Now, a government plan to expand facilities in the area, provide markets, build a health facility and more schools for the three benefiting communities – Apo, Garki and Akpanjanya – has failed with assigned plots cornered by dubious government officials, who steal lands in an area exclusively reserved for the natives, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation has shown.
The schemes are well-known in the community, and often involve government staff transferring land and house titles to non-natives for money, shortchanging thousands of qualified indigenes. When allegations spring up, officials boldly shrug them off, and ask for evidence of wrongdoing, confident that full details of the ownership of titles have, and may, never become public.
For more than two months, three relevant government offices- Department of Resettlement and Compensation of the Federal Capital Development Administration (FCDA), the office of the Minister of FCT, and the Abuja Geographic Information Systems (AGIS)- rebuffed multiple Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by PREMIUM TIMES seeking those details.
But a recent government investigation, ordered by the Minister of State for FCT, Olajumoke Akinjide, found that dozens of lands meant for public infrastructures like schools, health centres, police posts, and recreational facilities for the resettlement district, were illegally sold by FCDA officials to non-natives, who convert them for private properties and businesses.
The report established cases of indigenes shortchanged during allocations, with their houses and land titles turning up in other hands, in a scam instigated by officials, often times, in connivance with the locals of Abuja.
“As big as the place is, it cannot contain the three communities. The reason is that after giving the lands, they (government officials) still share it among themselves,” Mr. Gbaiza said.
The stories are intriguing, and many of them defy effort at resolution. For example, Sunday Wanyidasa, an indigene of Apo, one of the communities with rights to a government home, was awarded a letter for House No. 3, Zone D, with Enumeration No. GK/05/2662. While he waited to complete formalities that would have seen him take possession of the property, the original copy of the allocation letter suddenly disappeared from government files, while others checked into their new apartments in 2009.
When he protested, the deputy director in the Department of Resettlement and Compensation, Helen Obiechina, assured him that a directive had been given for Mr. Wanyidasa to be issued another allocation for immediate check-in.
Without a response months on, he reached out to Jisalo Zephaniah, the then chairman of the Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC, and Mrs. Obiechina’s superior, who informed him the allocation had been signed for, and collected by the “owner”. No official of the department, including Bayo Fahgbon, in charge of the allocations, however, agreed to divulge the identity of the “owner”.
When Mr. Wanyidasa gave a further chase, another official, Ogunmodede Tunde, admitted his title was never released since 2009, and again, assured of a resolution. But as the drama unfolded, Mr. Wanyidasa found out during a visit to the property, that an occupant, named Unde Ayo, had since checked in on a N160, 000 rental agreement shockingly “signed” by Mr. Wanyidasa.
Not only was Mr. Ayo’s claim to the property illegal, but as his name confirmed, he was a non-native and had no direct legitimacy in the resettlement area. Yet, he tendered a separate agreement transferring the tenancy to Ifeanyi Onuegbu, at N700, 000 for two years. That lease expired last May.
A scheme far too common, its implication was clear: with stringent procedure for claiming any allocated house, such can only be an inside job, struck by some officials, many residents and officials of the FCDA told PREMIUM TIMES.
Tale of schemes
No one exactly knows how many locals have been so defrauded, but estimates put them in thousands. And in interviews, accused staff dismissed as unsubstantiated allegations that they illegally sold or leased lands and houses to non-natives.
“Let them show evidence, not just allegation,” said Francis Okechukwu, the director of the Department of Resettlement and Compensation, whose unit oversees the distribution of houses.
While his office refused to respond to our FOI requests, the clearest evidence that officials committed widespread abuses in Mr. Okechukwu’s office came in the government report submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan early this year.
The report documents shows how plots reserved for nursery/primary schools, lock-up shops, market, vocational/youth development centres, community hall/theatre, health centre, four police posts, five neighbourhood centres were converted to private use.
A plot meant for the chief’s palace, for instance, was allocated by the Department of Resettlement and Compensation to a private, non-indigenous company called Apri Cost Worldwide, those for two police posts went to another private and non-native business, Monelial Enterprise, and an individual, Haruna Danladi; while plots for community hall and theatre, were given to F. N. Okoye, another non-native, the report states.
The committee also identified “questionable” allocation of 81 houses and plots to people in the Apo site.
“The neighbourhood centres/public facilities, which have been allocated to other Nigerians should be revoked and reverted to AMAC for its original use/purpose for the benefit of the indigenes,” the report said.
“That all plots designated for public facilities/ neighborhood use within the Resettlement Site either allocated or not, must be reverted to its original use for the benefit of the communities.”
Yet, the investigators, who acknowledging that several plots had been wrongly allocated and sold out, did not find it necessary to indict anyone, let alone recommend sanction.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Okechukwu repeatedly harped on that curious reality. “No report has indicted any member of this office,” he said repeatedly. Partly to blame for that, residents said, was the composition of the investigative panel with members drawn from the same offices accused of the violations.
A long difficult walk to homes
The notorious Abuja resettlement imbroglio dates back to 1976, after the Federal Government resolved to resettle indigenes of the three original communities at the inception of the FCT.
After enumerating over 316,000 households in the affected communities for resettlement, the process stalled after occupants of Garki community, which constituted more than 80 per cent of the prospective beneficiaries, filed multiple lawsuits over payment concerns, and insisted on remaining in their ancestral homes.
As the integration became unrealistic, the FCTA in 2005 began a Resettlement Policy requiring moving the indigenous people to a specific location where those of age 18 and above would be given houses.
The implementation of the plan commenced in 2007, but remained convoluted, immersed in shady processes and corrupt manipulations.
Many of the houses ended in the hands of non-natives, who were given either fake or original occupancy documents for huge sums.
“It is a shame that what was supposed to be a good intention of the government has been so manipulated and frustrated by FCDA officials for selfish reasons,” one community man, Joseph Tella-Shinkpa, said.
“The allocation of house and plots was long decided by government. What was left was for the FCDA to ask indigenes to come forward with either their national identity cards, driver’s licenses or international passports for verification and collection of their allocations. But where directors in the FCDA were allowed to issue letters recommending people to collect the plots on behalf of other people was most likely going to result in the current crisis.”
A civil/structural engineer, Mr. Tella-Shinkpa’s father, Josiah Shekwoho, was among the beneficiaries of about 1,473 plots and 849 houses allocated by government to indigenes of the three communities under the Apo Resettlement Scheme in 2009.
Mr. Shekwoho’s allocation papers indicated he was given House No. 155 Zone B with Enumeration No. GK/05/1255. However, when the keys for a new set of houses in the area were handed, his name, like several others, was missing on the list.
Mr. Tella-Shinkpa and family members have pressed on with the case to date, to no avail.
The scams, oftentimes, are pulled in connivance with crooked community representatives, PREMIUM TIMES probe shows. Indigenes privy to the allocation procedures repeatedly pick more plots and houses than they were entitled to, and secure houses and plots on behalf of the kinsmen but refuse to hand them over.
For instance, Awyetu Ngbako, according to the committee, was in November 2009 allocated a one-bedroom bungalow, House No. 09, in Zone A, with Enumeration No. GK/05/2301 in the official check-in list presented to the Data Verification Committee.
The title soon became the subject of a dispute between Mr. Ngbako and the District head of Garki community, Dangama Magaji. While the conflict was yet unsolved, Mr. Ngbako’s wife, Cetawomilon, showed up with claims that the disputed title was hers.
When the Department of Resettlement & Compensation checked through, the title was confirmed as Mr. Magaji’s.
For the community members, the mix-up was deliberate as it tied with Mr. Ngbako’s past. A journalist and a native, Mr. Ngbako has worked for years closely as a representative, with the government, and left trails of shady property deals in connivance with the government officials. To community leaders, he deliberately replaced, through the officials, the owner of the property with his wife.
When petitions to both the Sa-Peyi of Garki and officials of the Department of Resettlement & Compensation failed to resolve the conflict, Mr. Ngbako proceeded to court for redress.
A touchy case with potential of tearing through the uncanny details government officials struggle to keep, the matter was handled with immense caution. In the end, authorities urged him to withdraw the case, in return for a new allocation.
In another case, John Dara, a well-known figure in the area, but apparently a non-indigene by name, got House 119, Zone B, a 3-bedroom bungalow, with Enumeration No. GK/05/1585 issued by the same FCDA department.
When the community sought explanations from the FCDA, Mr. Dara presented to the ministerial committee a reference letter purportedly issued by the local chief, the Sa-Peyi of Garki, Usman Nga Kupi.
The community chiefs and representatives of the Sa-Peyi have since declared the letter a forgery. He still occupies the house.
While the government report refused to be categorical about the ownership of the contentious plots, community representatives who have followed the case for years listed samples of plots cornered by the dubious government officials.
Some include Plots 847, 848, 849, 1260,1261,1262,1263,1264,1265,1266 (Commercial) in Zone C and Plots 774,775,776,777 and 788/789 (Residential).
Similarly, Plots 1547,1548,1550,1549,1551,1565,1566 and 1567 in Zone E of the community and Plot 237 in Zone A, which have been developed into private estates, are said to belong to some officials in the Department of Resettlement and Compensation in the FCDA.
Ascertaining the true ownership of those plots and others was the request in PREMIUM TIMES’ FOI letters.
When the applications were first filed requesting the particulars of the owners of those plots, AGIS and the office of the Minister of State assured of prompt responses. None ever came despite repeated reminders.
Mrs. Akinjide, who authorized the investigation and personally handed its outcome to President Jonathan, later told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview she was unaware of the requests. The minister, who refused to give a formal response to the violations stated in the report, however asked her personal assistant on Resettlement and Compensation, Ben Ogenyi, to contact PREMIUM TIMES with the information that the issues under reference did not happen during her tenure.
At the centre of the accusations of illegal ownership of plots and houses in the resettlement are the director of the department, Mr. Okechukwu, his deputy, Helen Obiechina, and Mrs. Obiechina’s personal assistant, Augustine Udeh.
More than any other staff, residents who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES heaped their anger on the trio, with an established list of plots said to be theirs at various locations at the resettlement site, including an area they derisively refer to as “millionaire quarters”, where the most exotic of buildings are found. Mr. Okechukwu denied the allegations and asked for evidence.
“Let them bring the evidence. It’s not just allegations when they are the ones who got the properties and sold them out,” he told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview.
But, angry residents ask how such evidences could be shown when the FCDA has consistently refused to publish the full data on ownerships of the plots and houses at the site.
“FCDA officials are to blame for the abuses in resettlement the process. Most of the plots were allocated to staff of the FCDA, instead of the indigenes,” Danjuma Tanko, one of the community representatives, said.
Besides not responding to PREMIUM TIMES‘ letters, Mrs. Obiechina also did not provide answers when reached on telephone. After complaining about her discomfort with telephone interviews, she also declined a physical meeting in her office or at PREMIUM TIMES’ office.
Her assistant, Mr. Udeh, a man many community members view as a sort of “Mr. Fix It’, with widespread clout and titles to several plots and houses, also refused to answer questions. A soft-spoken man, he cited civil service rules, saying he could only answer to questions if routed through his boss.
Matters between the community and the staffers boiled over during one visit by the ministerial committee during the investigation that they narrowly escaped being lynched.
But the controversy has continued. While the allocations remain controversial, the apparently poorly-built houses, PREMIUM TIMES found during visits, are fast depreciating with the walls caving in, sewages collapsing and some areas defaced, just few years after they were erected.
“Before the houses were allocated in 2009, they were falling already,” Mr. Gbaiza said.
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