|Victims of demolition in Abuja.|
Living with the Threat of Demolition
A few weeks ago, officials of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) came to the compound I live in with a plat which they spread on the ground and consulted. After a moment of contemplation they announced to us tenants, who had congregated around them, that the compound does not exist on their map, besides that it holds a fishpond and a telecomms mast. They marked each block with a quit notice, in advance of demolition.
Anyone who has lived in Abuja would have seen thousands of houses so marked with red paint, and knows how the story proceeds: the landlord pays a bribe to the FCDA and his property is spared, or he meets an incorruptible official and a few months after, while you are at work, they arrive with bulldozers and soldiers and carry out their threat.
Abuja is relentless in ridding itself of structures that are not on the master plan. Here, the fear of demolition is very present. The city is as famous for construction as it is notorious for demolition, with incidences of the latter abounding as cautionary tales for tenants who have no stake in a property beyond their rent. As soon as a house is marked, a discerning tenant does not wait to see the end of the story; he bolts in search of another accommodation, hoping to avoid his previous luck.
Checklist before House-hunting
Go to the city centre. After decades of building, demolishing, and rebuilding, the city centre, it appears, is now in sync with the Abuja master plan. Your best bet is to rent a place in the city centre, if you are keen on parting with N700, 000 (US$3500) for a one-bedroom apartment in Wuse, or as much for a single-room guesthouse in Maitama. There is no respite in highbrow suburbs like Gwarinpa which combine the undesirable features of the suburbs and the city centre; distant yet expensive. But, there are decent suburban districts, say Kubwa and Lugbe, to consider. You know you have left the city centre when you begin to see keke and okada operators at work.
Do not go to Mpape. There are formal and informal suburbs. Kubwa is formal. Lugbe is formal. Mpape, despite its proximity to the city centre, is largely informal. In 2012, the Federal Capital Territory Administration threatened to demolish the entire community. Therefore, Mpape is forbidden.
Look out for government presence. Now that you are in the suburbs, it would do some good to take stock of the infrastructure provided by government. Are there roads? This may be hard to tell as many roads are washed out after a few years, but if you look well, are there signs of buried lumps coal tar. Is there is there pipe-borne water, and power? A total lack of government presence is a clue that it is a settlement of headstrong developers who bought their property from indigenous chiefs without proper approval and documentation by the FCDA.
Layout of settlement: If it is a settlement recognised by government, it would be planned with the streets duly named, and the houses numbered, so you won’t have to tell visitors to stop by a church signpost and take the first turn left and the next turn right, and call you at that point. I had always wondered why my compound was unnumbered while other houses in the vicinity were.
Odd or new paintwork. Watch out for odd paintwork on parts of a wall. The landlord may have just obliterated the markings by the FCDA while trying to incur the full cost of repainting the entire house. Fresh, even paint, on the other hand, may be a ploy to rebrand the house to entice new tenants.
Discounted rent. Abuja landlords are in business for a killing. If the rent is way below the average, you have to think twice about your seeming good fortune.
Empty flats. Real estate is in demand in Abuja. When you get to a compound where there are more unoccupied than occupied flats, especially if the property isn’t exactly new, it is an indication to run, as this may mean that the compound is haunted by the FCDA and the tenants have moved out.
Despite doing your due diligence, there is no guarantee that an agent will not abscond with your money, but that would be for later.