Resettling the real Abuja indigenes

Known as Gbagi, they were natives of Abuja and their main occupation was farming. Theirs was a serene life which was far from civilisation – women carried loads on their backs, took care of uneducated kids and their men were more fulfilled with huge barns of yams at harvest. A Gbagi was erroneously identified with tubers of yams to the extent that he was referred to as Gwari.

“Then, the whole of Abuja was bush. You could trek from Garki (then called Peyi) to Dutse and you would see only farmlands everywhere. The land was friendly to us and we had great harvest,” 82-year-old Musa Jatto, an indigene, recalled.

But by 1976, a decision was made by the then head of state, General Murtala Mohammed-a land must be sought to serve as the nation’s capital apart from Lagos . So, 8000sq/km was carved out from the old Kwara (now Kogi), Niger and Plateau(now Nasarawa) states respectively. The Gbagis, who were the inhabitants of Abuja, were also affected – they lost their land, their roots but they were face-to-face with civilisation. In accordance with the provisions of the Federal Capital Territory Act of 1976, the inhabitants of the FCT were to be evacuated and resettled in their respective states of origin (That is in the neighboring states from which FCT was carved out).

The first controversy arose when the population which was supposed to be sparse (since the lands being taken were deep forests) had more people than expected. The initial policy considered by the Federal Government then was to move and resettle them into their states of origin and a sum of N2b was needed. By 1978, this policy was reviewed- only people who had resided in the Federal Capital City i.e. 250sq/km, Abuja would remain. That was not all; there would be an exodus and a resettlement to other parts of the territory as soon as city development knocked on their doors. An agreement was also reached that villages which do not fall within Abuja; Gwagwalada, Bwari, Kuje, Abaji, Kwali would be allowed to stay put, no resettlement but without the rights of indigene- ship.

In 1992, the Gado Nasko administration of the FCT adopted a new policy called ‘integration policy,’ which would retain, integrate and assimilate the original inhabitants within the FCC. Though more humane and economical, it created an environmental disaster. An example is the Garki village, which has the highest population of natives. This policy only succeeded in alienating the people it sought to protect with many negative consequences. Though it was agreed that it would be absorbed into the Abuja master-plan, it would have to be modified to meet up with acceptable standards.

Like the children of Israel going to the Promised Land, there was an exodus of some Gbagis to Kubwa, a popular satellite town. Quite an enviable place and well equipped with basic amenities, Kubwa became a mesh of pottage and the natives decided selling their houses to other Nigerians who moved into Abuja. Instead of eating the good of their land, they relocated back into undeveloped areas of the city, while some joined their kinsmen in Garki village.

Again, former FCT Minister, Engr. Mohammed Abba Gana built a resettlement village for the natives of Wuse and Maitama at Dei-Dei, another satellite town. They rejected the houses with an excuse that they were too small for them and their large families. It served as succour for an almost stranded Nigerian Police, and their officers moved into the place temporarily. Now it has become a permanent occupation after a compensation of N3b was paid to the FCTA.

The past FCT Administration of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai at the inception of his administration held a meeting with the settlers of the 250sq/km that constitute the FCC; Kuchingoro, Aleta, Chika, Pyakasa, Garki Village, Apo Village, Apanjeyan Village, Utako, Kpanda, Jabi Samul, Jabi Yakubu, Zhilu, Maje and Mabushi. At the meeting, it was also agreed that these villages would be demolished as development of the FCC catches up with them and the people would be resettled. Again, this policy to integrate them failed because any attempt to demolish in Garki village was met with stiff resistance from the people and this led to the banishment of the Tsapeye of Garki, Alhaji Usman Ngu Kufi, to Abaji area council in 2006. He was accused of being an impediment to the development of the FCC but was pardoned and restored towards the end of the last administration. The FCTA also noted that to absorb the village, it would have to be demolished completely and rebuilt to meet up with the standards of the city. Again the policy was abandoned and it was decided that resettling would be the only option.

The resettlement of the FCT the aborigines became a burden on the present administration of Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar, who promised them justice because “these are people who have willingly relinquished their land for the building of the Federal Capital Territory, thereby promoting the unity of the country and they must be well taken care of.”

While examining the activities of the Department of Resettlement and Compensation some few months ago, Modibbo gave an assurance that the 4,086 houses which are currently being built for resettlement would be completed before the end of this fiscal year.

There are three resettlement sites namely, Apo , Galuwyi/Shere and Wasa. Apo resettlement site is about 300 hectares and is meant to take the original residents displaced from Apo, Garki and Akpanjeyan. It has a total of 876 houses and the completion is already about 85 per cent. Galuwyi/Shere measures about 900 hectares and is for resettlement of 12 villages. First phase development is for seven villages; Jabi samul, Jabi Yakubu, Utako, Kpadna, Zhilu, Maje and Mabushi. a total of 2276 houses would be needed and the progress work is about 55 per cent. Wasa resettlement site is about 700 hectares for the resettlement of the villages along the Airport Road. A total of 931 houses are being built for the resettlement of those displaced from Chika and Aleta and the progress of work is put at about 45 per cent.

But the two/four bedroom apartments built for the natives in Apo seemed small. Still undergoing construction, the resettlement village which is a few kilometers from the legislative quarters boasts amenities like pipe-borne water, a school, health care centre and a palace for the chief. Not yet occupied, a close observation showed that the resettlement village lacked farmlands. “We are known to be farmers and the new site for us at Apo has no farm-lands,” observed Chief John Inji, the Seriki Apo. “My people were affected by the construction of some pipelines. We were chased from our houses and some of us have gone to Dutse but we are still waiting when we will go there because the minister of state said it is very soon.” Highlighting the dangers faced by natives in Apo, Inji said, “Our houses were built before these big roads were constructed and recently two men riding motor-cycles were knocked down and killed by some motorists going to the Mechanic Village. Even some of our children going to/fro school are no longer safe. We are very peace-loving people and we implore the government to hasten up work on the site.”

Even Hon. Ibrahim Gajatna, the Head of Aleta village complained that the houses at the Apo resettlement site were too small and that the infrastructure such as roads and potable water ought to be provided before they are asked to move. He also questioned the government’s failure to provide the promised farmland, while wondering how 877 homes would share the visible farmland for their sustenance. “That is how they would tell us to move and that they would provide the infrastructure, but when we do, they would not.”

Festus Esekhile, Director of Resettlement and Compensation, shed more light on this issue: “This government is not like that. We are trying to provide minimum requirements for them to move and then as they move, the remaining things will be done. So we provide the things that will enable them to live well. Maybe temporary things like water kiosk apart from the boreholes we have there and the permanent ones may come later with the pipes.”

He, however, lamented that the government could not stop beneficiaries from selling the houses if they wished as was the case in Kubwa. The FCTA would however make sure they do not get houses again at other resettlement sites.

“Our documents are detailed. We know you; we scan your finger and photograph into the computer. It’s not a question of you being given here and then you go to another place and position yourself again and get away with it.”

The resettlement issue is also one of the duties of the FCT Minister of State, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, who has consistently maintained that it is not an issue to be politicised.

Akpanudoedehe, at a recent meeting with the natives assured them that the FCTA would not resort to a forceful eviction of the natives, from Garki Village, but would set up a committee to make the process easier on the people. He urged them to partake of politics and be business-oriented.

“Start your own companies and bid for jobs, position yourselves properly in the Abuja business communities and don’t wait for government to continue to spoon-feed you just because the land belongs to you,” he advised.


"to partake of politics and be business-oriented"

can that be the best words to tell folks
displaced from their ancestral land?


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