Under the Land Swap Initiative (LSI), 3302.49 hectares of land belonging to 22 (Twenty Two) predominantly poor indigenous villages and communities in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have been compulsorily taken away, partitioned and parceled out to 13 (Thirteen) private property developers despite heightened due-process concerns regarding the handling of important issues around land, resettlement, compensation and livelihoods in the community.
Recently introduced by Honourable Bala Mohammed-led Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), the Abuja land swap scheme is garbed with the comforting rhetoric about “delivering decent and affordable mass housing in a well-planned city for all Abuja residents including the original inhabitants of the FCT”. The essence of the LSI is to give an investor a particular percentage of land in a district in exchange for the provision of infrastructure in the earmarked district comprising Kabusa, Waru, Zhindna, PigbaI, PigbaII, TakusharaI, Burum, TakalafiyaI, TakalafiyaII, Chafuyi, Shape, Yimitu, Burum, Gbagyi, Dakibiu, Zokoyakwo, Sheretti, Ketti, Anaknayita, Dnako, Lokogoma, Wumba, and Wasa within the Ketti and Waru community in Abuja Municipal Area Council. Even though the landowning rural dwellers are still in occupation of those districts, the title to their ancestral lands and farmlands has been transferred to the private developers.
Palpable fear and tension pervades the villages affected by the land swap scheme. This fear is well founded: development projects of this nature are often preludes to forced evictions and large-scale displacement of the urban poor, including indigenous communities. Within the 22 villages that make up the Ketti and Warru districts–known as Sector “O” District, Phase IV – in Abuja Municipal Area Council of the FCT, inhabitants reiterate that the land acquisitions had happened without their consent; without notices of intention to acquire and/or of revocation of our existing customary rights; without any comprehensive plan for resettlement and /or integration of the affected communities; without provision for payment of adequate compensation; without provision for alternative farmlands; and in total disregard of the constitutionally-guaranteed right to fair hearing.
Despite assurances by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala A. Mohammed that affected communities would be carried along in the implementation of the programme, recent events show that the FCTA has no interest and will to engage the local people and communities in fulfillment of that promise. For instance, it was not until after the FCTA had executed MOUs with private developers, and distributed partitioned communal lands among the contracted investors that it then announced to communities of its intention to carry out survey work and to subsequently commence enumeration of, and valuation of crops and economic trees within Ketti and Waru Districts.
Later efforts to engage inhabitants of the already-distributed districts apparently fall short of stipulated legal rules and due process procedures pertaining to land takings by the government. Queries raised by community representatives regarding the nature, character and modalities for transferring the allocated lands to foreign investors have been ignored and remain unanswered. At an April 26, 2013 town hall meeting involving predominantly Hausa-speaking FCDA officials and the community representatives, the president of the Original Inhabitants Development Association of Abuja demanded an explanation of the land swap scheme in Hausa so that majority of the locals in attendance would fully understand the nature of the scheme. FCDA officials declined that request. Likewise, the FCDA has not responded to similar demands contained in petitions, position papers and press statements issued by the local youth wing, Ketti District Community Youth Forum.
Rather than provide relevant information on the precise nature, scope and content of the project and establish processes for effective consultations and participation of the affected communities, the FCDA resorted to using force to suppress local agitations. The arrest and unlawful detention of four local youths involved in the organization of the Cultural Heritage Day is quite illustrative. The cultural event had presented an opportunity to mobilize and sensitize local youths and inhabitants on the implications on the LSI on their collective wellbeing.
While efforts to improve housing and urban infrastructure within the city metropolis are welcome, pushing people from inadequate housing into homelessness is not the solution to the acute housing shortage currently witnessed in the federal capital. Spaces for Change supports the right of the inhabitants of Ketti and Warru to have a say in decisions that affect their lives. Genuine consultation with, and participation by the affected residents in the design of FCTA’s housing development strategies and programmes are indispensable strategies for ensuring that the human rights of the indigenous communities are respected.