On September 28, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Ministerial Task Force on City Sanitation stormed Lungu settlement in Gwarimpa, Abuja, with a plan to demolish all the shanties in the area.
However, violence started when the exercise was resisted by the indigenous Gbagyi settlers in the locality, and both parties suffered casualties. The settlers argued that such a demolition was unlawful, as the inhabitants were not given a prior notice.
CONFRONTATION AND VIOLENCE
“I’d just returned home after visiting a nearby hospital to treat malaria, when I heard noise from outside,” a landlord in the settlement, who asked not to be named, told FIJ.
“As soon as I got out, I saw the demolition task force. The soldiers that came with them were shouting that people should give way so they could carry out the exercise. They also said if we refused to give way, they would start shooting at us.”
According to the landlord, the youths and elders of the settlement resolved to stand their ground, while making members of the task force understand that Lungu was their home and the houses in it would not be destroyed. He also stated that what the residents found most absurd about the exercise was the fact that they were not given any prior notice.
FIJ gathered that from the violence that ensued, the task force claimed eight of its members were injured, while on the settlers’ side, several inhabitants sustained bullet wounds.
“Chief Easy Zakka Sanya, the village chief, was badly beaten and dragged on the ground by soldiers. Shekwonu, his son, was also shot in the jaw during the violence. Presently, Shekwonu is still lying critically ill at the emergency ward of a hospital,” the landlord said.
FIJ tried to speak with the village chief, but his phone was switched off. He did not also respond to a text message sent to him.
THE VICTIMS OF CIRCUMSTANCE
It was alleged that the task force did not only demolish all the shanties in Lungu, including a ‘mammy’ market, after the fight but that it also destroyed close to ten houses.
“I was on the road when I received a call that the taskforce team had come with bulldozers, policemen and soldiers to demolish houses. I almost fainted when I heard that the house I resided in had been destroyed too,” said a resident who had lived in Lungu for two years.
“I heard that the initial plan of the task force was to destroy the shanties in Lungu. But because of the fight that broke out later, they decided to destroy close to 10 houses as well, and that was how my house got destroyed too. Nobody was allowed to at least take their important belongings before the houses were destroyed.”
The former Lungu inhabitant also said she had to keep all the belongings she could salvage from the wreckage with friends and families.
“I don’t even know where to start from. I am still in shock and feeling very depressed. Houses are also very expensive here. Where do I get N600,000 for rent? Who is going to pay for all these damages? She lamented.
A lady who had a fashion designing shop in Lungu also told FIJ that she was still coming to terms with the loss of her shop in the demolition.
“All my machines and other tools have been destroyed,” she said. “Materials given to me by customers were destroyed too. Where do I start from? Who do I run to?”
LINGERING FACE-OFF BETWEEN FCT AGENTS AND LUNGU RESIDENTS
In 2014, there was a violent protest by Lungu residents after the FCT Development Control Department destroyed 54 illegal structures, 17 shanties, 5 shops and a church in the area.
It was alleged that a baby was killed during the demolition but the department denied it, saying the exercise was carried out in accordance with a court judgment, after engaging in several years of legal battle with Lungu residents.
However, in 2019, the task force claimed it suffered attacks from hoodlums in Lungu while attempting to replicate the exercise. The shanties and other illegal structures were said to have been rebuilt after the 2014 demolition.
“I think the reason they came with heavy military and police presence this time around was because of the resistance they encountered in 2019. There has to be a lasting solution to this crisis. If you are destroying people’s settlement, you should at least make alternative provisions for them,” another resident told FIJ.
The task force was said to have arrested three Lungu residents for the use of Dane guns, stones and petrol bombs during the violence.
FIJ placed several calls to Ikharo Attah, Chairman of the FCT Ministerial Committee on City Sanitation, and Garba Kwamkur, Director of FCT Development Control Department, but they were not answered. Text messages sent to them were also not replied.
Be the first to receive special investigative reports and features in your inbox.