Nigeria: The myth of the Abuja master plan

from COHRE
Published on 15 May 2008 View Original

For over ten years, the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) and the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) have monitored and advocated against massive and egregious housing rights violations in Nigeria. Although Nigeria boasts a rich and diverse history, as well as being Africa's fourth largest economy (1), Nigeria has violated the right to adequate housing on a scale and with a persistence that is rarely seen anywhere else in the world. Over two million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in Nigeria since the year 2000 in cities such as Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and others. (2)

Remarkably, these violations have attracted little international attention or criticism. In contrast, housing rights violations in countries such as Zimbabwe (where 700 000 people were evicted during Operation Murambatsvina) and China (where millions have been displaced in Shanghai, Beijing, and other areas due to large-scale development projects) have received sustained international media attention. However, equally extreme violations in Nigeria have gone largely unnoticed beyond the country's borders. Moreover, while the Nigerian media have reported on some cases of forced eviction, these tended to focus on the dramatic events of the moment, such as police violence or the reactions of those who have had their property destroyed. Unfortunately, there has been an extraordinary lack of critical coverage of the policies and laws that lead to forced evictions and of the lack of effective legal instruments to provide remedies to those whose human rights have been violated. There has been insufficient information on the full extent of the destruction and the number of people directly affected. There has also been little analysis on how cities, regions and the country have been affected by local and national policies that lead to millions of Nigerians being forcibly evicted - and millions more living in inadequate housing without tenure security.

To help fill this gap in reporting and analysis, COHRE and SERAC undertook a joint fact-finding mission in October and November 2006 to investigate forced evictions in the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. This report is the result of that mission and follow-up research and discussions with authorities throughout 2007. The report provides a critique of the policies and practices that led to the forced eviction of more than 800 000 people in Abuja from 2003 to 2007 under the administration of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Nasir Ahmad el- Rufai. The report also includes constructive and detailed recommendations for remedial and corrective actions by the authorities. COHRE and SERAC respectfully offer this critique and these recommendations in the hope that the current administration under FCT Minister, Dr Aliyu Modibbo Umar will take into account our recommendations for further development of Abuja in a way that promotes rather than violates the human rights of its residents, and that offers redress for human rights violations committed under the El-Rufai administration.

The Abuja evictions and demolitions of 2003 to 2007 affected businesses, high-density apartment buildings, informal settlements, mosques, churches, schools, government office buildings, and even mansions belonging to nationally elected representatives. In one bizarre but revealing case, the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) placed an eviction notice on the entrance of the Federal High Court in Abuja that stated: 'You are hereby ordered to vacate this site you are illegally occupying/developing and report to the development department... Failure to comply will lead to the demolition of your structure and legal action will be taken against you. To avoid embarrassment, please comply.' (3) A public relations officer for the Department of Development Control explained that the Authority had issued the notice to quit because the Abuja Master Plan did not envision a court located in a residential area. (4) Director of Development Control, Isa Shuaibu, admitted that the court had been allocated the site legally as temporary premises while permanent premises were under construction, but that was not sufficient reason to keep his department from carrying out its work. He also told reporters, 'You and I know that a court is not supposed to be located within a residential Estate.' (5) Although the FCT Minister rescinded the notice to quit, the Minister and FCDA officials had unabashedly questioned the rule of law, suggesting to the public that their interpretation of the Master Plan was just as important - if not more - than the processes by which land is allocated under Nigerian law. Former FCT Minister El-Rufai and FCDA officials have created a powerful myth about the Abuja Master Plan; and they have used this myth to attempt to justify violatations of international and domestic law.

FCDA officials have not been alone in publicly misrepresenting the scope, content and legal authority of the Abuja Master Plan. In a 2006 press statement, the Nigerian Minister for the myth of the abuja master plan - nigeria Housing and Urban Development defended the forced evictions in Abuja, saying: 'Since those affected choose to embark on illegal development without recourse to the provisions of the Master Plan, which is the legal instrument for administering development control in the city, their removal was on the ground of maintaining the rule of law.' (6) However, the Abuja Master Plan is not a legal instrument, but a planning document. Those who implement it are subject to laws that, among other things, prohibit forced evictions.

Former FCT Minister El Rufai and other officials have used this myth of the Abuja Master Plan to attempt to convince people that the proper implementation of the Master Plan justified and necessitated the systematic violation of the rights of hundreds of thousands of people so that Abuja would not become 'another Lagos'. However, few people have access to the Abuja Master Plan to be able to read its recommendations firsthand. Few people have criticised the FCDA for its failure to implement key provisions of the Master Plan regarding Government responsibilities towards housing delivery mechanisms - and it is that failure to implement the Master Plan that contributed to the growth of informal settlements and the dire lack of adequate housing in Abuja. In particular, the Master Plan notes:

Housing represents the most basic of human needs and has a profound impact on the health, welfare, and productivity of individuals. As the closest point of contact between City residents and the City, the success of the New Capital, in the eyes of its residents, will be judged on the basis of the quality of the residential environment. ...[F]uture residents will judge the City not only on how the organization of the City fits their everyday needs, but also on how the demand for housing is provided. (7)

The 1979 Master Plan also levelled criticisms at housing delivery mechanisms in Nigeria, which remain entirely valid in 2007, including such problems as:

- Failure to mobilize all available financial resources, including both public and private sectors

- Setting of unrealistic standards of housing quality not matched to the experience, desires, and capabilities of the population to be served

- Failure to give access to credit to the population - both producer and consumerto- be-served

- Inability to preserve and use properly located and easily developed land in an efficient manner

- Building industry shortcomings represented by such equally unsatisfactory options as high-priced foreign contractors and imported materials versus inexperienced small-scale builders with an uncertain supply of indigenous materials

- Preoccupation with building technology rather than delivery of affordable housing. (8)

Unfortunately, the Minister and the FCDA have done little to address the positive recommendations of the Master Plan towards delivering and facilitating the development of adequate housing that is affordable for the majority of the residents of Abuja. Instead, they have destroyed existing housing and forced residents into homelessness and overcrowded living conditions. Through forced evictions, the FCT Minister and the FCDA have further obstructed residents' existing access to water, sanitation, health care, and education facilities. Furthermore, the FCDA failed to adequately consult with residents prior to evictions, failed to provide adequate notice, and failed to obtain court orders for all evictions. The FCDA also carried out some evictions in defiance of court injunctions to stop them. FCT Chief Justice Lawal Hassan Gumi reported that as of August 2007, at least 80 percent of cases pending against the FCT Administration in the FCT courts are regarding demolitions and evictions. The newlyappointed FCT Minister, Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar, has declared that his administration will attempt to settle 560 pending cases on demolitions out of court. (9)


(1) The 2005 real gross domestic product for Nigeria was $59 992 million, behind South Africa ($160 793 million), the Arab Republic of Egypt (119 714 million), and Algeria ($69 698 million). See African Development Indicators 2007, the World Bank, p. 23.

(2) See Forced Evictions: Violations of Human Rights - Global Survey 10, COHRE (Dec. 2006); Forced Evictions: Violations of Human Rights - Global Survey 9, COHRE (2003); and Forced Evictions: Violations of Human Rights - Global Survey 8, COHRE (2002).

(3) Ruby Rabiu and Abdullahi M. Gulloma, 'FCDA Serves Court Eviction Notice', Daily Trust, (21 Mar. 2007).

(4) Ibid.

(5) 'El-Rufai Rescinds Decision to Evict Abuja Court', Daily Trust, (23 Mar. 2007).

(6) Office of the Honourable Minister, Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, 'Evictions in Abuja: The Untold Story', [press release], (22 Jun. 2006).

(7) International Planning Associates, The Master Plan for Abuja the New Federal Capital of Nigeria, Federal Capital Development Authority, Federal Republic of Nigeria, (15 Feb. 1979), p. 171.

(8) Ibid, p. 172.

(9) Funmi Peter-Omale, 'FCTA'll Resolve 560 Demolition Cases Out of Court', This Day, (10 Aug. 2007).