Con­tro­versy trails de­mo­li­tion in Abuja Arts and Crafts Vil­lage

Daily Trust - - NEWS -

There’s ten­sion at the Abuja Arts and Crafts Vil­lage be­hind Shehu Yar’adua Cen­tre over al­leged de­mo­li­tion of shops by the Na­tional Coun­cil for Arts and Cul­ture (NCAC) last week.

The cul­tural vil­lage was built by a con­struc­tion com­pany as a part of its so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity ser­vices and handed over to the FCT’s So­cial Devel­op­ment Sec­re­tariat ahead of the Com­mon­wealth Heads of State and Gov­ern­ment Sum­mit (CHOGOM) in 2004.

But af­ter the event, the place re­mained fallow un­til the then FCT Min­is­ter Nasir El-rufa’i ral­lied all the arts and crafts stake­hold­ers in the ter­ri­tory, and made them stay in­side the fa­cil­ity which is lo­cated ad­ja­cent to Sher­a­ton Ho­tel and Tow­ers and the Yar’adua cen­tre.

To make pro­vi­sion for ad­di­tional in­fra­struc­ture as well as earn rev­enue from the vil­lage, the FCT en­tered into en­gaged pri­vate de­vel­op­ers to build shops in the fa­cil­ity on Build Op­er­ate and Trans­fer ba­sis.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions by Daily Trust have shown that on Au­gust 25, 2009, the Arts and Crafts Depart­ment of the So­cial Devel­op­ment Sec­re­tariat of the FCT, granted a lease of a par­cel of land within the cul­tural vil­lage to a pri­vate devel­oper, Um­makhalif Lim­ited, for the con­struc­tion of 5 No. Blocks, 7- Room Shops for the sale of arts and crafts and re­lated busi­nesses.

The lease con­ces­sion was for a term of 25 years re­new­able for an­other two term of 25 years, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial doc­u­ments an­a­lysed by our re­porters.

The pro­vi­sional of­fer of al­lo­ca­tion was signed by the Direc­tor of So­cial Devel­op­ment Sec­re­tariat of the FCT, Sen­a­tor Bala Adamu.

How the prob­lem started

Find­ings showed that the devel­oper im­me­di­ately took over pos­ses­sion and sub­stan­tially de­vel­oped the land and rented some of the shops to ten­ants, and has been per­form­ing all its obli­ga­tions un­der the agree­ment, such as the pay­ment of N100,000 an­nual fees to the FCT for use of the vil­lage.

But on Fe­bru­ary 27, 2013, how­ever, a group of work­ers and labour­ers from the Na­tional Coun­cil for Arts and Cul­ture in­vaded the premises and com­menced im­me­di­ate ex­ca­va­tion and de­struc­tion of the ac­cess road to the shops and the fence of the premises.

Sub­se­quently, on April 16, 2013, the me­dia re­ported that a Cer­tifi­cate of Oc­cu­pancy of the land was re­leased to NCAC by the then Min­is­ter of Cul­ture de­spite the sub­sist­ing lease agree­ment, the of­fi­cial doc­u­ments re­vealed.

The devel­oper, there­fore, wrote the then FCT Min­is­ter Bala Mo­hammed com­plain­ing that that devel­op­ment was a clear and fla­grant breach of the fun­da­men­tal terms of the lease agree­ment.

Find­ings show that the devel­oper re­quested the min­is­ter to re­call the Cer­tifi­cate of Oc­cu­pancy is­sued to NCAC and re­verse to sta­tus quo, or risk le­gal ac­tion.

The sta­tus quo was or­dered to be main­tained by the two par­ties when the mat­ter was taken to the FCT High Court.

But trou­ble started again about three months ago when Otunba Se­gun Run­sewe was ap­pointed Direc­tor Gen­eral of the NCAC.

Around June 23, 2017, the new lead­er­ship of NCAC locked the pedes­trian gate link­ing the premises with Yar’adua Cen­tre and Sil­ver­bird com­plexes, which was con­tained in the agree­ment.

The devel­oper went back to court and ob­tained an in­junc­tion or­der­ing the NCAC and FCT to re­spect the sta­tus quo.

But de­spite all this, bull­doz­ers were mo­bilised into the premises on July 26, 2017, de­mol­ish­ing stalls and ware­houses where con­struc­tion ma­chines and other valu­ables were stored by the devel­oper.

Ar­ti­sans, traders cry

Since the de­mo­li­tion ex­er­cise, arts and craft traders within the vil­lage in­ter­viewed by our re­porters said the busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties were mov­ing nor­mally there un­til three months ago when this con­fu­sion started.

Traders and other ser­vices providers com­pris­ing art crafts pro­duc­ers and also na­tive dress fash­ion de­sign­ers lamented that their busi­nesses which were at­tract­ing for­eign vis­i­tors of for­eign and arts and craft en­thu­si­asts are grind­ing to a halt to mea­sured al­legedly taken by NCAC.

The clo­sure of the pedes­trian gate link­ing the vil­lage with Sil­ver­bird has driven away so many vis­i­tors to the cul­tural vil­lage and thereby re­duc­ing their pa­tron­age, ac­cord­ing to the traders.

Sal­isu Adamu, a shop owner of cul­tural arts and craft, said the devel­op­ment is tak­ing a toll on his busi­ness. “I get the sup­ply of these arts and craft ma­te­ri­als from Kano, Benin city, Ba­mako in Mali, and also Ku­masi in Ghana. But the pa­tron­age is very low now be­cause for­eign­ers and cul­tural en­thu­si­asts who are mostly elite can’t ac­cess this place be­cause of the clo­sure of the gate,” he said.

An­other hand craft trader, Sun­day Ba­lo­gun, who got his sup­plies usu­ally from Ile-Ife and Enugu cities, said the sit­u­a­tion has badly af­fected his busi­ness.

“For over a month now, I haven’t trav­eled to get sup­plies. This is un­like be­fore where I trav­elled ev­ery week to buy these ar­ti­facts, sculp­tures, among others. We are at the re­ceiv­ing end of this con­fu­sion. The gov­ern­ment should in­ter­vene please,” he said.

An­other new mea­sure in­hibit­ing busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties in the vil­lage ac­cord­ing to the traders is the new pol­icy where shop own­ers built by the devel­oper have to pay daily fees be­fore they ac­cess the premises with their ve­hi­cles. Shop own­ers at the fa­cil­ity used to pay N1000 only monthly for ve­hi­cle ac­cess, but are now forced to be­tween N100 to N300 per ve­hi­cle daily based on the type of the ve­hi­cle.

We don’t de­mol­ish struc­tures — NCAC

Sev­eral at­tempts by our re­porters to di­rectly speak to the DG of NCAC Run­sawe were not suc­cess­ful last week.

When our re­porter vis­ited NCAC head of­fice on Wed­nes­day about that, he was told the DG was not around.

The next day when our re­porter re­turned to the of­fice, the DG was said to be at­tend­ing a meet­ing. But the agency’s head of me­dia, Charles Nwam who spoke to our re­porter at the week­end said “we don’t de­mol­ish. We don’t have right to de­mol­ish. We don’t even have the equip­ment to de­mol­ish struc­tures. But it’s FCDA that de­mol­ish struc­tures.”

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