Controversy trails demolition in Abuja Arts and Crafts Village
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.”