It was the turn of the inhabitants of Dutse Makaranta in Nigeria’s Federal Capital City of Abuja to taste state violence today. Bulldozers rolled into the settlement midday and before anyone could count three, leveled it.
Much of the structures in the sprawling roadside settlement could be classified as temporary ones just as there were those the owners might have thought were permanent. They are mostly shops, people’s houses and squatter structures housing various crusts of the urban poor and those whose poverty could be said to have assumed psychological dimensions.
The operation which apparently caught both the inhabitants and road users off guard was still on as around 3. 00 pm today, (June 29th, 2022). Intervention which got caught up in the small traffic build up in the space being demolished observed three categories of actors on the scene. The first were the direct victims who could be seen desperately trying to salvage whatever they could from the jaw of the bulldozers. The second were the impotent onlookers while the third were the law enforcement agents who were either not more than the bulldoxers operatives or operatives who resorted to mufti.
As usual, the questions come to why did the authorities allow such a settlement before the need to level it came up; whether the victims were given any alternatives and if there were any attempts at negotiating any different ways out.
Most onlookers kept sealed lips which is a difficult attitude to understand. As such, it was difficult to find answers to such questions immediately. Traffic was flowing even as the spot was crowded and road users had to slow down and create an exit for him or herself.
Demolition of structures generally framed as illegal has become a defining feature of the management of the mega city. In that sense, this demolition resonates with the contention that successive governments in Nigeria make a religion of the so-called Abuja Master Plan.
The most memorable assault on that as far as Intervention can recall might be no more than the late Dr. Ibrahim Tahir’s remark that whoever ordered the demolition of one such settlement in 2006 had a question mark on his education. Tahir who was one of Nigeria’s best trained Sociologists caught the sight of desperate victims of the demolition in question on his way into Abuja township from the airport, forcing him to ask who ordered the demolition. When told that it must be the FCT Minister, he then said that the education of whoever ordered it is incomplete.
As not only a Cambridge trained but philosophically profound academic, his statement resonated in many quarters as a weighty commentary on the practice of demolition exercises which the authorities appear to see as punishing people who willfully disobeyed or violated a Master Plan. His sharp comment was also interpreted to suggest a contrasting reading of the demolition approach in Nigeria to the management of similar mega cities as London, Johannesburg, Cairo, Paris, New York, Sydney and so on.
In 2006 when the late Talban Bauchi made his comment, the FCT Minister was Nasir el-Rufai. Today, it is Mallam Mohammed Musa Bello, none of who is less than a graduate at a time when university education in Nigeria was world class. This cannot but mean that Dr. Ibrahim Tahir could only have been interrogating the ideological dimension of the education of successive ministers of the FCT. Unfortunately, there are not many Ibrahim Tahirs today to force discussion of the implications of class insensitivity onto Nigeria’s public sphere and how it might be corrected. Yet, the question remains as to how far demolition is the solution to the problem of “illegal settlements” upon which the lives of quite a number of citizens depends.
Intervention understands that there are many more such settlements, many of them already earmarked for demolition. So far, only the inhabitants of Mpape, a heartbeat of unspeakable poverty, have successfully resisted the demolition of their shanties. Each time, they have anticipated and overwhelm the bulldozers, arguing that they would not give way for the urban Reich to share the place into among themselves. How long they will hold out remains to be seen.
But Mpape is poverty itself. It is simply unfit for human habitation that no one would argue for its continued existence just as its demolition would throw too many people into homelessness in peacetime Nigeria.