Monday, September 12, 2016 3:49 pm
It’s doubtful if hundreds of workers of Kakatar Construction and Engineering Nigeria Limited, an indigenous civil engineering firm based in Abuja will join other Nigerians in this week’s celebration of the Id-el-Kabir holiday. Rather than celebrate, the workers are likely to be busy praying and asking God to help avert the possibility of their joining hundreds of thousands of their compatriots who have lost their jobs in recent times.
To be sure, the firm, like its counterparts in the construction industry has been under considerable strain in recent time largely due lack of payment for jobs duly executed for the Federal Government. But the company has soldiered on, even still continuing with the execution of some of the projects despite the huge indebtedness from some of its major clients.
But all that changed on Saturday, 3 September when well armed soldiers, without any previous information or warning, sealed off the road leading to Maitaima Extension District, Abuja. Kakatar is building the engineering infrastructure for the 230 hectares new District, formerly named after former President Goodluck Jonathan. The company also has an expansive office which also serves as a site for the project it is executing in the new district.
But soldiers sent to take over the site drove away the workers on ground at the time of their invasion. The well armed soldiers have kept the workers out of the site since then, effectively ensuring stoppage of work in construction of infrastructure for the district. With the invasion, it was gathered that critical equipments and facilities being used for the work Kakatar is executing for the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, especially in the Karshi and Kyami areas of Abuja like asphalt-producing plants, rock crushers, state-of-the-art fabrication workshop, heavy duty earth moving equipment like dozers and excavators, trucks, etc have also been trapped in the site. Thus, just as workers have been barred from the Maitaima district, they can also not work in other areas due to lack of equipment.
While justifying its invasion of the District, the Army claims the over 200 hectares of land which shares boundary with Luigi Barracks is its property. “The said property is on Nigerian Army’s land and the Army will not allow anybody to encroach on its land. Consequently, the property has to be sealed to prevent further encroachment,” Colonel Sani Usman, Acting Director, Army Public Relations said in a statement.
But the Army has so far failed to put any document in public domain to justify its claim. Thus, many including Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, believe that the action of the Army is just a replication of the various forms of impunities the service has been associated with in recent times. Falana said in a statement that by taking over the property under the pretext that it constitutes a threat to a nearby military barracks, the military authorities took the law into their hands.
“The forceful seizure of the property should not be tolerated in a civilised society which operates under the rule of law,” said the Senior Advocate of Nigeria who lamented that workers of the company have been rendered jobless by the occupation of their premises by soldiers.
He therefore called on President Muhammadu Buhari, to caution the Army against arbitrary use of naked powers and brute force on innocent citizens. The President has not heeded the call from the reputable lawyer.
Sources told this magazine that that the invasion of the district may not be totally unconnected with speculations that Kakatar, being run by Azibaola Robert, a sibling of former President Jonathan was not the real owner of the company. The rumour is that the company actually belonged to former the President who then used it to acquire the new district with over 400 plots already allocated to Nigerians and duly captured in the Abuja Master plan.
It was also gathered that the fact that the massive parcel of land overlooks the Katampe, Mpape, Guzape hills, sharing direct borders with the Lungi Barracks of the Nigerian Army may be another reason for the forceful take over. Before the relationship between the Army and the company went sour, this magazine learnt that soldiers had provided security for premises of Kakatar. Indeed, it was learnt that as a rule, no visitor can access the premises of the construction firm since 2011 when the company began its operation at the site except with clearance of soldiers.
But the Army would have been misinformed and would certainly be acting on a very wrong information if its move to seize the expansive land was motivated by speculations that it is owned by the former President through a proxy, said a source.
For one, the management of Kakatar said it has never claimed to own the land while the former President also rejected attempt to name the new district after him by a former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT. The former President, sources at FCT said, had rejected the tag of ‘Jonathan District’ as identity for the new district as he ordered the minister to revert to the popularly known ‘Maitama Extension’ as the name of the expansive area.
Also, it was learnt that Jonathan was not among owners of land in the choice district though FCDA generously allotted plots to many ex leaders, influential traditional rulers, retired as well serving military officers as well top public officers among others in the new district. The district was designed as a highbrow residential area for the mighty and powerful, especially with the added security of its location in the fringes of Lungi Barracks.
While defending the location of the office of construction firm within the district, a source pointed out that it is in tune with practice by FCDA to provide temporary space for building of offices to companies executing infrastructure projects for it right at the site. It was in tune with this practice that Kakatar was provided with a portion of the area its temporary site yard when the contract awarded to it by then Minister of FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed in 2011.
The development of the district was however initiated by Senator Adamu Aliero who served as the Minister of the FCT under the late Yar’Adua administration in 2008. Aliero had earmarked the district alongside two others – Katampe and Katampe Extension for development. It was also learnt that Aliero had allocated nearly all the plots to subscribers before he left office.
The contract for the development of infrastructure for the District was however eventually awarded to Kakatar which made history then as the first indigenous and wholly Nigerian owned firm to be given such job. The contract involves that construction of a total of 23 kilometres roads of various types, four major bridges to link the various communities and into the Kubwa expressway, a clover-leaf interchange linking the district with the expressway, provision of 26.4 kilometres length of storm water line of various sizes, 31.8 kilometres length of four sewer line of various sizes; 38.7 kilometres length of water supply lines with relevant accessories and a booster pump station and 1000m3 of clean water reservoir inside the district. Also, the company is expected to construct a network of electricity distribution and telecommunication ducts with a 33 KV/11KV injection substation and 11/0.415KV transformer as well as underground cables for distribution and plot connections.
Kakatar has embarked on the construction of infrastructure in tune with the terms of its contract with FCDA. The fact that the FCDA is satisfied with the job being done by the company was reflected in the fact that the Authority earmarked N2.5 billion for the settlement of outstanding liabilities to the company and the continuation of work on the project in its 2016 budget as recently approved by President Buhari.
But the joy that the allocation will further accelerate space of work on the project was cut short by the Army’s invasion. Efforts by management of the construction firm to seek further clarifications on the reasons behind the takeover of its facilities by soldiers have so far not been successful.
Also concerned by the Army’s action, it was learnt are over 400 owners of plots in the district. This is because the Nigerian Army has also not indicated whether the already allocated plots have been seized alongside equipments and facilities of Kakatar valued at billions which have been locked down in the district since 3 September. Many of the plot owners have completed their buildings which are ready for occupation, waiting for Kakatar to complete its contract and handover. The major bridge linking all the facilities and segments in the district, has been completed along with many roads, water, sewage ducts etc.
Also concerned by the Army’s action is the FCDA which issued the plot owners with Certificates of Occupancy and may now have to return the billions of naira it has received as payments for the land if the allocations are to be revoked. The fact is that the FCDA may not be able to confront the Army over the seizure of the district and will instead look up to the President for resolution to the brewing logjam with the military.
Despite this, it was learnt that some of plot owners are already putting pressure of FCDA to take action that will lead to retrieval of the land from the military. Some of the private individuals whose buildings have reached advanced stages of completion, it was gathered did not particularly find assertions by the Army that nobody would be allowed access to the expansive district funny.
And true to that assertion, the well armed soldiers deployed for the take over the facility have effectively barred them from accessing their plots since the day the order was made on September 3. Some of the plots owners, it was learnt, are already considering the possibility of dragging the FCDA and the Army to court. The bigger battle that the Army may however confront over the plan to seize the district may be from the National Assembly. The new official residences being built for the Senate President, his deputy, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and other principal officers of the National Assembly are some of the most conspicuous buildings inside the Maitaima Extension District.
The buildings are at various stages of completion and the National Assembly, through the chairmen of Senate and House FCT Committees regularly carry out oversight duties on the site to monitor the progress of work on residences of the Principal Officers. Just as on the other buildings in the district, work has stopped on the construction of the residences of the National Assembly principal officers since the military invasion. The National Assembly has not reacted to the Army’s invasion since it was carried out. But sources told this magazine that the issue may be one of the matters to be tackled urgently by the lawmakers when they resumed from their ongoing recess in about a week’s time.
Austin Ekeinde, spokesperson for Kakatar said in a statement last week that the company was surprised by the action of the Army which he described as unwarranted. He also confessed that the sealing of the company’s premises is causing the firm huge financial losses in addition to untold hardship for hundreds of families whose breadwinners working in Kakatar are now forced to stay at home.
“It is instructive to note that at no time did the company suggest or claim that the land upon which it was using as a site to coordinate the project belongs to Kakatar. Never! All that we have been doing is to speedily complete the contract in accordance with the terms and pull out our equipment so that the plot owners can move into their property and live happily,” he said. He also added that the company has been a good neighbor and no notice of any security breach or infraction has ever been issued to it by the Army. “No enquiry as to our presence or intention to recover any land was ever sent to us before locking us out. We believe there is a failure of intelligence here. A fact check would easily have revealed that the land in question belongs to over 400 allottees and that it is the place to host the official residences of the Senate and deputy senate President and that allottees have already developed their plots to advanced stage,” Ekeinde said.
It was however gathered that following a formal petition to his office by the company, it was gathered that the Minister of FCT, Alhaji Muhammad Bello is already looking at how to resolve the crisis generated by the Army’s action over the Maitaima New Extension before it ballooned out of control. Mohammed Sani, a media aide to the Minister also confirmed in an interview last Saturday that Kakatar was awarded the contract for provision of basic infrastructure by the Administration at the new Maitama District.