Mpape is largely an informal settlement located in the hills just outside the expressway that circles the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of Abuja. With a population that residents estimate to be around 1.8-2 million inhabitants, it has grown swiftly from a village to major city in the space of just about 30 years.
While there is a small “indigene” population of native Gwari / Gbagyi, the vast majority of inhabitants are so-called “settlers” who have moved to Mpape during recent decades because of its relative affordability and proximity to employment opportunities in Abuja. Some of the “settlers” were also resettled to Mpape following the demolition of districts such as Wuse and Garki within the FCT to make way for the implementation of the “Abuja Master Plan.”
For decades, Mpape has also been home to a number of major mining sites owned by major construction companies – Berger, Arab Contractors, Crushed Rock, et al – which benefit from most Federal Government contracts for road and other infrastructure projects in Abuja and across Nigeria. Indeed, many Mpape districts derive their names from that of the closest company, i.e. “Berger Quarry Road I,” “Berger Quarry Road II,” and “Arab Village.”
Neglected by planning or regulatory authorities for decades, residential areas in Mpape lie side-by-side with mining companies’ blasting sites and over the years have suffered the expected consequences – roofs blown off, damage to structural integrity, etc. Aside from building access roads to their sites that double for residents’ use and providing benefits to a few (i.e. traditional “indigene” rulers) in exchange for political favors, these companies have done little to help develop Mpape’s infrastructure – although they have done more than government.
What infrastructure does exist in Mpape – electricity, water, roads, schools, health clinics and other community facilities – is primarily the product of residents’ self-help efforts. Residents’ associations have sprung up over the year for different areas of Mpape to collect levies among neighbors and collectively invest in transformers and other electricity infrastructure, build and maintain roads, build schools, etc. Residents report that Mpape pays N14m each month for electricity from the Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria (PHCN, formerly NEPA) – dwarfing the monthly revenues from Abuja itself. Residents even contribute to bring security to Mpape, recently donating a building for a new police station in a previously un-served area.
The tragedy of Mpape is that, despite all this collective investment and communal effort, the vast majority of residents – like most Nigerians – lack security of tenure. Early settlers claim they were encouraged to move to Mpape by previous FCT administrations. Most purchased their land for good value from “indigenes” who have traditional title to land. Many have over the years paid various land use-related fees to the local government as well as the FCT. Despite all of this, the FCT government has refused formal recognition to Mpape residents’ land ownership.
In July 2012, the FCT Minister Bala Mohammed announced by radio and television that his administration intended to demolish 19 villages around Abuja including the entirety of Mpape. Numerous houses were marked in different areas of Mpape including Ajegunle, Eneje, Mashafa, Area 1, G.R.A., etc. Community members report a sudden influx of police and military presence within Mpape during that time of crisis.
Beyond the shear magnitude, the threatened demolition is also discriminatory as it explicitly targets the houses of settlers, not of indigenes, irrespective of who actually holds legal title to land. This divisive tactic, which encourages traditional rulers and indigenes to sell out their neighbors and persons to whom they previously sold land, has characterized the FCT Administration’s approach to demolitions of numerous human settlements since the creation of the FCT.
For a history of demolitions / forced evictions in the FCT and discriminatory patterns, see SERAC’s report, Pushing out the Poor: Forced Evictions under the Abuja Master Plan: http://www.serac.org/Publications/AbujaReportFinal.pdf.
The people of Mpape were quick to respond led by an umbrella group called the Mpape Residents Association. The group contacted the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), organized a peaceful protest to the National Assembly, and got the threatened demolition into the national and international media, including Al Jazeera, the BBC, and Voice of America. A team of lawyers led by the well-known human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has also been litigating a case challenging the legality of the threatened demolition since August 2012.
See Al Jazeera video coverage of threatened demolition of Mpape: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/09/20129513752852168.html
The effect of all this agitation and outcry over the threatened demolition seems to have averted the immediate threat. The Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) carried out two smaller-scale demolitions within Mpape during July-August 2012 – one of a market area called “New Market” that was reportedly in execution of a court order on behalf of a private land owner and the second of a primary school built in the immediate vicinity of the Crushed Rock mining site, reportedly in violation of set-back requirements – but the broader demolition has not proceeded. Residents attribute this to their efforts combined with the fact that the 2015 elections are already looming on the horizon and Mpape is a huge voting bloc within the FCT that no politician or political party can afford to alienate.
Taking advantage of the apparent moment of respite, the Mpape Residents Association is now working proactively to find a long-term solution to the demolition threat. Following on a referral from the NHRC Chairman, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, they have entered into a partnership with the Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) because of SERAC’s expertise in assisting informal settlements facing demolitions / forced evictions.