By Umar Shuaibu
In our last episode we listed the granting of Court Orders preventing enforcement activities on illegal developments among major causes of building collapse. What we had in mind among others, was the shocking circumstances that led to the building collapse in Abuja, of plot number 1895, Asokoro District, on30th July 2009.
The collapsed building in Asokoro was under construction by Realty Fortune Limited at the time of the collapse. The developer commenced development without building plans approval, in a desperate attempt to maintain the land ownership. “Stop Work” and “Demolition” notices were served by the Development Control Department to the developer dated 2ndMay 2008 and 12th May 2008 respectively. Notwithstanding, the developer went to court and obtained restriction order, declaring the enforcement notices, as illegal, irregular, misconceived, invalid, ineffective and null and void.
The court went further to also restrain the defendants by themselves, their agents, servants and or privies or otherwise howsoever from demolishing, or interfering with the development on the said land and from committing any act or further act of trespass on the said land. With the grant of these entire requests by the court before Honourable Justice Ugochukwu A. Ogakwu of the FCT High Court, not stating the maintenance a status quo on the construction activities on site pending the final determination of the case, and also not minding the possible consequences, which shall include the developers disregard for standards in construction practice, the failure of which shall only be checked by the defendants, even when building plans approval were granted. The implication is that the authority cannot access the ongoing construction activities on site to check possible defects without facing the accusation of disregard for the rule of law, or a charge of court contempt.
The most dramatic aspect was that, nine days after the judgment, the entire building came down crashing, claiming the life of one person with about 15 people sustaining various degrees of injuries. The circumstance that led to the Asokoro incident and the role played by the court to render the Development Control Department incapacitated, yet pointing accusing finger to it, presented yet another challenge to our city management which requires urgent attention.
All citizens have fundamental rights for seeking redress from the judicial arm of the government in the event of being unjustly trampled upon. However, this right is being abused. There must be respect to laid down rules and regulations. Also, pursuit of one’s rights must not be at the detriment of others, or, threats to the lives of other citizens.
The provision of enforcement procedure under Development Control Department in the Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Law of 1992 is not only for guide in development, but, also for safeguarding lives and properties of the citizens. If the developer respected the enforcement notices served, or if the trial Judge considered the provision of the aforementioned law, the life of the deceased and those injured would have been saved.
Lands in all Districts of the Federal Capital City were documented and earmarked for various uses. Unfortunately, in some instances, persons would acquire forged documents, either deliberately, or duped, and commence development of piece of land without building plans approval, irrespective of the approved land uses. As soon as enforcement notices were served by the Control Department, they run to the court to secure injunctions against the authority, even when they are aware that their titles are fraudulent.
It must be noted that in circumstances of dispute in order to be fair to all, the courts must ensure that all developments on site are halted. However, to the fraudulent developers maintaining status quo does not mean stopping development pending the determination of the case, but, continuation of development pending the determination.
While the infringing developer is continuing with his work, the court would grant the order restraining the defendants, which is the authority, by themselves, their agents, servants and or privies or otherwise, howsoever from interfering with the development on the said land. Any act or further acts by the authority on the said land would be considered as trespass, as in the Asokoro collapsed structure case.
In most of these cases the aim of the plaintiff is not to seek justice, but to prevent the authority from preventing his illegal development. By the time the case is determined against the plaintiff, the development is completed and removal becomes more tasking. However, it does not deter AMMC and Development Control Department.
We would like to urge the FCTA to liaise with The National Judicial Commission (NJC) in order to stop this type of abuse. Law should also be sponsored at the National Assembly to determine cases not liable to injunctions in order to save lives. Also, property development matters are better handled by the URP Tribunal. The advantages the tribunal has over the conventional legal institutions is that in addition to the presence a legal practitioner who would provide a guide from the point of law, the panel members also include professionals in the built environment.
Shuaibu is immediate past Coordinator, Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC)