- …As govt demolishes illegal guest houses in Maiduguri
Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
The broad horizontal blade in front of the bulldozer smashed through the centre of a big building, which had, for decades, served as a hotspot for revellers and fun-seekers at Galadima in the heart of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
Within minutes, the structure, identified as a hotel or brothel, came down like a pack of cartons amid jubilation and condemnation by residents.
“I am happy government has demonstrated courage in pulling down these brothels,” a resident, Ibrahim Saleh, declared as he waved repeatedly at the government officials supervising the demolition in appreciation. “Most residents here are worried about immoral things happening in the hotels.”
“Aikin kirki, na gode gwamna,” chorused some elderly women at the edge of the street near another hotel. “It is good work. Thanks to the governor,” they said, as the bulldozer brought the structure down.
However, two middle-aged men standing beside the road were in obvious agony as they kept exclaiming: “We are finished!”
This was the scenario at Galadima, a densely-populated area of Maiduguri. Until now, the area had about 20 hotels and brothels, according to residents. They also claimed most of the facilities harboured male and female youths between the ages of 14 and 25, who engaged in drug peddling and consumption, sex trade, gambling and sale and consumption of liquor.
Daily Sun gathered that 47 other brothels at Baga Road, London Ciki, Federal Low Cost, Jiddari Polo, Wulari, Mairi, Madiganari, and Gamboru in the capital have been pencilled down by the state government for demolition, citing increasing criminality in the city as reason for its action. However, Galadima is believed to have the highest number of hotspots harbouring scores of unemployed youths who are mostly users of illicit drugs.
Until the July 2009 uprising by Boko Haram, Galadima was the centre of business and commerce in the capital. It could be described as a community in motion, with a mixture of commercial, social and religious activities always taking place in the area. Residents said it was the centre of attraction even before the nation’s independence in 1960, as the neighbourhood bordered the seat of colonial power and the Shehu’s Palace. The scores of shops that dotted both sides of the major road in the area accentuated its commercial viability and economic potential. It was also home to a couple of Islamic scholars with some Koranic schools.
But behind these qualities lurked its notoriety. Residents alleged that dozens of youths were often found in many of the hotels engaging in the consumption and abuse of illicit substances and other illegal activities, including Indian hemp, codeine syrup, gambling, sex trade and various vices day and night, even during curfew hours. Late last year, a university undergraduate was bathed with acid by a jealous lover in one the hotels at Galadima even as the perpetrator allegedly bundled her into a tricycle and dumped her along the road, leaving her to her fate. Earlier, a police officer was also discovered dead in one of the hotels.
The Borno State government insists the ventures were time bombs that could fuel bigger security challenges, especially after the nearly nine years of Boko Haram insurgency. Interestingly, the area was one of the hotbeds of the 2009 uprising and Boko Haram’s bloodbath till 2013 when the youth volunteers, Civilian JTF, sent them parking from the city.
“Three years back, we could not freely congregate or move in Galadima and other areas in Maiduguri. These things started like this and the level of criminality that is erupting now from this area and its environs is alarming,” Borno State Commissioner for Justice, Kaka Shehu Lawan, told the reporter.
Lawan, the chairman of the high-powered committee on demolition of illegal structures and brothels, maintained that government was emboldened to pull down 47 brothels, hotels, guest houses and hotspots, having discovered that the structures were erected illegally.
“Let them produce legal documents of acquisition of the landed properties where these structures were built if they have them,” he challenged the owners. He said the decision to demolish the structures was taken at the state security council meeting, with the governor and heads of security agencies in the state in attendance.
Owners of the hotels had claimed that they were given the land to build their structures by the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) in 1979, a claim that the Borno State government refuted.
“They were only given temporary allocations from the Nigeria Railways for a period of
12 months commencing from 1979, which should have elapsed sometime in 1980,” the government maintained.
The reporter also learnt that they were given the allocation by the NRC to build kiosks and temporary shops.
Leader of the hotel owners, Amechi Onwudinjo, while claiming to be unaware of the vices allegedly going on in the facilities, begged government to help: “We will be in ruins if government does not assist us. We need to recoup the money we borrowed from the bank. Ignorance is not an excuse but we are begging the government.”
The Borno State government said it had profiled hundreds of youths arrested in many of the hotels for rehabilitation.
“The State Emergency Management Agency has already profiled the youths and other women dislodged in these facilities. They have given us their details for rehabilitation and empowerment through skill acquisition,” the commissioner for justice said.
Ironically, the move by the government has raised fresh security threats in the city, according to military sources and some residents. A couple of sex workers who fled their former abode during the demolition across the city are reported to have taken up accommodation inside the mammy markets at army and police barracks in the capital.
The markets are not affected by the demolitions, as they are located within military and police land. It was stated that the two bombers that detonated explosives at 33 Artillery Barracks, Nigerian Army, on the outskirts of the city last week disguised as fun-seekers to access the barracks. At least 15 persons, including soldiers and CJTF men, were injured. Unconfirmed reports also claimed some soldiers were killed by the twin blasts.
A military officer told the reporter off record that the management of the mammy market was warned to be alert following the influx of revellers and those displaced in many of the hotels in the city.
“Sadly, we recorded bomb blasts, which affected our personnel,” the soldier said.
Many residents have lauded the demolitions, but others also said the exercise had robbed them of their source of income. Some residents have suggested that ensuring
proper rehabilitation and empowerment of those affected by the demolition was a task government should pursue to its conclusion so as not to fuel other social problems.