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92 Craftsmen In SARS Detention Since Saturday

African Arts and Cultural Heritage Association (AACHA), has since 2015 been writing the Senate, House of Representatives, President, Inspector General of Police, etc. After the fire incident we added Public Complaints Commission, SGF, Minister of Information and Culture etc over the intimidation and constant harassment by National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC. Also after the mysterious fire that gutted less than 25% of the village AACHA wrote these places. Currently we have a petition to Senate Public Complaints Committee requesting for a Public Hearing seeing how desperately the DG of NCAC was continuously using the security agencies to intimidate us in the village. He has used The Police Division Wuse Zone 3, ICPC, FCT Police Command, EFCC and currently using SARS. We also learnt that he went to DSS but was refused his using them.

The news being paraded about the Arts and Crafts Village about Arms and criminality is surprising. It is to guard against disobedience of court order served a day before they acted restraining such action. Some officials of the government are interested to selfishly use the Arts and Crafts Village land strategically located beside Sheraton Hotels for things that will give them more money instead of the Crafts village it is designed to be. Originally, 23 hectares of land was carved out for National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC, for the promotion of Crafts and culture. Because they could not develop it, government started cutting land from there for other purposes. Yaradua Center, Silverbird, PTDF, African Development Bank, Voice of Nigeria are all carved out of that 23 hectares. Even the Arts and Crafts Village was carved out during Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM, in 2003 to showcase Nigeria’s rich cultural Heritage. 

We learnt that the Federal Capital Territory under Mallam Nasir Elrufai got the allocation to develop the Crafts village. This makes the Crafts Village the only thing in the original 23 Hectares being used for the purpose of the area. The village was on completion by Julius Berger commissioned by Queen Elizabeth during CHOGM in 2003 hence it was called CHOGM village. 75 solid brick houses: a few left single, most of them divided into 2 and some divided into 3 making about 150 shops. After CHOGM the place remained mostly unused except for occasional exhibitions during big events in Abuja when our members will be invited to showcase Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage. Meanwhile our Association, African Arts and Cultural Heritage Association, AACHA has been applying to the FCT for land in the city centre to develop an Arts and Crafts Village. So in 2007, FCT allocated the brick huts to members of AACHA. 

The success of the Crafts village awakened NCAC who cunningly, and unknowing to us, in 2010 went and got Certificate of Occupancy for 3.2 hectares of their original land which included the Crafts village. By the time FCT realised their mistakes they refused to formally hand over the village resulting in a battle between NCAC and FCT that lasted till 2017. AACHA was caught in the web of the fight as both were demanding rent for the same place from our members. After weighing her options, AACHA decided to continue paying FCT principally because of three things. First, their members have allocation letters from FCT yet to be revoked, secondly FCT plans to maintain the place as a Crafts village against NCAC’s plan to build high buildings of 9 floors and more, thirdly and most importantly, FCT gave Treasury Single Account, TSA, for payment of rents in line with Federal Government policy that all money for government be paid into TSA account. NCAC was collecting cash at a time and till date collecting into private accounts. Last year when Otunba became DG of NCAC and was mounting pressure a Deputy director from FCT came to a meeting called by NCAC to inform AACHA that FCT has ceded the place to NCAC. Since then AACHA directed all it’s members to revert to paying to NCAC. 

The Director General, DG, Otunba Segun Runsewe coerced AACHA to pay into private accounts. He also started collecting money for vehicles at the gate even from those doing business and those owning shops in the Crafts village. Meanwhile, himself, his staff and his visitors never paid at the gate. He called a meeting and said that he has cancelled the NCAC policy to demolish the crafts village and that he has destroyed the file. He tactfully and forcefully made 98% of AACHA members to pay three and half years arrears accumulated during the period FCT and NCAC were fighting over the place. But we noticed that he was also trying to push us out of the place when started speculating at security circles that illegal and criminal activities were going on in the village. In one instance in 2017, be brought security operatives with sniffing dogs without notice and ordered everybody out of their shops. They searched every shop and found nothing incriminating. Then he started sending false alarms to the Zone 3 police division without getting the desired result. He started talking about our going out for changing the roofing which has always been done in sections while village is open. When these did not work, he stopped people from working overnight in the village and put closing hours at 8pm. When he achieved that, and within few weeks after collecting the arrears of rents, the place miraculously caught fire. 

Prior to the fire, he removed the CCTV cameras in the village. When the fire started on December 15 2017, our members around the village rushed to stop it from spreading but the security he put at the gate refused them entrance saying that they must get clearance from Otunba before allowing them in. Then when the fire was raging and fire service came, the fire service vehicles could not enter as a black jeep was used to block the gate. After a long wait, people had to carry out the vehicle to enable the fire service vehicle squeeze in. The car of AACHA Secretary was damaged in the process. Luckily only less than 25% of the huts were burnt (18 out of 75) by the time the fire was put off. No pin was recovered from any of the burnt shops. The loss is estimated at four hundred million naira, N400,000,000 (about one million American Dollars-$1m). Instead of finding how to rehabilitate those that lost all their source of livelihood to the inferno, Otunba started insinuating that we all move out for renovation and reconstruction without telling us where to go to. 

We protested and petitioned against this and he threatened to deal ruthlessly with us. We wrote embassies to assist us to rebuild the burnt village. We also in the letter recommended their reaching and contracting Julius Berger that originally built the village to come and rebuild it. He dragged us to Police Division, petitioned to FCT Police Command that the village is centre for drug trafficking, parking place for stolen vehicles, hideout for criminals, and kidnappers etc. He specifically requested that the Command help him to close down the village. We went with our documents which counters all his lies. The command clearly told him in our presence to go to court. We took him to a human rights radio, Berekette (see it in Youtube) and he told the same lies but cunningly refused to show his documents he claimed he had to the camera when asked to do so. Unfortunately we were not given time to refute his lies there. 

When these did not work out his purpose, he petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes, EFCC, that AACHA is collecting dollars and pounds from embassies. We were invited by phone and when we went we detained unjustly. We told them and wrote statements that we are yet to receive any money, not even one cent from any embassy. They screened our association and individual accounts which yielded nothing. They collected the specimen letter we wrote embassies and list of embassies we wrote. While this is going on, Otunba stormed the village on Saturday 3rd February 2018 with over 50 policemen from no identifiable location that he was going to close down the village. People asked where they were to stay for their business, where to keep their things, the duration of his construction. They even suggested to put tents at the open space normally used for Festivals that currently has some standing cubicles that can be used. He refused all these. When he was driving out that Saturday, unknowingly to us, he ordered the security at the gate to lock the gate from that day by 6pm as against the 8pm he put in place few months ago. 

We reasoned that his desperation will stop at nothing. This prompted our facilitating a court process and on 7th February 2018 we were granted a court order to protect us from his intimidation pending determination of the case while hearing was fixed for 13th February 2018 being less than one week. The order was served on Otunba on the 9th of February and the following day being Saturday 10th February 2018 he stormed the village with truck loadss of policemen, arrested about 92 of our members and locked them up. Our members started search for them some hours later. We went from Police Division to FCT Police Command to enquire about their where about and the operation but they said that they were not aware. We later traced them to SARS in Garki Abuja. Only I the President and the Secretary were allowed in. In our discussion SARS said that they did not arrest them but were asked to keep them. There in SARS we were told that a raffle and Indian hemp was found in the village. We asked where in the village and they said that we should ask our members. We asked them and they echoed that they were only told the story about two hours after they were locked up in SARS. Me and my Secretary were asked to write statements which we did. They abandoned us there for almost 5 hours without telling us anything. 

What this shows is that these things are most likely to have been planted. Otunba always has minimum of 5 policemen with a police post in the village and seven personnel of a private security company who screens all cars that drive into the village. The private security company at the gate searches all cars before they drive in. If at all such a thing is found in the village, then he and his security should be the ones to be questioned. But if any of our members is/are found culpable, we shall contribute in the persecution of the person(s) as they all know that we do not condone illegality. We hand out two weeks suspension for simple offence like fighting and the records are there. We also have documents from as far back as 2013 of our full collaboration with the Police and other security agencies in fully securing the area. Also we have full data of our members and they have identity cards issued to them. We are therefore interested and ready to collaborate with the Police in this investigation and hope that it is not another of the lies and game of NCAC. If this ends up being the case and 92 people detained unjustly because of the lust for power and filthy wealth of a few individuals, then we shall pray that God gives us all it will take to get total justice as what is good for the gender should be good to the goose as well.

We are appealing for wide publicity on this matter to stop these few greedy government officials from their supposedly hatched plan to ruthlessly deal with these individuals whose only crime is that they were in their place of business in the early hours of Saturday 10th February 2018. The village was sealed by security operatives. They were taken to SARS office  and hours later told that a gun and bag of Indian Hemp has been found in the Crafts village. The best that will happen to Nigeria and the promotion of our rich cultural heritage is that the land be legislated as Arts and Crafts Village by the National Assembly. This is a area that our country has comparative advantage over the West and should not be sacrificed on the alter of making money by few selfish individuals. We have battled for over five years to protect this Crafts Village and our strength is wearing out.

Thank you and God bless you

I am Nze Kanayo Chukwumezie from Ukpor in Nnewi South Local Government. I am the President of African Arts and Cultural Heritage Association, AACHA, Arts and Crafts Village. 

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