Officials from the social development office in Abuja on Monday demolished Caramelo, a night club at the heart of the Nigerian capital.
The Caramelo Bar in the exquisite Ukato neighbourhood was pulled down by earth-moving hardware on Monday morning, two days after a demolition notice was delivered for workers and guests to vacate.
The club owners have blamed Abuja minister, Bello Mohammed, for the demolition, describing it as a vindictive measure that did not consider the country’s flailing economy.
A spokesperson for the minister did not return PREMIUM TIMES’ requests for comments Monday afternoon. City administration officials present at the demolition scene also declined comments Monday afternoon.
Caramelo was also known to operate an upscale gentleman’s club and a two-star hotel in its one-storey structure. Its presence was easily noticed amongst other properties in the neighbourhood.
A view from the second intersection corner of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Way revealed the extent of the damage to Caramelo, which was amongst the most famous night stops in Abuja.
Although the perimetre fence was spared, a heap of excavated concrete, rising more than 10 feet, covered where the property sat for seven years.
Charred furniture, electronics and other household items were submerged in the concrete that formed the larger part of the debris.
A Fuzzy Dispute
Many of those who witnessed the demotion at about 7:00 a.m. on Monday told PREMIUM TIMES that officials did not respond to a barrage of demands for an explanation.
“We asked them many times, but they did not answer us,” a witness said. “They came early and left early.”
The witnesses said the conduct bore a striking similarity to what transpired when the bar was raided on April 19. At least 34 women were arrested, PREMIUM TIMES reported.
The officials who carried out the controversial raid did not comment when they arrived, even though they engaged in fisticuffs with bouncers.
Following widespread outrage that some of the women who were arrested were only out to revel and were not commercial sex workers, the police and Abuja city administration later issued a statement, saying they were on a mission to rid the nation’s capital of prostitution and other acts they deemed immoral.
The city administration also said Caramelo was built on a piece of land marked for a hospital or school by the town planning office, an arrangement that was breached for the seven years the club served as a prominent spot for fun-seekers.
The authorities said neighbours had complained about heavy activities of Caramelo owners and guests but did not present any petition or oral reservations against the property.
They also did not show evidence that the owners were formally notified about objections to the club’s location, neither did they suggest what should be done to address them.
Struggling economy sheds another N500 million
The city administration’s claims were rebuffed by Maxwell Eze, the club owner.
PREMIUM TIMES found Mr Eze surveying the destruction just before 2:00 p.m. With his eyebrows soaked, he decried the manner with which his property was destroyed, describing himself as a law-abiding citizen.
Mr Eze gave PREMIUM TIMES an insight into the hopelessness he felt about the situation, which he described as entirely avoidable.
“They just destroyed N500 million in a struggling economy,” Mr Eze said. “This is deliberate sabotage of this country’s economy.”
Mr Eze said at least 105 Nigerians were in direct employment at Caramelo, with the lowest paid not getting below the minimum wage.
“Now, not only the 105 people have been rendered jobless, our suppliers and other indirect labourers will have to find ways to earn a living for themselves and families,” Mr Eze said.
At least two of his staff members who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES expressed dismay at government’s action, expressing fears about their livelihood.
“Anguish is the only thing I feel right now,” Sunday Enenche, a Caramelo barman, told PREMIUM TIMES. “This is the only employment I have known and I have used to feed my family for many years.”
He also said Caramelo was properly registered and paid federal taxes and other levies to at least 15 offices from neighbourhood and professional associations to federal agencies.
Yet the property was destroyed with only a two-day notification, he said.
Mr Eze displayed the notice to reporters on Monday morning. It said the building was illegally constructed and had been constituting a nuisance to residents.
It was the first time an official reason would be cited for the government’s crackdown on the famed bar, Mr Eze said.
Demolitions are not uncommon across Abuja, as the government attempts to enforce a master plan that was first drafted when it was identified as a new capital in the mid-1970s.
This often pits city administration officials against residents and business owners.
Hundreds of buildings were demolished when Nasir El-Rufai was the minister in the 2000s.
As with Mr Bello now, Mr El-Rufai was accused of being vindictive. He denied the allegations. Some of the demolitions were later deemed inappropriate in court.
While Mr Bello has not embarked on a full-scale demolition of unapproved buildings, he has signed off on a few demolitions that were deemed controversial.
Last month, an orphanage housing more than 200 children was destroyed in Kubwa after a short notice, a development that earned the minister widespread ridicule on social media.