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The Abuja environment during and after El-Rufai’s era

RESIDENTS of Abuja were enjoying the sanity, air and perfection being experienced in the city. The dream of the fathers and designers of Abuja was being re-established. Architects and planners rejoiced when meaning, expression and a ruthless approach was given to Kenzo Tange’s design of FCT Abuja (Kenzo Tange is the Japanese architect who designed the city of Abuja).

This ruthless approach was implemented by a Quantity Surveyor, a public servant par excellence, the kind of leader “most wanted” in our generation, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.

Mallam Nasir El-Rufai does not hide his love for architecture and the built environment. Before some special assistants release their surface to surface missiles, I would like to clarify that I have never met El Rufai, not even when he was in charge of the FCT administration. El-Rufai earned my admiration and that of most thorough-bred professionals in the built environment for his boldness, understanding and commitment to ensuring that Abuja city was truly a city to compare with other capital cities of the world.

Abuja-El-rufaiHe went about his business with the focus and sharpness of a flint stone. El Rufai moved at the speed of a fighter jet demolishing illegal structures belonging to the high, mighty and religious groups without looking backwards. The number of mosques and churches he brought down were too numerous to count. We cannot forget so quickly that he personally supervised demolition of the Senate president’s house, PDP chairman’s house, IGP’s house, etc.

What about the decade-long unfinished works by Arab Contractors at Berger Junction, Jabi District? He eventually cancelled the contract and re-awarded same to Julius Berger. What about the sanity at the FCDA and AMACs, AEPB, AIPDB in the form of sacking the corrupt officials and bringing on board the fearless team which was later removed by his successors? While El-Rufai did all within the short period he had to restore the master plan, green areas, recreation areas and re-establish clusters only meant for institutions, work places and residential areas, the reverse is the case after he left the scene.

A minister of the FCT after him visited the Abuja Technology Village, ATV, and on national TV said it was meant for auto mechanics and technicians. Even if all has failed in some of our leadership with their pitiable lack of competence, what prevented that minister of the Federal Republic from just calling for El-Rufai blueprint on ATV – a vision for an entire district based on Green City Technology? That was part of El Rufai’s vision and level of exposure and competence. I doubt if any zest or push is being given to such vision any longer.

What you see around is Arab Contractors destabilising traffic flow in the city in the name of re-asphalting on roads that bear no potholes, a waste of funds that should have been diverted to works in districts like Durumi and Wuye where the firm has failed the residents in completing the provision of infrastructure for more than five years now.

London roads are patched and not totally removed for re asphalting! I bet you the former works executed by Julius Berger are better than what those chaps are constructing right now. The little things we disregard but which actually make a city functional such as traffic signs, road marking, directional signs, cleanliness (refuse collection), landscaping/street-lighting, etc., were effectively carried out under his leadership. The city would have started enjoying the use of GPS application in vehicles if his successors had continued from where he stopped. The city that was thoroughly organised under El-Rufai. El-Rufai challenged the status quo and was hated by most of the elite.

Accident rate went down by over 90 per cent when he dared the “going motorcycles’ to close business in the Abuja City. We so easily forget the disgraceful markets at the present NNPC Gas station and World Trade Centre that showed our inability to do things right. What about the Wuse, and Garki Markets? Have we forgotten so easily the corner shops? Today, the housing development/renovation, plazas or supermarkets you see in Abuja, though not currently monitored were as a result of El-Rufai’s policies?

The ideals he introduced are either stopped or not being effectively pursued for whatever reason? Visit Berger Junction and Area 1 and you will weep for the city we think is a model city. It has returned to the pre-El-Rufai state -dirty, filthy, unorganised and crime-infested. Personally, I believe that the success of Berger Junction + Area 1 in terms of traffic flow and cleanliness, greenery and organisation is a pointer to the success of any FCT Minister or administration. The Administration is as good or bad as Berger Junction + Area 1 is. What the founding fathers were running away from in Lagos then, Abuja would likely surpass if the trend of ill-prepared leaders is not stopped being foisted on Abuja.

Today, green areas, open spaces and recreational areas are being churned out to cronies and Oga madams. Examples abound but I will mention a few that are verifiable: An expansive green area between Wuse Zone 1 and Zone 7 (directly behind Bolton white apartments) has been allocated for construction purposes – a mosque (at superstructure level) and a fence is being built in that area. El-Rufai will cringe if he reads this.

El-Rufai demolished three churches and one mosque at this same spot in 2007. Check out the resurrected mosque opposite FRSC at Zone 7 and the completed at Area 10 opposite the Post office. El-Rufai flattened these worship places without regard to religious sentiments. He was just committed to excellence and doing what was right. Now the street sweepers actually dump collected refuse into drainage manholes, thereby blocking the drains while numerous drain cover gratings especially along roads have been removed and not replaced in three years. No concerted efforts are being made to clean up blocked drains. The street turns into a river after some rain.The green lawns between the vehicular and pedestrian segments are being turned into parking lots while “kekenapep” takes over pedestrian walkways in most cases especially with little traffic jam.

While street-begging was eliminated by El-Rufai, the reverse is the case today. The London Taxis have all disappeared. The town buses (now called El-Rufai buses) are no longer being properly maintained. The drivers are reckless with no respect for other road users. The buses are dirtier than the ones on the road to Sambisa Forest! Uniforms are no longer worn by the drivers and you can be sure no more training.

The only days the streetlights works is when Mr. President moves from Aso Rock to the Airport. Fallen Streetlight poles are not replaced and when at all done, they are replaced by road side types. Take a visit to the sea of residences being built on green belt along the expressway by Aso Rock/Aguiyi Ironsi Barracks ahead of Maitama. As anArchitect, your stomach will writhe in anger and pain seeing the illegalities.

Aren’t they afraid another ruthless man like El-Rufai may spring up some day and be anointed to do the demolition works?No wonder, the immediate past FCT Secretary, Engineer Alhassan said since the creation of FCT, Abuja, the city has never experienced a progressive and effective Minister like El-Rufai. I make bold to say that all Ministers that have come after him have not been able to fit into the shoes he left behind.FCT Abuja was never meant to be what it is now: Industries, Public institutions, Ghettos, Universities, etc., all lumped into the City.

It was designed to be like Washington DC. Not massively populated as it is increasing to five million inhabitants today. Even cities like Johannesburg, CapeTown, Mombassa, Accra, NOT Chicago are better organised. Do we really want a dream City we can be proud of? If we answer YES, then I will say we achieve this dream not with what we are doing to FCT right now. Who will save FCT Abuja?

Akinsola Alonge, a public commentator, is resident in Abuja


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