By Bob Anikwe
I FEELa sense of urgency in writing this letter to you, AlhajiÂ Bala, regarding your recent appointment and confirmation as Minister of Nigeriaâ€™s Federal Capital Territory.
I wish to draw your attention to the fact that the FCT Administration supervises a territory that is oppressive and wicked to the poor. It is a matter of regret that, although FCT is positioned as Nigeriaâ€™s centre of unity, many of your predecessors carried on as if it is only the rich that are being united and welcomed, forgetting that they would still need the same poor people to minister to their domestic needs.
They also forgot that hundreds of thousands of workers living in the most dehumanising settlements outside the city, who commute to and from the city centre each day, enduring traffic snarls, are human beings whose sweat and blood developed Abuja to what it is today.
For eight years now, since I came to Abuja, I have reflected on these sad trend, manifested in the ‘Big-Man Approach’ to Abuja development, and have come up with two possible explanations for this continuing unfortunate state of affairs.
First of all, although it was originally designated a federal territory, FCTâ€™s status has since been seriously tampered with. This enabled your predecessors embark on arbitrary governance, fashioning the territory in their own image while swearing by a secret, sacred book called â€œAbuja Master planâ€.
The truth is that many of us residents suspect that this â€œMaster planâ€ may not be an FCT Development Project Plan but merely an architectural drawing or map, which an incoming administrator such as your good self could interpret in one way, and your successor in 2011 is sure to interpret in another way.
FCT was originally designed as a Federal Territory with a Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA)) charged with responsibility for its development and control.
The original master plan divided the territory into districts; consequently, development of the territory began from a set of districts that were grouped together into what was then known as Phase I.
The 1979 Constitution further fuddled the issue by creating area councils and positioning Abuja as if it is a state. President Shehu Shagari jumped in with a gazette which effectively converted the territory into a Ministry, complete with Minister, Permanent Secretary and directors, and consigned the professional developer (FCDA) into a parastatal of the Ministry.
With the FCDA downgraded and powerless, politicians took over the development of Abuja â€“ from the Ministry whose Minister was given the status of a state governor, and from the area councils whose chairmen are accorded the status of local government chair â€“ by both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions.
Secondly, and as a consequence, we no longer hear about the phased development of Abuja, which was the key part of the secret master plan. We have, instead, concentrated on the Abuja Municipal/Abuja City and developed it for the rich, while banishing the poor to hamlets inside the Territory.
Although this banishment could be directly traced to the administration of Malam Nasiru el-Rufai, it has also been said that the Minister made attempts to ameliorate the suffering of the Abuja masses. I have heard Abuja property and real estate professionals swear that el-Rufai knew what he was about.
They tell me that even though he banished the poor people from the city centre, the man had the good sense to create satellite towns where these could settle, and that he gave the land to some of the people who were displaced at give-away rates.
I visited one of those settlements (at Orozo) and saw that many buildings have sprouted there, but the area was not inhabited because the houses were being built inside a thick forest. There were no infrastructures â€“ roads, water, and electricity.
Many property developers I met there told me that they were confident that Malam el-Rufai would have completed the five satellite villages and made life easy for the Abuja poor who are today being forced to commute to work in the city centre from their hamlets.
They continue to endure the most agonising traffic snarls, because I am also told that feeder roads from those satellite towns to Abuja have been budgeted for but no one knows what has happened to the disbursements.
The way that I see it, honourable Minister, there is a practical and theoretical approach that you might wish to consider.
It is possible to make a mark in one year by taking a second look at those satellite towns, complete the infrastructure works on them, and link one of them up with a superb road network to the city centre. Even if it is only one that you are able to finish, you would have the sort of positive Abuja legacy that the late Gen. Sani Abacha currently has over the development of the Gwarimpa Estate.
A second way is to reflect deeply on the following three realities that made it difficult for your predecessors to leave enduring legacy in the FCT:
One: Shouldnâ€™t the FCT return to its original conception as a federal territory, and relinquish the heavy apparatuses of LG/state/federal ministry which it is finding economically difficult to shoulder at the moment?
Two: How long should we continue to have a Minister-Governor in the FCT? In order to give the FCT a chance to survive as a federal territory, we may not need a Minister for the FCT because it is a political position that is at once corruption-prone; we do not need swaths of land designated as area councils because they are attracting rabid politicians and obnoxious politics, including from those who currently position themselves as â€œindigenesâ€, and violently confront â€œoutsidersâ€ who wish to contest elections in this centre of unity.
Three: Is it possible for the FEC to vote to spread federal ministries and parastatals in far-flung districts (perhaps among the current area councils), in order to immediately decongest Abuja city, make for even development, and bring down the scandalous cost of living in the city-centre?