By Henry Umoru
ABUJA—TWENTY Six years after relocation of the seat of government to Abuja, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, retd, said yesterday that his only regret was that he did not use his power and position as the head of state to appropriate land for his personal use.
He also said as the Commander-in-Chief, he had powers to make Jos, and not Abuja, the capital of Nigeria but refused to do so.because he was not prepared to be clouded by sentiments and selfishness.
He said he took these decisions because of his conviction that personal interest should not override national interest.
Gowon, who spoke at the 26th anniversary exhibition and commemoration of the movement of the seat of government from Lagos to Abuja, organized by the Federal Capital Territory Archives and History Bureau in Abuja yesterday, said he did not make Jos the capital because he was also afraid of being accused of parochialism, given the fact that Jos was close to his place of birth.
According to him, the idea of moving from Lagos to Abuja was conceived by his government in 1974, and that those who were passionate about the ideas, such as the late General Murtala Mohammed, continued with the project after he left government.
He noted that the first place he found that looked strategic and beautiful for the capital of Nigeria was Jos in Plateau State, adding, however, that he could not sustain his thought on it because he didn’t want to be accused of parochial and favouritism.
He said: “One of the places I saw that attracted me was somewhere in Plateau, those of you who know the place, especially close to Jos forest, will agree that the area is beautiful and I thought that place was beautiful for the capital city.
“ But I did not make that choice because I would have been accused of parochialism and favoritism, because it was very close to my original place where I come from. So I said no , I must look at other places.
‘’The search for a new capital took me round the north west, and in my state, I continued to look for other places. When I came to Abuja, I was attracted. “
Gowon, however, lamented that despite being the initiator of the idea that gave birth to the present Federal Capital Territory, successive governments marginalized him by not naming any street after him until he officially complained to former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, retd.
Speaking further, Gowon explained that he suspected the reason for such treatment because some military officers who were close to the government alleged that he had a hand in the death of Murtala Mohammed.
“I had to officially complain to General Ibrahim Babangida when he was the Military President, that I have been excluded from getting a street named after me in Abuja, while all other members of the military council who nurtured the idea, had got streets name after them,’’ he said.
He added that to ensure that the project of moving the Capital from Lagos to Abuja was not frustrated, he instructed Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who was his Minister of Finance, to set aside funds from the excess funds for the purpose of pursuing the dream.
Earlier, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Malam Mohammad Bello, who was represented on the occasion by the FCT Permanent Secretary, Christian Ohaa, said the theme, “From Dodan Barracks to Aso Rock”, was apt and provided the platform for strategic evaluations of the giant steps after 26 years of the relocation.
Bello, who noted that the developmental strides in Abuja did not come by chance, but by painstaking sacrifices of the founding leaders, however, said the current system of funding infrastructure through statutory allocation was no longer sustainable, adding that government might consider other options in developing the city.
“ It is important that we note that the current system of funding infrastructure through statutory allocation is, indeed, not sustainable.
‘’This is because the fund is no longer there. Government has done so much to drive development and brought the city to this point. The time has come for the private sector to drive the new process,’’ he said.