By Eze Chukwudi
Nigeria, even before it came to be, has always had its capital city established purely on conveniences rather than the contending factors that usually characterise the siting of any capital city the world over.
Many would not know that a huge portion of the capital territory was at Lokoja in the present Kogi state where Lord Lugard officially settled and made his first proclamation on January 1, 1900, It was at the bank of river Niger which provided access through which captured slaves and other looted materials of economic values were ferried abroad. From the 16th Century when the Spanish settled in Calabar to 1912 in Lagos and finally to Abuja in 1991, all the moves were motivated basically by the personal benefit and convenience of the colonial masters and some zones.
Abuja, which prides itself as one of the fastest growing capital cities in Africa had gulped trillions of dollars in its development. It is a centrally concentrated city that is not the size of my home community, Nsukka. Since Gen. Murtala Mohammed proclaimed Abuja a ‘no man’s land’ on August 9, 1975 and set up a panel to examine the feasibility of relocating the country’s capital city from Lagos to Abuja, the Kpaduma low income community of nine ethnic groups with over one million people has never been the same. These peace loving natives of Abuja who have lived here for hundreds of years maintain that the ‘heart of a new Nigeria’ is tilted as the tenureship of the land has not been properly ratified. Owing to this barefaced betrayal of trust of the original agreement entered with the federal government and with no one speaking for them; human rights groups and other NGOs not able to rise to the occasion to defend them all waiting for international grants for the work they didn’t do, the aborigines now prefer to sell their lands to visitors rather than lose it uncompensated to an unfeeling government. So, there is this new attitude of callously selling lands with arbitrariness at a give away prices to forestall government insincere takeover without due recompense.
These natives are often preyed upon by the mercantilist businessmen and women who develop those sites and either sell them at a very exorbitant price or leave them unrented. At least if the government cannot provide affordable houses for its people, there should be a price tag that every landlord or town developer must not exceed and a property tax law be in place and fully implemented to check the excesses of these insensitive capitalists.
Some unscrupulous money spinners have equally cashed in on this defect in the system by erecting illegal and unsupervised structures. Just on August 28, 2016, eight persons were killed at Gwarimpa by a collapsed four-storey building with two lives lost glaringly due to the use of sub-standard materials, non adherence to the guidelines of the regulatory bodies, and bad handling by quacks. No proper channel for sewage disposal. Dutse Alhaji is another Aba in the FCT where water sewage is dug and channelled into the gutters. The health sanitation officers or authority in charge should sit up before an epidemic breaks out there.
Abuja is the seat of power in Nigeria where political power is supposed to be equitably distributed, where revenues accruing from all over the country is shared. If the Kpadumas’ could selflessly vacate their lands for us all, if the black gold from the Niger Delta thousands of kilometers to Abuja deceptively referred to as our common natural resources could sustain the whole nation, then I don’t see anything bad in having a non-Northerner as the minister of FCT. How many chairmanship candidates from the other zones of the country were fielded by the two major political parties in the just concluded municipal council election in FCT? There is no intentional consideration and understanding for equitable distribution of political power that would engender cohesion and unity typical of a capital territory and this is not good for the polity.
When I embarked on a tour of suburbs in Abuja at Dutse Alhaji recently, I waved down a motorcyclist ‘going’ in the Abuja parlance, after I explained my mission to him he asked if I could ride so that I could do it myself and return his motorcycle to him. No shadow of suspicion, the bond among commoners is very deep. But our leaders don’t appreciate us so they don’t trust themselves.
Security issue is another challenge in the FCT. Vandals are on the rampage in Abuja with majority of the Chinese-installed CCTV whisked away already. And why not when something more precious; as sacred as life could be taken away recklessly without anyone being apprehended. Since the brutal murder of Deaconess Eunice Elisha around pipeline area of Kubwa, a suburb of FCT Abuja while seeking the salvation of her people, no genuine step has been taken to bring those serial killers to face the full wrath of the law. Tell me which nation’s capital city in the world can you find with religious fanatics always on the prowl?
It beats common sense that FCT has never been adjudged the cleanest in this country. A city originally planned not for towering structures alone but with a deep sense of aesthetics. But with refuse dumps in many places, beggars and hawkers littering the streets, and cattle grazers having a field day in residential quarters, FCT is gradually losing it. Enough of churning out laws without strict enforcement! Let’s make FCT decent again.
Even with the coven of the network of one of the oldest professions smashed in the FCT, those of them who have not secured jobs in beer parlours now resort to hawking coloured liquid in the name of herbal medicine just to get access to their old customers.
It is a shame on our collective nobility! This calls for restructuring and proper reorientation of Abuja Environmental Protection Board which had been found wanting on enforcing the environmental laws to make them more efficient. Abuja should serve as a pilot scheme for the people at the suburbs, if the government fails, the people cannot fail too. A trip of laterite to fill up the potholes won’t be too much of a sacrifice. It will show how patriotic and civilized we have become. In Anambra State, many of the tarred roads were built by individuals. Whatever we want to see done in the states and local government must first be done here for them to emulate. There are no world class industries in FCT other than the foreign construction companies where our people have been slavishly forced to work for their task masters. Unless if we have in mind to keep Abuja purely as an administrative centre, its master plan should be extended to the suburbs and satellite towns. Abuja could boom economically.
Chukwudi writes from Abuja