From Okwe Obi, Abuja
Since Nigeria’s federal capital was moved from Lagos State to Abuja under the Ibrahim Babaginda administration, original inhabitants have consistently protested and accused successive governments of marginalising them in the scheme of things.
They also claimed that when they complain and block major streets in Abuja, the government of the day would assuage and assure them of looking into their grievances but would end up doing nothing.
But this time, it appears their patience and understanding are beginning to wane as they have called on the Federal Government to, once and for all, look into their grievances as children yet unborn would not mind to toe the paths of militants in the Niger Delta, who destroyed crude oil pipelines and harassed foreigners as a result of bad treatment.
The Sarkin Karshi, Alhaji Ismaila Mohammed, who spoke on behalf of the people recently in Abuja, during the signing of ‘Our Projects of Promoting the Rights of Original Inhabitants of FCT,’ and sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, claimed that the hospitality of the people have not been appreciated.
The traditional ruler specifically want the FCT to have additional senator and members in the House of Representatives, including land compensation. He also want the expansion of the area councils from the current six to nine.
He said: “We have found out that a lot of Nigerians who have lived here for many years simply do not seem to understand the plight of the original inhabitants of the FCT. This is because there has not been sustained advocacy on problems that we face as indigenes of FCT.
“Indeed, in some cases, there is this impression that they are no indigenes in the FCT or if they are indigenes, they do not have any rights that supersedes that of other Nigerians who live here.
“Basically, these have been our problem. We are, indeed, grateful that this intervention will allow these nine guarantees to sensitise other Nigerians about the need to appreciate our contribution to the unity and progress of Nigeria by making available 8,000 square metres of our land, which is larger than Lagos State, to other Nigerians to come and settle here.
“For the past 40 years, since the FCT was created, other Nigerians have lived here peacefully with us. I think other Nigerians have taken it for granted.
“But if you know what is happening around the country you would have to thank us that we have been very accommodating. We have not caused any problem for anybody.
“We cited example of the Niger Delta region. We appeal to other Nigerians to support us and give us all the necessary support and our rights and our place in Nigeria so that, God forbid, we do not end like another Niger Delta here in Abuja. That is our prayers.”
Giving account of how the problem started, he said: “Basically, our problems have arisen because there has been some constitutional lacuna that arose after the creation of Abuja.
“When the government of the General Murtala Mohammad decided to move the capital out of Lagos to Abuja in 1976, this land was chosen because it did not belong to any major ethnic group, who are capable of causing trouble.
“So, it is not Hausa/Fulani land. It is not Yoruba or Igbo land; it is a collection of nine tribes. These are small tribes. And we have been living here for centuries even before this Fulani settlement, our neighbours in Keffi, Suleja, Nasarawa came.
“In the case of Karshi, it was established in 1366. Other similar settlements have been there for centuries. They chose this place not only because it is the centre of Nigeria but because there are minority tribes.
“So, the decree establishing Abuja said we should all move out. This Abuja was created out of Niger. As a matter of fact, 90 per cent of the land here belongs to the former Niger State.
“Then Kwara, Kogi and Plateau now part of which is Nasarawa. The military law said we should move out. If you are part of the Plateau, you move out to outside the boundary of the newly created federal capital territory of 8,000 square.
“So, they would pay us compensation for our land, crops and houses. And it would be a vast virgin land where other Nigerians will now come and settle. We agreed because we had no choice.
‘So, they started implementation that we are going to move out. But somebody which I would not mention his name now (who is dead) went and met General Olusegun Obasanjo and said to him that the arrangement appears to be a misguided policy.
“Why would you come to the centre of a country, remove eight settlements and move them out and bring other Nigerians. Obasanjo bought the idea. And Murtala had died.
“He was convinced and said it was no longer compulsory for them to move. But let us give them the option. Those of them who do not want to be stateless they can move to their former states but those who want to stay can stay and they will be regarded as citizens of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
“But he said the city centre itself which is Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Garki1, Garki 2, Wuse 1, Wuse 2 must be moved. But any other place they can stay. Our villages broke into two. Some said they want to go back to Niger, Kwara and Plateau.
“The other half had to go and create new Karu, Karshi and so on. And those who left were paid compensation for their crops and land.
“Those of us that government said we can stay were not paid compensation for our land, houses and crops. So, if we have not been paid compensation, why would you say we are not entitled to this land because the decree had envisaged that we were going to move out?”
“And because we did not move that is why we are claiming that this land is our land. Those of us who moved to other states are not claiming any land in FCT. The constitutional lacuna is that the decree was not amended up till today.
“And it became part of the 1999 constitution. It was not amended to reflect the change in policy. Obasanjo said that those who did not go, an administrative structure should be created for them so that they can be catered for.
“So, they created nine development areas which you now call Area Councils. Six of those nine are now area councils.
“He created them. Before the FCT was created, there was no single secondary school and that is how educationally backward we are. Any school you see was created after 1976.
“And because we are not educated and have nobody to speak for us in the National Assembly that is why we have only one senator. In the House of Representatives, we have only 2 members.
“So, if you take the number of senators who are 109 and reps that are about 360, you can imagine how difficult it is to convince them that government should give us our due.
“We deserve more area councils than the six that we have. In fact, the original nine development areas, three are still outstanding that are not local governments, which is Karshi, Luboche and Ayaba.
“Give us one more senator and in the House of Representatives, give us more, they have refused.
“We also have problems of land compensation. All the hotels you see do not belong to indigenes. There is no single indigene that has a house in Maitama or Asokoro.
“So, it is in everybody’s interest to respect, recognise ad give us our due so that we do not end up with another palaver in Abuja. We are asking these boys to calm down because the internet has exposed them to the world.
“They are seeing what is happening in the Niger Delta where every month, government gives the youth money not to break the pipe.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, explained that the agreement would ensure that nine original inhabitants organizations get grants to implement various projects, targeted at addressing political, economic and cultural marginalization of FCT indignes.
Zikirullahi announced that N800 million had been granted to the nine organisations to provide basic amenities for indigenes.
He said: “I am therefore pleased to inform that a total sum of N800,000,000 has been granted to the nine organizations and their technical partners, which have been assessed and approved for this project, following a scoping study of organizations led by FCT Original Inhabitants and those working directly on their respective issues.
“CHRICED is confident that the process we have begun would effectively and sustainably position the Original Inhabitants in the FCT to address the root causes of the decades-long marginalization, discrimination and other pervasive forms of human rights violations.
“As such, the various grants to be signed today represent a diversity of initiatives, which would collectively address the injustices meted against the original inhabitants, while supporting an equitable recovery from the devastation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While some of the projects address the political participation of the original inhabitants, others are focused on economic and cultural issues, with a deliberate focus on the needs of marginalized groups, including those of women, the youth and people living with disabilities.
“This strategy falls in line with MacArthur Foundation, and CHRICED’s commitment to Gender and Social Inclusion (GESI) in all development programing.”