With improved management, Abuja has huge potentials to be a truly African center of unity and tourism.
Cities are about landmarks and symbols. They give every city its character and appeal. For London, Paris and New York, it’s the Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty respectively. These landmarks have defined the image of these old cities for decades and enabled them build profitable tourist industries while giving them soul and character. The iconic image of these cities and their other characteristics help them to attract international sporting and cultural events. These events are natural pulls for huge investments which ultimately grow the cities.
The Gulf States are now in the forefront of building what one may call “branded cities”. Dubai, one of the Emirates that make up United Arab Emirates (UAE), attracts millions of tourists including Nigerians every year. One of its main attractions the “Burj Khalifa” with a total height of 829.8m sitting on a seabed, is one of the architectural marvels of our time. It’s cost is a mere $1.5b (One billion, five hundred million US dollars). The kind of money we regularly declare missing here and no one bats an eyelid.
Dubai boasts hundreds of eateries, swanky hotels and amusement parks. In Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Museum in Paris has found a home. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by French architect, Jean Nouvel cost a mere $108 million US dollars to build. It opened in November 2017. Are the costs of these global icons beyond our reach? Of course not. You know our problem, don’t you? These cities have seen the future and they are seizing it with both hands.
Abuja, our federal capital city founded over 30 years ago is still a young city. The federal government invested tremendous resources to make it a beautiful place to live, work and raise families. Abuja is a beautiful city by any standard. With improved management, Abuja has huge potentials to be a truly African center of unity and tourism. This however entails long term planning, adherence to the masterplan with adjustments where necessary and considerable infusion of capital to improve municipal services. I know, we will get there someday.
However, Abuja suffers from a depressing deficit. It has no soul or character. While serving as the Minister of State for the city in 2009, I had penned a memo on this matter to the President. I believe President Musa Yar’Adua would have acted upon it if he had not been betrayed by ill health which subsequently terminated his presidency when he died in 2010. I had proposed a three-pronged approach, one major and two easy wins to fill this void and in the process create an iconic city, ready to play its natural role as a true center of African unity, commerce and tourism.
• Give abuja an identity: The proposal was to build a world class Museum of African history in Abuja. Our story in Africa has been told by our colonial masters and some of the historical artifacts recording this history are nestled in museums in Europe and the United States of America. When we create a befitting home for them on African soil, we have the right to demand the return of these stolen relics. The museum will serve as a research institute for African studies. It will boast separate sections for all African countries and will attract scholars of African history and anthropology from all over the world. As a first step, I proposed the setting up of a national committee to work on the design, scope, cost and implementation outside government bureaucracy. At the first discussion of the memo at the invitation of Mr. President, shortly before he travelled to Saudi Arabia, he mentioned Prof. Wole Soyinka as a possible head of the committee. The design of the building, just like the Museum of African-American history in Washington D.C., will reflect our shared African history especially our colonial past. With this project, we would have given Abuja a global identity and character. We would also have created a viable and sustainable tourist destination. The projected revenue from tourism is estimated to pay back the cost of the project in twenty years.
• Create a separate authority for the development of the satellite towns: I had proposed the creation of a separate Authority to be named Satellite Towns Development Authority (STDA) with direct budgetary allocation and autonomy. I believe that the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) is no longer able to manage the development of Abuja as a whole. My view was that the fast development of the satellite towns is the only way to maintain the esthetic beauty of the core metropolis on the long term. The STDA will be charged with the responsibility of providing adequate infrastructure, security and municipal services in conjunction with the Area councils.
• Outsource the beautification/ management of the road from the airport to the citygate: The road from the airport to the city gate was one of the most green entrance roads to a city in the world before the expansion of the road. Those beautiful and iconic trees were felled and sadly up to date, despite promises made to environmentalists who took the matter to the National Assembly, that road has remained barren and bare. A private operator contract will restore the greenery on that road and ensure its maintenance for at least 10 years to nurture the trees to breathtaking beauty. Visitors usually fall in love with a place on the trip from the airport to their hotel. The Bill Clinton/Musa Yar’Adua Way with a little effort can present a different Nigeria to the world.
In the coming days and weeks, I intend to take the campaign to build the Museum of African history in Abuja to the National Assembly and to the two main presidential campaigns. I will galvanized like minded people to support candidates who support this project.
If you are interested in this project, please leave me a line at [email protected]. This project is worth our collective effort and it is achievable.
• Chief Chuka Odom is the former Minister of State (FCT)