Tuesday Column by Aliyu Modibbo
The National Conference has failed to address three pressing Abuja needs, namely: funding; administration, and the original inhabitants. In another few weeks or thereabout, the National Conference holding in Abuja will wind up after what has been a series of climax and anti-climax. Notwithstanding its shortcomings, it is the hope of many Nigerians that the conference will come up with strong recommendations that will help to move the nation forward. Regrettably however, Abuja may be short-changed in terms of concrete recommendations that will give this important African city a befitting articulation of a road map for its growth and development.
The first critical issue here is that of representation. While Abuja may be represented by no more than two delegates statutorily, it is also a fact that more than half of the delegates have their primary residence in Abuja, thereby making them stakeholders in the progress and well-being of the city. Yet, it remains to be seen whether those stakeholders have any sense of belonging to the city they claim to be their own.
In preparing for the dialogue, the FCT administration gave me the privilege of chairing a committee with notable persons like Prof. Jerry Gana as vice chairman, to articulate the position of the FCT at the then proposed national dialogue. This committee was made up of representatives of all the major interests groups in Nigeria who are resident in Abuja.
In conducting the assignment, we came to one fundamental conclusion that FCT is a federation project and not a federal government project as popularly believed. In plain language, what we are saying is that Abuja was conceived to be a federal capital city that belongs to all Nigerians inclusive of the earlier settlers found in the territory. As such, Abuja’s development should be the responsibility of all Nigerians irrespective of their state of origin.
Apart from the diversity of people with permanent residency, the city is also home to every state government office, the official quarters of governors as well as their private homes. Since the Federal Capital City officially moved from Lagos to Abuja, most political office holders often abandon their primary constituencies and instead adopt Abuja as their place of abode. It is a notorious fact that once people check into Abuja, they seldom check out. Because of the phenomenal growth of Abuja over the years and the challenges these pose, our committee was unanimous in three critical areas which I wish to briefly highlight because as far as I know, they have not been adequately articulated at the on-going conference. The first has to do with funding; the second is the challenge of administration while the third is the ignored plight of the original inhabitants of the Federal Capital Territory.
On funding, the founding fathers decided to allocate 1% from the Federation Account to its development. It was this take-off seed funding that launched the city on the path of rapid growth that made it the cynosure of global eyes that prompted a foreign journalist to describe the city as “Abuja, Nigeria’s gleaming capital city”. This funding was maintained until sometime in the year 2004, when it was ruled that the 1% should be derived from the Federal Government’s share of the Account only. That decision could only have been made in error because Abuja is not a Federal Government entity but a federation entity for all Nigerian Citizens.
However, by domiciling the responsibility of the development of Abuja in the federal government’s share of the national revenue alone, it makes FCT solely a federal government responsibility. The situation should not be so. We therefore recommended that all federating units of the country should contribute in funding Abuja because it is our collective responsibility as a nation to do so.
The present funding arrangement for the FCT is grossly inadequate and needs to be reviewed because, at inception, the Abuja project was scheduled to be completed in 25 years. However, almost 40 years after, we have only achieved 30% development because of inadequate funding. That perhaps explains why development in the 8,000 square kilometers Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is still within only one phase of its plan. We suggested in that committee that FCT should be restored as a federation project and be funded from the Federation Account. We strongly recommended an upward review of the allocation from one percent to five percent. The reason for the increase in percentage is firstly the aggravated cost of development and secondly, the upsurge in migration of Nigerians from all parts of the country to Abuja which has put a stress on existing infrastructure.
The city at the drawing board was designed to accommodate half a million people but by today’s estimates, over 5 million people live in the territory. It was on this note that our committee prayed that the National Conference will resolve this matter by recommending that the source of Abuja’s funding be returned to status quo with enhancement. This is crucial at this time because Abuja is becoming a mega city of repute.
The committee also looked at the issue of administration. Although the Constitution states that Abuja should be treated as if it were a state, regrettably, over the years, FCT Abuja has been treated as a parastatal or at best a ministry. Based on this anomaly, our committee found it necessary to point out that the turnover of ministers of the FCTA is too high to positively impact on the smooth development of the territory. For example, since 1999 till date, there have been seven ministers of the FCTA. These are General Mamman Tsofo Kotangora (1998-1999), Arch Ibrahim Bunu (1999-2001), Engr. Muhammed Abba Gana (2001-2003), Mallam Nasir el’Rufai (2003-2007), my humble self (2007-2008), Sen. Adamu Aliero (2008-2010) and Sen. Bala Mohammed (2010 till date). Meanwhile, in many of the states, there have been only two governors within the same period under review.a