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Forty hearty cheers! But who is saluting Abuja @ 40?

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Loyola Jesuit College, in Abuja

Loyola Jesuit College, in Abuja

ABUJA, the nation’s capital the constitution calls the “capital of the federation” but which the bureaucrats who run the place mysteriously call “the federal capital territory” (FCT) is 40 years old today. It should be 40 happy cheers to the people and government of Nigeria. Curiously, again as I read from the book of lamentation about this tragic amnesia last year, all the authorities in Abuja from the presidency through the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) headed by a minister, seem unaware of the landmark and events that should have been organized to mark the historic birthday of Nigeria’s capital.

It is inscrutable that the two birthdays of Nigeria’s political capital, generally believed to be one of the few monumental achievements of Nigeria’s ‘militicians’ (military &political leaders) have always been forgotten by the rulers of the capital city. Even the association of the original inhabitants have failed or forgotten to mark the unfortunate grabbing of their native land 40 years ago. There have been rumblings that the original inhabitants are ready to protest the alleged land grab to the United Nations. They have again missed a historic opportunity to draw attention to the resettlement and settlement the Murtala-Obasanjo
Administration promised them about 40 years ago. Alas, it was only the Obasanjo Administration (1999-2007) that celebrated the 30th anniversary in 2006 when the fiery Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai was the FCT minister. Then many of those identified as part of the builders of the capital including yours sincerely were honoured in a grand ceremony by the then President.

Specifically, Abuja has two distinctive birthdays: one is 3rd February, 1976 when the then Head of State, General Ramat Murtala Muhammed proclaimed it as Nigeria’s capital in a national broadcast. The second birthday is 12th December 1991 when the then Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) actualised the capital relocation by moving the seat of power from Lagos to Abuja.

It has always been a mystery of some sort that both the Presidency and the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) have always forgotten these dates with history (every year). When the capital’s relocation proper clocked 23 years on December 12, 2014, no one remembered. The collective affliction of amnesia occurred again on 12th December 2015 when the relocation clocked 24. Even when the big men in Abuja celebrated the Centenary in 2014, nobody remembered Abuja as one of the monuments the government of Nigeria had created within the context of the centenary.

The 1999 Constitution as amended unequivocally makes the President the Governor of the nation’s capital (Section 301). Section 302, however, authorizes the President to delegate his gubernatorial powers over Abuja to a minister if he so wishes. So, there is a sense in which the Office of the President can celebrate Abuja’s birthday. In the same vein, he (the President) can delegate the power to celebrate Abuja to any minister that seems to be sleeping on duty whenever on 12th December and 3rd February every year. But since 2006, neither the Presidency nor the FCTA has remembered to mark Abuja’s birthdays in a befitting manner. They all always forget that there was a leader that had a dream that they can’t run with at the moment! They always forget that it is important to mark such dates with seminars, symposia and even international summits on how to cope with contemporary issues such as urban renewal and livable cities.
And Murtala’s unfulfilled promises to Lagos…
Of all the failings exhibited about Nigeria’s capital, the most telling is failure to fulfill promises made to Lagos, which was proposed by General Murtala as future Economic Capital of the Federation.
In his broadcast to the nation on 3rd February, 1976, Murtala had promised that Lagos would not only be designated a “special area”, it would be Nigeria’s commercial capital and the deal would be incorporated into the 1979 Constitution then in the works. His words:
“Lagos will, in the foreseeable future, remain the nation’s commercial capital and one of its nerve centres. But in terms of servicing the present infrastructure alone, the committed amount of money and effort required will be such that Lagos State will not be ready to cope. It will even be unfair to expect the state to bear this heavy burden on its own. It is, therefore, necessary for the federal government to continue to sustain the substantial investment in the area. The port facilities and other economic activities in the Lagos area have to be expanded. There is need in the circumstance for the Federal Government to maintain a special defence and security arrangement in Lagos, which will henceforth be designated a SPECIAL AREA. These arrangements will be carefully worked out and written into the constitution. Kaduna and Port-Harcourt are to be accorded similar status and designated special areas under the constitution.”

This is one remarkable promise to Lagos that no government since 14th February 1976 has fulfilled. The General made the promise on 3rd February and he was assassinated on 13th February 1976. What is more, the gridlock that Apapa-Oshodi Expressway has become is always a reminder of the expediency of fulfilling the 40 years old promise to the last capital of the Federation, Lagos. I mean Lagos that Info Radio introduces every day on their news hour as “the economic capital of West Africa”.

Fortunately, the new Sheriff in Abuja has shown signs of seriousness about fulfilling covenant with the people. Seriously speaking, the Buhari Administration does not need any tedious research to track this monumental assignment that Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo ignored from February 14, 1976 to 29th May 2007 when he handed over to Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. It will be recalled that former President Goodluck Jonathan and his men never referred to Abuja as an integral part of the Federal Government in all his speeches. He did not even campaign to get Abuja votes in 2011 and 2015. They always forget. The Jonathan’s men did not remember to plan for today: Abuja at 40. Where is institutional memory for Nigeria’s capital?

It is, therefore, unfortunate that President Buhari who was in Abeokuta on Monday and Tuesday to mark Ogun State’s 40th birthday (shared with Abuja) has not been made to invite anyone to the state banquet in Abuja to mark this historic birthday. It is 40 shameful jeers to the FCDA and FCTA bureaucrats that have literally gone to sleep on duty in this regard. But then it is not too late for the President’s men. They should brace up to mark this anniversary in a grand style by fulfilling the promises General Murtala made to Lagos 40 years ago. After all, the new promise keeper, PMB has just fulfilled a 30-year old promise to Golden Eaglets. What is more, the credit of building Abuja will ultimately go to his original ‘constituency’, the armed forces. There can be no disputing the fact that the Generals dreamed of Abuja, built Abuja, the bloody civilians attempted pollution and the Generals restored it. General Murtala had a dream he broadcast on 3rd February 1976 that General Obasanjo ran with until 1979 when he handed over to President Shehu Shagari who was overthrown by officers who handed power and office to the present Sheriff then. Not much has been remembered of what General Buhari did to Abuja from 1983 t0 1985. But General Ibrahim Babangida who took over from him (Buhari) actualized the Murtala dream on 12 December 1991 when he relocated the capital from Lagos to Abuja.

Don’t get it twisted: behind that courageous el-Rufai as FCT Minister was a strong General and President Obasanjo who approved all his actions in restoring the almost lost capital.

So, Abuja is a city founded and funded by the Generals and Buhari should be proud of that heritage and monument. That is why he should join the bandwagon of builders by fulfilling the Murtala’s promise to Lagos 40 years ago.

That is why General Buhari should honour the man who dreamed this big dream 40 years ago by paying serious attention to Lagos. I am persuaded that it is not too much for President Buhari to begin this process by appointing a Special Adviser or Minister in charge of Lagos. After all, it was permissible to blame the PDP for neglecting the APC-controlled Lagos for 16 years. But now Lagos and Abuja will no longer hate each other. They are both controlled by the same political party, the APC. So, PMB, let the general turn well in his grave today by fulfilling the covenant he had with the people of Nigeria on Lagos. Sleep well, General Murtala. The Abuja you gave us is 40 today!

• Dare Babarinsa returns next week.



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