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Dance, dialogue as FCT original inhabitants mark UN Indigenous Day

By Armsfree Ajanaku
14 August 2022   |   2:38 am
For Original Inhabitants of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, the first two weeks of August have turned out to be very eventful.

Indigenous people in moment of celebration

For Original Inhabitants of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, the first two weeks of August have turned out to be very eventful.

The days were packed with diverse activities, which promoted their cultures while inspiring reflection on what to do about the historic injustices they have faced for over four decades.

The rallying point for these activities was the UN International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples, which is observed annually on August 9.

The UN system uses the day to celebrate the achievement of indigenous peoples all over the world, just as it galvanises governments and societies to take action to address the injustices they face.

From discussions around land justice to insightful updates about the preservation of indigenous knowledge, this particular UN Day offered a time for the world to calmly reflect on the most pressing challenges facing indigenous populations.

In the context of Nigeria, FCT Original Inhabitants have been identified as one of the indigenous peoples, whose plights have just begun to attract the attention of stakeholders. So what exactly is the story or struggle of the Original Inhabitants in the Nigerian capital, and why have their cries for justice been muffled all these years? Leading experts on the issue insist that to understand the plight of the Original Inhabitants in the FCT, interlocutors must embark on an excursion back to the contemporary history of Nigeria.

The travails of the FCT Original Inhabitants, the experts reckon, began when Nigeria decided to relocate its capital from Lagos. The megacity was already bursting at its seams due to overpopulation, the crime rate was high and there were frequent disagreements between the federal and state authorities over space.

After a long search, the Akinola Aguda Panel, which was set up by the government recommended the current space occupied by the FCT as the most suitable location.

Many Original Inhabitants lament that the genesis of their challenges was the assertion in the Aguda Panel report, which implied that the area to be taken over was a virgin land with no indigenous population. They say this marked the start of the marginalisation, exclusion and oppression they have had to endure right in their own ancestral lands.

As things stand, the vast majority of FCT Original Inhabitants have not been compensated for the takeover of their lands, nor have they been properly resettled as promised by the government when it decided to take over their lands.

As things stand, FCT Original Inhabitants have not only been made landless; they have also been made stateless in the sense that they technically belong to none of the 36 states of the country.

Unlike Nigerians in the 36 states who have governors, Houses of Assembly and a vast array of other institutions, Original Inhabitants only have six Area Councils thereby limiting their political participation.

For these marginalised citizens, the situation is worsened by the fact that attempts they have made to use the law courts to correct these anomalies have been undermined by the government. Several court decisions in favour of FCT Original Inhabitants have simply been ignored by the government.

It is against this backdrop of historic anguish and pains over feelings of unjust treatment by the Nigerian State that FCT Original Inhabitants observed the UN International Day of World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Despite what they described as the demoralisng realities they have experienced over the years, Original Inhabitants in the FCT used the buildup events and the day itself to restate their calls for justice, fairness and equity.

The various events themed around the world indigenous day also offered an opportunity for stakeholders involved in the struggle for the rights of Original Inhabitants in the FCT to go down memory lane, encourage the inhabitants and admonish them on the need to continue on the path of peace and nonviolence in advocating for the authorities to respect their rights.

In the face of their adversities, the silver lining, which appears to have rekindled the hopes of the indigenous peoples in the Nigerian capital is the project titled; Promoting the Rights of the Original Inhabitants in the FCT.

Launched in August 2021, the project has started the process of raising awareness about the plight of FCT’s Original Inhabitants by building their capacity for self-led advocacies around their political, economic and cultural rights.

Using the cohort approach, the project has awarded sub-grants and is providing technical assistance to 10 FCT Original Inhabitants organisations to enable them to advocate to the authorities with a view to redressing the current and historic injustices being experienced by the indigenous peoples of the capital. It is the project cohort, which galvanised other FCT community groups to make the events themed around UN Day a resounding affirmation of the right of Original Inhabitants as citizens of Nigeria.

On Saturday, August 6, a National Stakeholders Dialogue was convened with the theme; Building Resilience, Fostering Recovery: FCT Original Inhabitants and the Struggle for Social Justice. Setting the tone for the dialogue, CHRICED Executive Director, Comrade Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi flayed what he described as the paradoxical situation of the Original Inhabitants, whose lands were parceled out by virtue of Decree 6 of 1976 to make room for Nigeria’s capital.

He said: “It is unjust that these people who gave Nigeria the space for its capital are being neglected and treated as second-class citizens, right in their ancestral homelands. It is excruciatingly painful that the Original Inhabitants who made enormous sacrifices to give Nigeria its centre of unity have been rendered stateless and left to wallow in despair and regret.

A visit to Original Inhabitant communities, just a few hours drive away from the façade of the supposedly beautiful Abuja City Centre, would reveal the sordid underbelly of the deprivation the people are subjected to.”

On his part, 2022 winner of the Goldman Prize for the Environment, Barrister Chima Williams who gave the keynote speech at the event encouraged FCT indigenous peoples to continue on the path of non-violence, just as he called on the Federal Government to ensure justice is done on the issue.

The other notable activities to mark include the Grand Cultural Rally of the Original Inhabitants, which was held at the old parade ground where various cultural troupes thrilled the hundreds of spectators in attendance with traditional dances of the nine FCT indigenous tribes.

The commemoration rounded off on Tuesday, August 9, with an Africa Regional Conference. The conference received paper presentations from experts from other parts of the African continent, where similar experiences of indigenous peoples like those in the FCT could be shared.

Keynote speaker at the regional conference, Professor Oshita Oshita of the Ubuntu Centre for Africa Peace Building and Development counselled the Original Inhabitants to unite and keep up the good fight. According to the renowned peace and conflict scholar, struggles like the one the Original Inhabitants were involved were long and tortuous.

Professor Oshita however assured the indigenes that they will triumph because their cause is a just one. The conference also took presentations from Dr Quinter Akinyi Onyango of the University of Free States, South Africa and from Professor Emily Choge of Moi University in Kenya. The commemoration closed on a lively note with a dinner amidst optimism that sooner or later, justice will come the way of the long-suffering indigenous peoples of the Nigerian capital.