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‘Abuja at 27 and inconclusive democracy’ – Part 2

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Abuja. Photo credit: Getty

As I have always pointed out, the 1999 Constitution as amended unequivocally makes the President the Governor of the nation’s capital (Section 301). Section 302, however, authorises the President to delegate his gubernatorial powers over Abuja to a minister if he so wishes.

So, the Minister of Abuja is an unelected Governor the President alone ‘votes’ for. He can therefore account and be responsible to only the President. This is the trouble with Abuja at the moment. Let’s simplify the expediency of democracy in Abuja this way: The 1999 Constitution as amended has ambiguous provisions for Abuja. The first complication arises from Section 299, which states that, The provisions of this constitution shall apply to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as if it were one of the State of the Federation… It did not even say one of the States…

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So, democracy is convoluted in Abuja where all representatives of Abuja at the National Assembly (One Senator and two members of House of Representatives are elected; the Chairmen and Councillors of the Six Area Councils are elected but the Minister in charge of the Capital of the Federation is unelected. It is complicated.

Yet, democracy has its majesty and powers. The most critical element here is accountability to the people who should elect their Governor or Mayor when such leaders are being elected in the states. But as things stand in Nigeria’s capital, the democratisation here is inconclusive – as long as the Minister or Governor is unelected.

It will be recalled that in 1992, there were primary elections for the Office of the Mayor of Abuja, which produced Alhaji Adamu Shuaib from Abaji as NRC Mayoral Candidate and Ibrahim Tukura as SDP Mayoral Candidate but that was the first (underreported) annulled election before the June 12’s.

So, whatever happens to the Territory, urban renewal, security, healthcare delivery and even education challenges, etc, the Minister, may not be bothered as long as the only constituency he or she has, the president does not complain. This is the trouble with democracy in Nigeria’s capital.

No doubt, most capital cities in the world, are run by elected Mayors, most of whom have visited Abuja for meetings of World Council of Mayors. There was an avoidable embarrassment in this city when General Sani Abacha was Head of State and Lt. General Jeremiah Timbut Useni was the Minister of FCT. That day, members of the World Council of Mayors had arrived in Abuja for a Conference. But on the day of the opening ceremony, the chief host, the FCT Minister was removed through dissolution of cabinet announced that morning by the Head of State, Abacha. It was after some consultation that the FCT minister and Foreign Affairs’ were authorised to stay on – for the conference. This humiliation could not have happened to an elected Mayor.

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Therefore, democratisation of Abuja should be completed, especially now that the nation is debating restructuring even as the National Assembly too is tinkering with the second amendment of the Constitution. Sections 297-304 of the Constitution should be redrafted to allow democracy in the choice of FCT Chief Executive.

Certainly, the world has gone beyond the ‘military arrangement’ in Abuja where the Minister is accountable to only the President. That is the ‘next level’ all stakeholders in Abuja should agitate for. That is also the political restructuring Abuja needs. The conclusion of the whole matter is that we need an elected Chief Executive as they call the office in the city of Hong Kong, for instance to plan for the development of the remaining Districts in Abuja. At the moment governance is slow in Abuja, whose 2018 budget was signed by the President only last month. That was a consequence of absence of democracy in the Territory where the presidency who has a responsibility to pursue that may sometimes be too busy with national matters he considers weightier than Abuja’s.

Murtala’s unfulfilled promises to Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kaduna…

As I always remind all of us, of all the failings exhibited about Nigeria’s capital, the most telling are unfulfilled promises made to Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kaduna, which were proposed by General Murtala on 3rd Febriary 1976 as ‘Economic Capital of the Federation’ and ‘Special Areas’.

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:

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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, Port Harcourt and Kaduna 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.

‘PMB & The Promise.

Abuja is a city founded by the Generals and so General Buhari should be proud of that heritage. That is why he should join the bandwagon of builders by fulfilling the Murtala’s promise to Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kaduna 42 years ago.

After all, it was permissible to blame the PDP for neglecting the APC-controlled Lagos, for instance, for 16 years. But now Lagos and Abuja will no longer hate each other as they are both controlled by the same political party, the APC.

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Therefore, President Buhari should let General Murtala turn well in his grave today by fulfilling the covenant he (Murtala) had with the people of Nigeria on Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kaduna 42 years ago by paying attention to Lagos that is experiencing some stressful moments from the Apapa Ports causing gridlock all over the place. Most of the federal roads in Lagos, have too many mega potholes Lagos State Government alone can no longer maintain.

Similarly, Port Harcourt and Kaduna should be accorded that same special status. That would no doubt reduce stress from Abuja and Lagos respectively. If Port Harcourt Ports are developed as Deep Sea Ports with facilities, for instance, trailers and tankers would no longer come to Lagos. In the same vein, if Kaduna is accorded a special status, pressure from the North will be less on Abuja.

Conclusion & Action Points:

We need to continue to celebrate the Nigeria’s can-do spirit, which built Abuja, the Constitution appropriately calls the ‘Capital of the Federation and seat of the Government of the Federation’ (Section 298).

The nation’s capital should indeed be run as the ‘Federation Capital’, not just as ‘Federal Capital’ that may not reflect federal character. Leaders who are assigned to run the Territory as it is now should always bear that in mind. That was what caught the attention of General Mamman Kontagora in those days when in his first month in office, he discovered that Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of the original regional leaders and Nigeria’s founding fathers and acclaimed leader of the Yoruba did not have appropriate Road named after him (in Abuja). And so he (Kontagora) revoked a mere Street named after him (Awolowo) in Area 8-11 axis and named a long-range Road from Radio House to Julius Berger junction… after him. The old Obafemi Awolowo Street is now Emeka Anyaoku Street in Area 8-11…This was done to strengthen national unity in the Capital of the Federation.

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One of the challenges that Abuja already faces now is how to reflect national unity and federal character even in the bureaucracy of the FCT. This is an occasion to reflect on the expediency of restructuring that element that has already caused some blight on the nation’s capital.

The other challenge highlighted in this keynote is the imperative of integrating the original inhabitants who already had a court judgment on the legality of appointing one of them as a Minister. A Court of Appeal in January this year (2018) specifically ordered the President to appoint an original inhabitant as a member of the federal cabinet. That order should be obeyed in the interest of peace of stability in the Territory.

And then the challenge of fulfilling the promises the Hurricane Murtala who as an oracle, looked into the seed of time 42 years ago and urged the nation to develop Lagos Port Harcourt and Kaduna alongside Abuja, to remove pressure of unbridled rush to the capital. Abuja is already facing that pressure. And so the time to fulfil the promise is now.

In the main, the majesty of democracy in the Territory cannot be resisted at this moment. Democracy as the pulling power of development should be allowed to flourish in the Territory, lest the Municipal Area Council Chairman who is already exercising that power as an elected CEO in the City will continue to exercise authority of a democratically elected Mayor as he is doing now with some arbitrariness in the collection of tenement rates even without fulfilling constitutional provision in this regard.

In the main, there should be conclusive democracy, notably an Act of the National Assembly that will define the status of the Capital of the Federation. This is what Section 303 of the 1999 provides:

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‘The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall comprise six Area Councils and the Administrative and political structure thereof shall be as provided by an Act of the National Assembly’.

It is also relevant to recall that 27 years ago while General IBB was leaving the Presidential Wing of the Lagos Airport, he spoke with the reporters and promised that when he got to Abuja he would promulgate a decree that would address ‘the administrative and political structure of Abuja’. He (IBB) thereafter set up Justice Mamman Nasir 11-man Panel on Abuja Administrative Structure. The Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje who was then a director in FCT, was the Secretary of the Panel. Curiously, the report submitted in February 1993 was never implemented until forces of democracy of June 12 election forced the Head of State out of power on 26 August 1993.

Sadly, since 1999, the presidency and the National Assembly have failed the Federation: they have not fulfilled the mandate of the organic law of the land as in Section 303 of the Constitution – an Act of the National Assembly to define and set out the Administrative and political Structure of FCT. This is a gross dereliction of responsibility on the part of all of us who have continued to rely only on Presidential Order No.1 2004 Malam Nasir el-Rufai, then FCT MInister got from President Obasanjo to address the lacuna on FCT status.

So, let the fire of democracy fall in Abuja so that we can have an accountable leadership at all levels of governance in the Capital of the Federation.


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