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‘Abuja at 27 and inconclusive democracy’

By Martins Oloja
16 December 2018   |   3:20 am
This is an excerpt from a keynote I gave at the 27th Anniversary of Capital Relocation From Lagos to Abuja on December 12, 1991, organised By History and Archives, Bureau FCTA, on Wednesday December 12, 2018 in Abuja. It is indeed refreshing.

Abuja, Nigeria

This is an excerpt from a keynote I gave at the 27th Anniversary of Capital Relocation From Lagos to Abuja on December 12, 1991, organised By History and Archives, Bureau FCTA, on Wednesday December 12, 2018 in Abuja. It is indeed refreshing.

I would like to thank the authorities in the Federal Capital Territory and organisers of this 27th anniversary of the capital relocation from Lagos to Abuja on Thursday December 12, 1991. It is gratifying to note that the authorities began to respond to my annual harassment since last year when the History and Archives Bureau organised a roundtable I missed. It is not a time of blame game. It is a celebration time. I am fully persuaded that it is just a time to sensitise ourselves about the monumental national project that the nation began 42 years ago. It is a time to celebrate Nigeria’s most significant project since independence.

Abuja, our Abuja, is one project that even the most cynical of us could point to as a paradigm to shift discussion on our ability to proclaim a Nigeria-can-do spirit. Abuja is not a dividend of democracy. It is a dividend of ‘militics’; a child of circumstance, which has addressed a monumental national security concern. And apart from football, a powerful weapon of unity, the only other architecture in the rubble that politicians have tossed us, no thanks to their rampaging greed is Abuja, our Abuja.

No doubt, we need to thank the founding fathers who gave us this Beautiful City. We need to thank the kind-hearted Suleja people who swapped their organic name and gave us this name, Abuja. We need to use this momentous occasion to thank the original inhabitants who have endured unfulfilled promises – for compensation and resettlements. They have been largely peaceful. They have not been disrupting meetings and assemblies of people here. They have not been pulling down monumental structures. They deserve a Nobel Peace Prize!

Today, we need to read the seed of time and thank some Generals who began the thinking about a new capital when Lagos began to show signs of inadequacy about 50 years ago. The Generals include Yakubu Gowon who reportedly caused the first aerial survey of the area to be done, Murtala Muhammedwho proclaimed Abuja as Nigeria’s new capital on 3rd February 1976 and was assassinated ten days after (on 13th February, 1976, Ibrahim Babangida who actualised the dream in the early hours of Thursday 12 December, 1991 when he moved Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja. We also need to pay tribute to General Olusegun Obasanjo who did some restoration when he returned to power in 1999. It was his responsibility to continue the dream when he succeeded his slain boss only ten days after the proclamation of Abuja as Nigeria’s new capital.

Sources confirmed to me that Obasanjo actually nominated Justice Akinola Agudawhose panel recommended this strategic location. They all deserve the nation’s accolade and gratitude. Lest we forget, the nation should be grateful to Mr. Ajose Adeogun, the first Minister in charge of Abuja as Special Duties Minister who was staying at the Field Base, Suleja, Niger state at the time while his colleagues in the cabinet then were enjoying perquisites of office in juicy ministries. There was nothing special in the Ministry of Special Duties supervising a Territory that had not even a tent then in that Territory.

We need to thank some other significant pioneers who may not be prominent in the mix. Such pioneer risk takers include Dr. Godwin Ajakpo who built the fist private hospital, Sauki Hospital in Wuse Zone 6, in the city, Mr. Joseph Ayonmike, who established the first private 3-star hotel, Agura Hotel in Area 10, Garki, Abuja then. We need to thank Rev. Williams Okoye who built the first Pentecostal church in Maitama Abuja when there was no house near the place.

We need to mention the Mr. George Bakowho was the FRCN Director General who put up the monument called the ‘Radio House’ a masterpiece near the International Conference Centre (ICC).

More important too, we need to thank MalamBukar Zarma, former Editor, New Nigerian, my good boss who set up the first newspaper in Abuja, the Abuja Newsday in 1988 – some 30 years ago.

The premier newspaper introduced me to this city three decades ago. And that is one of the reasons I am can give this keynote. I edited the newspaper from 1991 to 1993 when the ‘unknown soldiers’ who caused the annulment of June-12-election result also proscribed the newspaper. I thank the almighty God for Malam Zarma who also had the audacity to forge an editorial management, which reflected unity of this country: Then Mr. Nick Dazang, now an Administrative Secretary of FCT, INEC, a Christian from Plateau State, was the pioneer Editor of Abuja Newsday;Mr. Jackson Ekwugum, a Christian too from Delta State, now a Media manager with the Delta State Governor, was the News Editor; Mr. SammAudu, a Christian from Kaduna State was the Sports Editor; Mr. Dennis Mordi, a Christian from Delta State was the Chief Sub Editor; Mr. Clement SkekogazaWasah, a Christian from this same FCT, was the Features Editor while yours sincerely, a Christian from Ondo State, was the Lagos Bureau Chief from 1988 t0 1990 and I was appointed Editor (December, 1990 t0 1993) when the June 12 ‘gunmen’ struck.

We should remember that the Chairman of the company then, Abuja City Press Limited was Alhaji Hassan Adamu, Wakilin Adamawa, a Muslim, who hails from Adamawa state. The publisher and Editor-in Chief, Bukar Zarma, a Muslim who hails from Borno State, did not know my state of origin as he never cared too to ask key editors about states of origin. Then, there was a unity capital and ‘there was a country’ as Chinua Achebe was to declare later.

In the main, I think the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), the only institution known then deserves to be listed in Abuja’s ‘Hall of Fame’ for the pioneering effort – of building Abuja from scratch. After all, in its 42 years of existence, private buildings have been collapsing but not one of FCDA’s organic buildings has reportedly collapsed.

I am therefore delighted that they did not forget again the most important birthday of the nation’s capital, Abuja – 12 December 1991 this year. It will be recalled that even when the military powers that created Abuja were in office and in power until 1999, they too always forgot their most important achievement (while in unconstitutional power between 1966 and 1999).

Curiously, the civilian powers who have been nurturing democracy from Abuja since 1999 too often forgot the Abuja’s birthday –until President Obasanjo through his Minister of FCT, MalamNasir el-Rufai marked 30 years of the Territory in 2006 when most contributors including yours sincerely were honoured.

Besides, no government institution had been marking the original birthday 12 December until last year when the Abuja History and Archives Bureauorganised a RoundTable, a colloquium on the FCT. The Department certainly deserves an applause for the significant initiative.

The Governor and Deputy Governor of Abuja (the president and vice president) according to the 1999 constitution as amended too always forgot that their original 37th state and capital of the federation deserves a birthday, after all.Former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who physically moved Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja exactly 27 years ago, could not have forgotten how the then FCT Minister, Major-General GadoNaskogave him the key to the capital in an early morning impressive ceremony at the City Gate on Thursday 12 December, 1991. Mr. BisiOlatinlo, then of the FRCN (who speaks Igbo, Hausa & Yoruba fluently) was the main Master of Ceremony. It was majestic! I was there already as a newspaper Editor.

Abuja, the nation’s capital, has two distinctive birthdays they always forget: 3rd February 1976 when the then Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed proclaimed Abuja as Nigeria’s new capital and legalised it (with Decree.No.6, 1976) and 12 December, 1991 when the then Head of State, General IBB moved the capital from Lagos to Abuja.

As earlier noted, only President Obasanjo and Malam el-Rufai marked the birthday when Abuja clocked 30 in 2006 with a month-long programme that was rounded off with awards to deserved contributors to the growth and development of the nation’s capital since its birth.

But sadly when the capital was to mark its 40th birthday on 3rd February, 2016 year, no one remembered except yours sincerely who lamented in a The Guardian backpage article titled, “Forty hearty cheers! But who is saluting Abuja @ 40?, which appeared on Wednesday 3rd February when Dare Babarinsa lent his column in The Guardian for the landmark article. Yes, no one cared about the nation’s capital even when states that were created at the same time, 1976 too were marking their birthdays.

‘Abuja and inconclusive democracy’.
Abuja has been an orphan of some sort perhaps because of near absence of democracy in its governance processes. All the 36 states’ governors are elected but the ‘militicians’ who gave us this constitution made Abuja just a part of the Office of the President, no thanks to Sections 299-302 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Even the original inhabitants who have been agonising without organising well about unfulfilled promises since 1976, could not remember Abuja @ 40 and I said so in February 2016.

It has been curious therefore 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 registered association of the original inhabitants (OIDA) has failed or forgotten to mark the unfortunate grabbing of their native land 42 years ago.

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). Even when the big men in Abuja celebrated the country’s Centenary in 2014, nobody remembered Abuja as one of the monuments the government of Nigeria had created within the context of the centenary.

It was curious and inexplicable too.
There have been rumblings that the original inhabitants are ready to protest the alleged land grab to the United Nations. They do not have to report their plight to the United Nations or AU or ECOWAS before authorities in the country recognise them and respect them as citizens who do not have any other place they can call their own. The unfinished business of the Compensation and Resettlement beyond the Apo Resettlement Village that has no good school, hospital or social services for the people, should be revisited. It is not enough for the authorities to be reeling out hundreds of billions of Naira government requires to resettle them without doing anything about such projects. The natives have human rights like all other citizens.
To be continued