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ABUJA : Capital relocation from Lagos 30 years ago

By Martins Oloja
12 December 2021   |   4:24 am
Not many young people will know why I have always been very passionate about Abuja affairs. The nation’s capital is actually my second home. My journalism career grew luxuriantly like yam tendrils in the rainy season...

Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida

‘Not many young people will know why I have always been very passionate about Abuja affairs. The nation’s capital is actually my second home. My journalism career grew luxuriantly like yam tendrils in the rainy season, thanks to my relationship with the capital about 28 years ago when Alhaji Bukar Zarma, former editor of Sunday New Nigerian established the first newspaper The Abuja Newsday there.

I was pioneer Lagos Bureau Chief from 1988 to 1990 when I was promoted editor of the newspaper. Abuja is the place my colleagues (bureau chiefs) including the dangerously hardworking Yusuf Ali, the ever clean Sam Akpe, never-say-die Yomi Odunuga, etc. named me “The Dean” of the Bureau Chiefs’ community while some others outside journalism would call me “The Mayor of Abuja”. There is nothing extraordinary about the sobriquets other than my long-standing experience as a reporter, writer and editor in the 40 years old “capital of the federation” as the constitution calls it….’  

That is an extract from a warning article titled, ‘Before Abuja becomes toxic federal capital’ I wrote here on July 16, 2016.

THIS background is quite relevant to the points at issue today in Abuja that is supposed to mark the 30th anniversary of the capital relocation from Lagos to Abuja, today. Exactly 30 years ago, today General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida physically moved the seat of power from Lagos to Abuja. I have always complained here about how the people who have been running Nigeria from Abuja after Obasanjo have always forgotten Abuja’s two birth birthdays: February 3, 1976 and December 12, 1991. 

It is important to reflect on the 30th capital-relocation anniversary of our nation’s capital where religion and ethnicity have become political tools in the hands of our politicians. 

Let’s reflect on this my background: when the newspaper civilisation kicked us in the face in Abuja in 1988, there was a good country where religion and ethnicity did not play so much overt role in interpersonal relationships, let alone in recruitments into private enterprises. Then Alhaji Bukar Zarma, who hails from Borno State shaped the business plans of publishing the first newspaper in Abuja (‘Abuja Newsday’) with Alhaji Hassan Adamu Wakilin Adamawa, from Adamawa State. They are both Muslims.

But the striking element in the story in 1988 in Abuja was that Alhaji Zarma, who advertised for vacancies for journalists in a national daily, then did not consider religion and ethnicity when he hired very resourceful journalists from different parts of the country. One thing was clear then: he never asked any candidates state of origin. And so coincidentally, all the senior editors and most reporters recruited from the North and South were Christians. This is the evidence: Mr. Nick Dazang (Christian from Plateau) was the pioneer Editor; Mr. Jackson Ekwugum (Christian from Delta State) was News Editor, Mr. Dennis Mordi (Christian from Delta State) was Chief Sub Editor; Mr. Samm Audu (Christian from Kaduna State) was Sports Editor; Mr. Skekwogaza Wasah (Christian from Abuja) was Features Editor, Martins Oloja (Christian from Ondo State) was Lagos Bureau Chief. Other notable names in the newsroom ten included Shok Jok, Camillus Eboh, Moji Olaniyan, Moji Olajide, Alex Kabba, Emmanuel Obe, etc, all of them Christians.

In fact, Alhaji Zarma did not know my state of origin until long after the newspaper was shut by the military junta then in the wake of the June 12, 1993 crisis in the country. It should be noted that at that time, the Chairman of the Abuja City Press Limited, Publishers of The Abuja Newsday, Alhaji Adamu was the Chairman of National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria Limited (NAFCON).

I met him several times in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Abuja. He never asked even once where I hailed from. What is more, at that time, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) was military president (Head of State) and most of the prominent officers in the then presidency were Professors Jerry Gana, Omo-Omoruyi, Jonah Isawa Elaigwu, Sam Oyovbaire, etc. These were Christians, among others, who were quite visible in government then, although they were still in Lagos. But Professor Omo Omoruyi was then in Abuja before the historic movement to Abuja on Thursday, December 12, 1991.

The point really is that as a young Nigerian citizen and journalist, I have seen the good part of the country even in Abuja where it is now becoming increasingly difficult to associate with it as the capital of our federation. I succeeded Nick Dazang in 1990 as Editor (Abuja Newsday) in Abuja and I can recall that Abuja was gloriously promoted as a great city and a unity capital. In fact, our newspaper’s masthead carried a motto: ‘A great paper for a great city’. Besides, the FCT administration we were covering then had a lot of Christians, Muslims and free thinkers alike from different parts of the country.

As I had earlier noted, the atmosphere then was so conducive in the nation’s capital to the extent that even the land administration department then had a code of conduct in plots allocation to states. In other words, if Plot 25 in Garki was allocated to a citizen of Anambra State, for instance, Plot 26 would be allocated to a citizen of Adamawa, and not to another allotee from Anambra State. That was what led to naming Abuja “Centre of Unity” when the Federal Road Safety Corps came up with various slogans for the 36 states and Abuja then. Lagos was named “Centre of Excellence…”

It is quite tragic today in this very toxic country where a Muslim-Muslim ticket had won a free and fair election that no political party even in the nation’s capital can organise a convention that would produce a Christian-Christian ticket for president as we did in 1993. This is a tragedy. It is really catastrophic that the nation’s capital that Justice Akinola Aguda (from Ondo State) recommended as a “centre of unity” through a Presidential Panel he headed in 1975 has become a dangerous “centre of disunity”. It is unfortunate that Murtala didn’t promise us a capital that will be dominated by a section of the country. 

Two weeks ago, Nigeria’s President and the FCT Minister the constitution empowers him to appoint in his capacity as Governor of the FCT, appointed a cabinet for Abuja and heads of agencies of the FCT administration and Executive Secretary for the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA). Curiously, most of the appointments were due in 2019 when the President was re-elected. It was for these reasons I had written two articles this year alone – to complain about undue delay in appointing the Abuja cabinet (Mandate Secretaries) since 2019. https://guardian.ng/opinion/buhari-and-fct-ministers-missing-memo/January 10, 2021; https://guardian.ng/opinion/buhari-and-his-fct-ministers-inaction/August 08, 2021.

So, President Muhammadu Buhari finally appointed Mandate Secretaries (equivalent of Commissioners in the states) for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), on November 22, 2021. The President also approved the appointment of the Chairman, FCT Ministerial Task Team on City Sanitation, Attah Ikharo as Senior Special Assistant (Monitoring, Inspection & Enforcement) to the FCT Minister. According to the organic law of the land, the President is the Governor of the FCT, with the minister only holding fort for him.

The appointment of the Mandate Secretaries, announced in a statement issued Monday, November 22 in Abuja and signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the FCT minister, Anthony Ogunleye, was based on recommendations by the minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello.

Also appointed are the Executive Secretary of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Heads of Agencies and others into relevant positions in the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA). Among those appointed are Ibrahim Abubakar Dantsoho, Secretary, Area Council Services Secretariat; Abubakar Ibrahim, Secretary, Agricultural and Rural Development Secretariat; Sani Dahir El-Katazu, Secretary, Education; and, Dr. Abubakar Tafida, Secretary, Health and Human Services Secretariat.

Others are Muhammad B. Umar, Secretary, Legal Services Secretariat; Hadiza Mahammed Kabir, Secretary, Social Development Secretariat; Zakari Angulu Dobi, Secretary, Transportation Secretariat; Agboola Lukman Dabiri, Secretary, Economic Planning, Revenue Generation and PPP; Obinna Francis Ogwuegbu, Coordinator, Satellite Towns Development Department; Umar Shuaibu, Coordinator, Abuja Metropolitan Management Council; Engr. Shehu Hadi Ahmed, Executive Secretary, FCDA; Ibrahim Damisa, Managing Director (MD), Abuja Broadcasting Corporation and Dr. Muhammed B. Kawu, General Manager, Hospital Management Board. Twenty-six of the appointees are new, while the 14 earlier appointed by the FCTA were ratified by the President. Some of those whose appointments were ratified were Abubakar Sani as Senior Special Assistant (Media) to the minister and Mr Austine Elemue as Special Assistant (Media) to the Minister of State (FCT).

But expectedly, the following day, a coalition of Civil Society Organizations, (CSOs), called on the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Mallam Mohammed Musa Bello to reverse the appointments of Mandate Secretaries in the FCT with immediate effect, saying the exercise could ruin national cohesion that the nation’s capital represents. The CSOs, operating under the Young People’s Initiative for Credible Leadership (YPICL) said the appointment was fraught with nepotism as there was no single representation of the South East, South-South and South-West geopolitical zones in the statutory appointments of Mandate Secretaries, representing the FCT cabinet. Rejecting the appointment via a statement issued Tuesday, November 23, in Abuja by its Executive Director, Comrade Abdulwahab Ekekhide, the YPICL asked the minister to appoint persons from South East, South-South and South-West as Mandate Secretaries in the FCT.

According to the statement, “The announcement of the appointment of Mandate Secretaries in the FCT came to us as a shock, taking a look at the list we observed to our dismay that there is no single representation of the South East, South-South and South-West geopolitical zones in the statutory appointment. “The FCT by status is the centre of unity and being the seat of the Federal Government the constitutional provisions as regards appointments must be followed, but in this new appointments made by the FCT Minister, Federal Character has not been obeyed as there is no representation of the South East, South-South and South-West Geopolitical zones in the statutory positions of the FCT. “We are all living witnesses to the fact that it has taken the Minister two years plus to appoint Mandate Secretaries for the FCT. “You will recall that Ministers were sworn in on August 21, 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister is making his appointments on the night of November 22, 2021….”

As the capital relocation clocks 30, today, President Buhari should take another look at the November 22, 2021 appointments for FCT and reflect on the way the exercise has further dented his administration. Appointments in Abuja have always reflected federal character. A situation in which the FCT Minister, the Executive Secretary of FCDA and all Mandate Secretaries and all agency heads (Commissioners) are all from the North and are all Muslims can destroy the confidence of the people of southern Nigeria in Nigeria and its capital. 

Note that, Economic Planning, Revenue Generation and PPP Department is not part of the original Mandate Secretariat. It is a new creation to be headed by Agboola Lukman Dabiri, as Secretary. And Obinna Francis Ogwuegbu, Coordinator, Satellite Towns Development Department is the only Christian in the new appointments, and that agency is not part of the organic cabinet. These appointments do not help national cohesion that the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NiPR) has been campaigning to achieve in its current mission across the nation. This is a public relations tragedy that should be managed if Abuja is to be accepted as capital as advertised to us by the iconic Murtala Muhammed, 45 years ago.