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Abuja Indigenes: Their ministerial slot as ‘necessary evil’

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Oloja

This topic may appear esoteric and ‘half-current’ this week but I would like to encourage readers who are citizens to note the contextual reporting of the Abuja indigenous population this week within the construct of the executive council of the federation, we call ‘the cabinet’ or ‘federal executive council’ the nation expects the president to announce sooner than later.

There are three critical curiosities that could have attracted attention this week: June 12 as Democracy Day, a celebration of a missed opportunity 26 years ago; curious withdrawal of operating licence of Africa Independent Television (AIT) and RayPower, Nigeria’s pioneer private FM Radio and strange counsel from former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the First Lady, Aisha Buhari on the power of ‘pillow talk’ as a better strategy to advise her husband instead of regular public criticisms on failed public policies and poor service delivery this time.

I would like to plead for understanding so that I can take liberty to ‘marginalise’ the aforementioned issues to address an issue, which I consider weightier matters of human rights in the nation’s capital of the federation, Abuja. It is the issue of the marginalisation of the indigenous population of Abuja most residents do not understand and would not like us to talk about all the time.

And here is the thing, there are indigenes of Abuja who do not have other states they can call their own. God, the almighty had created them within the 8,000 square kilometres of today’s federal Capital Territory (FCT) before Hurricane Murtala Muhammed proclaimed Abuja as Nigeria’s capital onFebruary 3, 1976. The minority people I have written extensively about have been suffering and smiling in the land of their birth. No one remembers them. Even the president and the vice president have states of origin, like many of us. They (M. Buhari and Y. Osinbajo) have governors and rights of citizenship in Katsina and Ogun states respectively. But the natives of Abuja don’t have. They don’t have any state of origin they can call their own. Only very few public records have slots for FCT as a state. And sadly, the 1999 constitution as amended discriminates against the indigenes of Abuja from Section 229, which provides that the “Federal Capital Territory should be treated as if it were one of the state of the Federation”. Though aCourt of Appeal clarified that constitutional confusion since January 2018, the presidency has refused to respect that legal clarification. We will return to that context shortly.

So, that is why it is a time to step aside at this moment from some prominent current affairs so that we can draw attention to a matter I have considered more significant. I will illustrate this with a story of a young unlucky indigene of Abuja, Miss Jessica Danladi. This little girl should have been in the university now but for her statelessness and allied points at issue here. Last year, as my finding revealed, the very brilliant but indigent Jessica who attended a public secondary school in Abuja passed her WASCE and UTME well enough to get admission into even any of the first generation universities in Nigeria. She saw herself as a ‘northerner’ of some sort and filled the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaraias her first choice- to read Law. When the UTME result was released, her church, which was ready to sponsor her, was glad that she obtained a high grade of 259 of 400, which is considered very high by any standard. She sat for post-UTME, which she also passed well with 265/400 but sadly, she was not admitted in A.B.U even on merit. Nor could anyone press any buttons using other criteria such as “locality”, “catchment area”, “educationally disadvantaged states” citizens of all the 36 states enjoy all over the country as admission criteria privileges.

Behold, the constitution says Abuja should be treated as if it were a state, but no one recognises Abuja indigenes as citizens of Abuja. So, no one could stand in for Citizen Jessica, as she is not as lucky as a 15-year old Citizen Ekene Franklin, from Imo state (in Lagos) that the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has just declared the 2019 highest UTME scorer and who Professor IshaqOloyede, JAMB Registrar has artfully assisted by announcing that the genius who obtained 347 of 400 might not be admitted, after all. Even The Guardianhas written an editorial that the University of Lagos should admit the boy though he is not up to 16 years old, according to the University’s rule. No one heard about Jessica’s plight in A.B.U last season because she is an indigene of Abuja.

Abuja Residents and Natives As ‘Necessary Evil’
You may have read the story of how president Buhari and vice president Osinbajo played host to some residents and indigenes of Abuja last week. It was in the course of that visitation that the president artfullyhid under some comic relief to blast the residents of Abuja as ‘necessary evil’ he would still protect despite that fact that he didn’t win Abuja in the last February presidential election. Some news media organs covered the story. Let me uncover it.

President Muhammadu Buhari last Tuesday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, received Vice President Yemi Osinbajo alongside service chiefs and an FCT delegation, who paid him the traditional Sallah homage. At the event, President Buhari said he was pleased with the vice president and urged him not to relent despite challenges.He also spoke about how he lost the last election in Abuja, but said he would not retaliate as the capital is a “necessary evil”. Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the president’s speech:

‘I want to appreciate the number two man of the country because he knows what we are going through very quietly. I am very pleased that you came with this very powerful constituency….

I appeal to you to remain exemplary so that those under you will know that the country is doing very well. If you break down and complain, the impact will reverberate all over and then government will not be popular and whatever efforts we are making will not be appreciated.

I have just spoken to the senator on my left (Philip Aduda) and I told him that his constituency did not vote for me. So I was very pleased that when they made the arrangement they put him very far away from me. I have all the results of all constituencies. I am not threatening FCT because to make FCT secure is to make myself secure and the vice president. I think they are necessary evil that was why they decided to vote for PDP…’

Vice President Osinbajo also made on some public relations remarks as the leader of the Mission to Aso Villa. He had received the same delegation last year while the president was on medical vacation in the United Kingdom but not in this form dominated by most security chiefs and politicians resident in FCT this time. The Permanent Secretary FCTA, Mr. Christian Oha led the FCT government and bureaucracy since the Minister who was on last year’s entourage, is no longer in office.

The point that should not be relegated in this regard is that the president and the vice president should have spiced their speeches with some historical context and constitutional facts about Abuja. According to the 1999 constitution, the President is the Governor of Abuja and the Vice President is the Deputy Governor, courtesy of Sections 301-302 of the Constitution. They only delegate their powers to the Minister(s) of Abuja at any time. So, not only as President and Vice President resident in Abuja, they are the chief executives of the Abuja, the constitution regards as the Capital of the Federation. Section 301 provides:

Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions of section 299 of this Constitution, in its application to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, this Constitution shall be construed as if-
(a) references to the Governor, Deputy Governor and the executive council of a State (howsoever called) were references to the President, Vice-President and the executive council of the Federation (howsoever called) respectively;
(b) references to the Chief Judge and Judges of the High Court of a State were references to the Chief Judge and Judges of the High Court, which is established for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja by the provisions of this Constitution; and
(c) references to persons, offices and authorities of a State were references to the persons, offices and authorities of the Federation with like status, designations and powers, respectively; and in particular, as if references to the Attorney-General, Commissioners and the Auditor-General for a State were references to the Attorney-General, Ministers and the Auditor-General of the Federation with like status, designations and powers.

Section 302. The President may, in exercise of the powers conferred upon him by section 147 of this Constitution, appoint for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja a Minister who shall exercise such powers and perform such functions as may be delegated to him by the President, from time to time.

There is still no one to hold responsible for the plight of the original inhabitants of Abuja other than the president, their elected Governor. Most of the time, the FCT Minister, the Permanent Secretary, FCT Administration and the Executive Secretary, FCDA do not come from FCT. They are residents and politicians from other states of the federation who cannot be reached by the oppressed Citizen Jessica Danladi.

Besides, the January 15, 2018, judgment of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal (on Musa Baba-Panya (Appellant) Vs President FRN, and AGF, DanladiJeji, OIDA, President), which removed ambiguity from Section 229 of the Constitution and made “a declaration that the indigenes of FCT, Abuja are entitled to ministerial appointment into the Federal Executive Council’should be respected at this time.

The Appeal Court also made, ‘A declaration that continuous refusal, failure or default by the previous and present Presidents to appoint an indigene of FCT, Abuja as a Minister is a flagrant violation of the constitutional right of the indigenes of FCT-Abuja’.

The same Court of Appeal ruling signed by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson gave an ‘An Order compelling the 1st respondent to the immediate appointment of an indigene of FCT-Abuja as a Minister of the Federation forthwith’.So, as the President ruminates over the colour of his new cabinet, he should remember that there has since been a Court of Appeal judgment on the legality of including an indigene of FCT-Abuja on the Executive Council of the Federation. He does not need any consultation on this anymore. It is legal to do so. As a corollary to that, the President should note that it is also imperative to include redrafting of Sections 297-304 of the 1999 Constitution into any constitutional amendment attempts. The FCT authorities must be democratic. Democracy is still 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 and inconclusive democracy in Nigeria’s capital. It is unacceptable. There should be political but democratic authority that Citizen Jessica, et al, can complain to. The last Minister of FCT, Alhaji Musa, for instance, was so distant and somewhat clueless on what to do with FCT. If he were elected, there would have been some pressure on him to take some steps because of next elections. He did nothing and hence the natives and the residents voted against their governor (the president) who failed to send them a resourceful representative as FCT Minister. The way to deal with that is to democratise the office – for accountability and good governance. That will be a more defining ‘necessary evil’ that president should also think about alongside a legal ministerial slot for the FCT indigenes, not residents. As I had noted when the capital relocation clocked 27 on December 12, 2018, a gift of democracy for FCT political leadership, is the ‘next level’ that Abuja urgently needs. So, help us Mr. President.


In this article:
Martins Oloja
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