Buhari and his FCT minister’s inaction
It is quite unfortunate that Abuja, the nation’s capital is fast becoming another failing institution in Nigeria but the federal authorities that run the country from there have always forgotten that there is a unique government of the Federal Capital Territory headed by a Minister, a member of the Executive Council of the Federation. New residents of the FCT are beginning to forget too that there is a Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), a legal body the founding fathers set up in the beginning to build the Territory. The iconic pioneer agency headed by an Executive Secretary is still there quietly doing what it is legalised to do. The only trouble now is that even the National Assembly’s two Committees on the FCT (the Senate & the House) have strangely shirked their responsibility to the government and people of the Territory and the nation. How many active citizens would remember that the FCT 2021 budget was passed by the Senate on June 29, 2021? Has the FCT budget bill been signed into law?
It is strange that the government of the FCT, a beat where Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai worked resourcefully and was acknowledged as a significant ‘accidental public servant’ has become a place where you may need sometimes to use Google to find the name of the current FCT Minister and the Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the FCDA at this moment. Doubtless, under the current Minister, Abuja as the 37th government is appearing in the media only as a place and not a government. The government of FCT is inconclusive. Most of the agencies of the government have no chief executives, or political heads, let alone boards of directors or trustees. Sadly, the only government that is making noise for all the wrong reasons in the FCT is the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), which is claiming and flaunting constitutional provisions for Local Government Councils to impose heavy tax yokes on the city-centre residents and business owners. At the last count, AMAC has 23 tax subheads including the most recent one, the obnoxious electric generator tax. Every resident is being bombarded with the multiple and largely uncoordinated tax consultants and ferocious collectors. How can any injured residents or entrepreneurs complain to? The FCT is the most undemocratic municipal government in the world. The FCT Chief Executive Officer is unelected and so is selected by the President. The Permanent Secretary of FCT is appointed by the President. The Executive Secretary of the FCDA is an appointee of the President. There is no separate elected FCT Assembly. The wonderful National Assembly of Nigeria legislates for the nation and FCT, according to the Constitution. So, the FCT is an arm of the presidency.
On January 10, this year, on this same subject of absence of governance in Nigeria’s capital, I wrote here: ‘It may be strange to write about this small but significant development: The Federal Capital Territory (FCT), my organic beat, has been suffering in silence and sadly even the watchdogs in Abuja appear to have forgotten that there is a Federal Capital Territory’s government within the Federal Government in Abuja and the president presides over the two of them (FG and FCT). This will not be the first time that I have noted here that the President of Nigeria is also the Governor of the Federal Capital Territory and the Vice President is the Deputy Governor. It is not my opinion. That is a provision in our constitution. Let’s not go into the technicality, the letter and spirit of the constitution that has made Nigeria’s capital the most undemocratically governed in the country. I just want to draw the attention of the presidency to the fact that Nigeria’s president has since ignored his other government – in the nation’s capital. For conceptual clarity here, the constitution provides that the President is the Governor (of FCT) and he may delegate his powers over the FCT to a Minister (Sections 299-304). That is what has been happening…
The FCT Minister’s Lost Memo
I HAD also then drawn attention to the fact that there was a matter in Abuja and it was of urgent national importance that the president’s men and other cabinet members might not be aware of. Then, I pointed to a writing on the wall of FCT and I noted: ‘…the taciturn Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Mohammed Bello is in some discomfort he can’t tell anybody about. He has a huge challenge that may threaten national security in the nation’s capital. The Adamawa-born Minister can’t form his government since he was sworn in for a second term in August 2019. The Minister who functions as the governor of the ‘37th state’ of the federation has no State Assembly unlike the 36 states of the federation. The 1999 constitution provides that the National Assembly shall be the Legislature for the FCT. There are two Committees in the same bi-cameral National Assembly overseeing the FCT Affairs. The National Assembly’s only serious business for FCT has always been approval of the FCT budget, as submitted by the President.
Specifically, I added then that it had been curious that an executive memorandum for the formation of the FCT’s Executive Council and appointment and reappointment of executive heads for FCT agencies sent to the President for Approval since late 2019, had not been returned to the FCT Minister. Here are the facts. There is an FCT Executive Order 2004, which emerged when the Ministry of the Federal Capital territory (MFCT) was scrapped on 31stDecember 2004. The Executive Order, signed by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo when Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai was FCT Minister created seven new Mandate Secretariats, comprising Education, Transport, Agriculture and Rural Development, Health and Human Services, Social Development, Legal Services and Area Council. The Secretariats are like the Ministries in the states and the heads function as if they were state commissioners. They are called (Mandate) Secretaries. The Secretariats (ministries) can therefore not be headed by civil servants. Besides, there are a number of agencies under these Seven Secretaries. They include Abuja Metropolitan Management Council, which supervises a number of development and regulatory agencies including Development Control; FCT Water Board, FCT Parks and Recreation, FCT Internal Revenue Board, etc. The challenge now is that since August 2019 when the new Cabinet was sworn in, the FCT Minister has no functional executive body and most of the agencies have no legal heads. Main reason: as I was saying, the file the FCT Minister submitted to the office of the President since late 2019 for the appointment of the seven Secretaries to manage the Mandate Secretariats and appointment of executive heads of agencies has not been treated.
And so since August 2019 the FCT has no Executive Council to consider development projects for FCT. Besides, all the agencies without heads too have since been headed by civil servants who have been acting and so cannot carry out executive functions. Even the Mandate Secretariats are said to be headed by civil servants drawn mostly from the Departments of Finance and Administration of different agencies. These officers cannot function as political heads. What is more concerning, these Secretaries are supposed to work with the Minister’s four-year tenure. Even if the FCT cabinet is formed tomorrow, the members have only one year and eight months to go instead of four years because of some executive inertia in the presidency. What is worse, in FCT at the moment, there is no Director of Treasury. The Director retired since April 2020 and the acting successor also retired in October 2020. Since October, 2020 FCT authorities have failed to appoint a successor. The Permanent Secretary of the FCT has been ‘acting’ as the Director of Treasury of the FCT. Curiously, neither the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF) nor the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) can question this strange bureaucracy why they are so, so disorganised in the government of the nation’s capital.
Before you ask me what my problem is even if there is no Minister for FCT, let me report to you that the FCT is a government and therefore should have a structure that can control how the Territory functions. There was a credible report in a medium published by a group of credible northerners at the weekend that despite ban, the FCT authorities announced early this year, open grazing thrives in FCT. Civil servants are always amazed about open grazing even around the Eagle Square in the heart of the Federal Secretariat complex in Abuja. No one to enforce any rules, even the Abuja Environmental Protection Agency (AEPB) is helpless in the absence of political will to enforce any rules against herdsmen in Nigeria’s capital.
What is worse, the two FCT Committees in National Assembly and the only Senator representing FCT, have been quiet about this executive procrastination that has crippled operations in the 45-years-old capital. Lest we forget, as I was asking questions last night while writing this, I got a confirmed report later that the FCT Minister who hails from Adamawa state last month quietly got a confirmation of his recommendation from the same Aso Presidential Villa for a brand new FCDA Executive Secretary who hails from Adamawa, his home state. The immediate past Executive Secretary of FCDA hails from Niger state. This is another sad story about Nigeria whose leader has been battling with a crisis of cohesion. This is the nation’s capital, Centre of (our) Unity, where appointments should ordinarily reflect the character of the 36 states and Abuja that make up the federation. The constitution actually introduces Abuja, FCT as ‘’the capital of the federation”. Now whose federation when all the appointments in the capital favour a section of the so-called federation? It is the same story that has crippled the Federal Character Commission (FCC) located in Abuja. The Chairman and the Secretary of the Commission that is supposed to enforce federal character provision in the constitution hail from the North.
No doubt, the Abuja that the iconic Murtala Muhammed, then Head of State, proclaimed to the nation on February 3, 1976, ten days before he was assassinated should reflect the character of the nation. But even the Abuja, a federal capital without any federal character reflection is gasping for breath and all our political leaders and the media appear to have dismissed our capital as ‘what is my own, it is their capital, after all. There will be consequences for all these absurdities the morning after the departure of Buhari on May 29, 2023.
And so because President Buhari and FCT Minister Bello are not enthusiastic about the development (of the bureaucracy) of the FCT, there should be a constitutional amendment to remove the FCT from the office and grip of the President. The FCT Mayor should be elected as it is in most cities in the world. But who will tell the president that the FCT Minister who curiously moved to get his kinsman from Adamawa state to be Executive Secretary has no cabinet since 2019, no thanks to presidential inertia about almost everything?