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What Abuja deserves @ 43, today!

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General Gowon


Even as we lament the state of political anomie in the land today, it is still relevant to remember somebody’s dream, which came through 43 years ago. Although some researchers have been claiming that the Abuja dream actually began with the General Yakubu Gowon administration, yet what we can’t dispute is that the big dream was not noticed until the Murtala Mohammed administration proclaimed it to the nation on 3rd February 1976. That proclamation, which gave birth to the nation’s capital, Abuja, arguably, Nigeria’s most successful national project, is actually 43 years old today. I have been lamenting that the authorities in Nigeria and Abuja have not been marking Abuja’s two major birthdays – February 3, 1976 and its actualisation/relocation day December 12, 1991.

But the Abuja authorities listened and began the celebration of the actualization day, December 12, in 2017 with a colloquium on the journey so far. The focal point of the celebration, Abuja History and Archives Bureau, remained faithful last year, December 12, 2018 and it will be recalled that I was invited to give a keynote on the 27 years after the capital relocation. I serialisedthe keynote here in December last year.

But the nation and Abuja have not come up with how to mark the real birthday: the day Lagos was overthrown as the nation’s capital. The day Hurricane Murtala looked Lagos, the economic capital of West Africa in the face and told her, behold, the majesty of being the capital of the most populous black nation on earth had been lost and Abuja in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, would from then be addressed as the nation’s capital. That was it! From that day, all the procrastination of the Gowon era, evaporated.

The powerful economic research journal of Papa Obafemi Awolowo on the feasibility or otherwise of relocation to a part of the North became insignificant. Authority, yes, a constituted authority had spoken and a decree had been promulgated. Behold, the majesty of somebody’s restlessness, his wonders nurtured by a powerful vision and discipline of execution! Yes, Gowon had a dream, drew up a plan with Shagari, Obasanjo, Murtala, et al but he dithered and flew away with the dream from Kampala to London when he was overthrown while attending an OAU meeting in Uganda on July 29, 1975. General Murtala used the same Obasanjo who was with him (Gowon) to actualise his (Murtala’s) dream and then seized the glory.

That is the verdict of history made on February 3, 1976 – when the nation was told about the birth of Abuja. He (Murtala) was Killed just ten days after he made (this) history – February 13, 1976. If he had delayed the proclamation of Abuja even after Justice Akinola Aguda had submitted a detailed panel’s report to him, there would not have been a nation’s capital till date. The General has taught us how not to procrastinate. I know about the dark powers of procrastination: I have been an acting procrastinator.

General Obasanjo too deserves some garlands on his cap as he did not allow the dream to die: ‘Baba Iyabo’ ran with the dream until October 1, 1979 when he left office. The Abuja dream had then become irreversible. Then General IBB too re-legalised it on Thursday December 12, 1976 when he moved the capital physically to Abuja where many ministries and agencies had been operating.Abuja, a city the Generals built is not a dividend of democracy, after all – General Gowon claimed he dreamed it, General Murtala proclaimed the dream, General Obasanjo actualised it while General Babangida legalised it. Where is your own Abuja as a Nigerian leader?

This story is worth telling today for one authentic reason: the man of history General Murtala spent only 198 days (six months) in office when he made this history with Abuja, our Abuja. He was not born great, greatness was not thrust upon him but he set off his own greatness – within six months. Today, some dealers who claim to be leaders have spent four to eight years in officewithout anything historic to show like Murtala. They continue to blame predecessors in office for being wasters in office and power. They never had even small dreams. They never had any visions. They didn’t even have time for small plans. They failed to plan and planned to fail. They are the real failures that keep failing. History will not record any significant things about them. Instead of planning strategically such leaders merely struggle to commission projects their predecessors did not complete and they commission them with fanfare. They hardly begin any projects any successors can even complete. Such sleepers in office will never be like Murtala we can remember today 43 years after he was assassinated. We cannot see let alone remembering their Abuja.

Such never-do-well leaders are ensconced inside Aso Villa, Abuja General Babangida also built. They cruise in a beautiful city Obasanjo also restored in his second coming (1999-2007). I interviewed MalamNasir el-Rufai as a new FCT Minister in 2003 the Saturday President Obasanjo and Vice President AtikuAbubakar briefed ‘Hurricane Nasir’ on the Abuja restoration agenda. The leaders were quite impressed by el-Rufai’sAbuja revival document I saw before the interview that weekend. Where is your own urban renewal document, Mr. Governor? Don’t depend on roadside consultant to do big things. El-Rufai had a unique master plan for Obasanjo’s idea of restoration. Where is your plan to make history?

‘The democracy Abuja urgently needs’.At this election time, it is noteworthy that political leaders hardly mention Abuja as a project they have to continue to build. They always forget that the nation’s capital is still a work in progress. Even when presidential debate foundations set up even inside Abuja, like the Kadaria Ahmed’s, they don’t remember to ask any candidates’ questions about Abuja, the nation’s capital. Nigeria’s top leaders and bureaucrats across the four arms of government (yes, including the Fourth Estate of the Realm) work and live there.

Not even the Senator representing Abuja and the two House of Representatives members and six elected Area Council members who always get involved in elections (re)present Abuja well in any election year. They don’t address residents about their democratic and legislative agenda. Even the original inhabitants who have been lamenting about abysmal neglect have not been loud enough about democratization of Abuja. They have been suffering and smiling as modernisation kicks them in the face!

This anniversary essay should be a wakeup call for all residents and political leaders to note that, ‘#Abuja Too Needs Your Attention’. But as I noted on December 12, last year in that keynote, the first and the best Abuja needs at this moment is democracy. The office of the chief executive of Abuja, the constitution recognises as Minister of FCT, should be democratised. It is recognised in the same constitution as a department in the office of the president. That is a ‘military arragement’ that can’t help the capital Murtala dreamed (of).

‘Abuja as an orphan’
All the 36 states’ governors are elected but the ‘militicians’ who gave us this constitution made Abuja ‘as if it were a state’ just a part of the Office of the President, no thanks to Sections 299-302 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. There have been rumblings that the original inhabitants of Abuja 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 requiresto resettle them without doing anything about such projects. The natives have human rights like all other citizens in the country.But only democracy is powerful enough to solve this challenge of the natives of Abuja.

But the trouble with democracy in Abuja begins with the 1999 Constitution as amended, which 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 (FCT Minister) 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…

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 quite complicated. But residents and political leaders in Abuja cannot see this conundrum.

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 as will be done this month. But as things stand in Nigeria’s capital, the democratisation process is inconclusive – as long as the Minister or Governor is unelected.

It will be recalled that in 1992, as I noted the other day, 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.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. Specifically, Sections 297-304 of the Constitution should be redrafted to allow democracy in the choice of FCT’s Chief Executive.

‘Buhari and the Murtala’s promise’.
Besides, Because Abuja, is a city founded by the Generals, General Buhari should be proud of that heritage at the moment.
Therefore, the president 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 43 years ago. He (Murtala) promised to make the three cities special areas and specifically, Lagos as legal commercial capital.


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