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When will they remember Abuja’s birthday?

By Martins Oloja
06 February 2022   |   3:57 am
Again, they forgot Abuja @ 46 last Thursday, February 3, (1976-2022). I have been complaining for ages that authorities, residents and even the original inhabitants don’t respect any sense of history – about Abuja.

[FILES] Young General Ibrahim Babangida

Again, they forgot Abuja @ 46 last Thursday, February 3, (1976-2022). I have been complaining for ages that authorities, residents and even the original inhabitants don’t respect any sense of history – about Abuja. Why don’t we celebrate achievers and good thinkers? Why do we celebrate only mediocrities and frivolities? Why do we roll out drums for thieves as chiefs, celebrate morons as barons?

Again, they forgot February 3, as the most important birthday of the nation’s capital, Abuja. It is the Founders’ Day they always forget. The military powers that created Abuja are still wielding political power in Abuja but they too often forget their most important achievement while in unconstitutional power between 1966 and 1999. They forgot again last Thursday (February 3) that the nation’s capital clocked 46 that day. No fanfare. No one popped champagne. No colloquium. Not even a statement from the presidency and the FCT authorities including the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) Abuja’s oldest physical development agency. They don’t have even emotional and social intelligence to remember that Abuja is one of Nigeria’s most remarkable achievements since independence.

Curiously, the civilian powers that have been nurturing democracy from Abuja since 1999 too forgot that last Thursday was Abuja’s birthday. The governor and deputy governor of Abuja (the president and vice president) according to the 1999 constitution as amended too forgot that their original 37th state and capital of the federation was 46 years old last week. Former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who physically moved Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja exactly 30 years ago may have forgotten too how the then FCT Minister, Major-General Gado Nasko gave him the key to the capital city in an early morning impressive ceremony at the city gate on Thursday, December 12, 1991. Mr. Bisi Olatinlo, then of the FRCN (who speaks Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba fluently) was the main Master of Ceremony. Painfully enough, all the presidents and FCT ministers except former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, have always forgotten to mark Abuja’s birthdays. Abuja has two distinctive birthdays they always forget: February 3, 1976 when the then Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed proclaimed Abuja as Nigeria’s new capital and legalised it (with a decree, Decree. No. 6, 1976) and December 12, 1991 when the then Head of State, General IBB moved the capital physically from Lagos to Abuja.

Only President Obasanjo and Malam el-Rufai as FCT Minister marked the birthday when Abuja clocked 30 in 2006 with a month-long grand programme that was rounded off with awards to deserved contributors to the growth and development of the nation’s capital since its birth. Yours sincerely was one of the recipients of the awards.  Curiously even when the capital was to mark its 40th birthday on February 3, 2016, no one remembered except yours sincerely who lamented in a back page article titled, “Forty hearty cheers! But who is saluting Abuja @ 40?,” which appeared on Wednesday, February 3 when Dare Babarinsa lent his column for the landmark article. Yes, no one cared about the nation’s capital even when states that marked their 40th birthday then celebrating theirs. Abuja has been an orphan of some sort perhaps because of total absence of democracy in its governance processes.

Here is the unreported trouble with Abuja: 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 Section 299-302 of the 1999 constitution as amended. Even the original inhabitants, who have been agonising without organising well about unfulfilled promises since 1976, did not remember Abuja @ 40 and I said so here on February 3, 2016. Then I had noted: It should be 40 happy cheers to the people and government of Nigeria today (3rd February, 2016). Strangely, again as I read from the book of lamentation about this tragic amnesia that year, all the authorities in Abuja from the presidency through the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) headed by a minister, seemed unaware of the landmark and events that should have been organised to mark the historic birthday of Nigeria’s capital.

It is somewhat inscrutable 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 association of the original inhabitants has failed or forgotten to mark the unfortunate grabbing of their native land 46 years ago. There have been rumblings that the original inhabitants are ready to protest the alleged land grab to the United Nations. They again missed a historic opportunity to draw national attention to the resettlement and settlement the Murtala-Obasanjo administration promised them about 46 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 Centenary in 2014, nobody remembered Abuja as one of the monuments the government of Nigeria had created within the construct of the centenary.

As I have always pointed out, the 1999 Constitution as amended 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, there is a sense in which the Office of the President can celebrate Abuja’s birthday. In the same vein, he (the President) can delegate the power to celebrate Abuja to any minister that seems to be sleeping on duty whenever the bell tolls on December 12 and February 3, every year. But since 2006, neither the presidency nor the FCTA has remembered to mark Abuja’s birthdays in a befitting manner. They all always forget that there was a leader who had a dream that they can’t run with at the moment! They always forget that it is important to mark such dates with seminars and even international summits on how to cope with contemporary issues such as urban renewal and livable cities.

Gen. Murtala Muhammad

And Murtala’s unfulfilled promises to Lagos…
AS I always remind all of us too, of all the failings exhibited about Nigeria’s capital, the most telling are unfulfilled promises made to Lagos, which was proposed by General Murtala in 1976 as “Commercial Capital of the Federation.”

In his broadcast to the nation on February 3, 1976, Murtala had promised that Lagos would not only be designated a “Special Area,” it would be Nigeria’s commercial capital and the deal would be incorporated into the 1979 Constitution then in the works. His words:

‘…Lagos will, in the foreseeable future, remain the nation’s commercial capital and one of its nerve centres. But in terms of servicing the present infrastructure alone, the committed amount of money and effort required will be such that Lagos State will not be ready to cope. It will even be unfair to expect the state to bear this heavy burden on its own. It is, therefore, necessary for the Federal Government to continue to sustain the substantial investment in the area. The port facilities and other economic activities in the Lagos area have to be expanded. There is need in the circumstance for the Federal Government to maintain a special defence and security arrangement in Lagos, which will henceforth be designated a SPECIAL AREA. These arrangements will be carefully worked out and written into the constitution. Kaduna and Port-Harcourt are to be accorded similar status and designated special areas under the constitution…’

This is one remarkable promise to Lagos that no government since February 14, 1976 has fulfilled. The General made the promise on February 3 and he was assassinated on February 13, 1976.

So, Abuja, is a city founded and developed by the Generals and General Buhari should be proud of that heritage. That is why he should join the bandwagon of builders by fulfilling the Murtala’s promise to Lagos 46 years ago. After all, it was permissible to blame the PDP for neglecting the APC-controlled Lagos for 16 years before they came in 2015. But now Lagos and Abuja will no longer hate each other, as they are both controlled by the same political party, the APC. So, President Buhari should let the General turn well in his grave today by fulfilling the covenant he (Murtala) had with the people of Nigeria on Lagos 46 years ago. It is in a way gratifying that the Federal Government is just beginning to rehabilitate the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway – 46 years after the promise.

We need to continue to celebrate the Nigeria’s can-do spirit, which built Abuja, the Constitution appropriately calls the ‘Capital of the Federation and seat of the Government of the Federation’ (Section 298).

As I have always noted on Abuja, our Abuja, the nation’s capital should indeed be run as the ‘Federation Capital’, not just as ‘Federal Capital’ that may not reflect federal character. Leaders who are assigned to run the Territory as it is now should always bear that in mind. In all sincerity, it is embarrassing that Buhari’s Abuja is run as one of the core northern states. The FCT Minister, the Executive Secretary of the FCDA and more than 90 per cent of the agencies are headed by public officers of northern origin and are Muslims. That does not reflect the majesty of the federal character that the Nation’s Capital should celebrate.

As the National Assembly leadership just hinted that constitution review report will be ready at the end of this month, it will be gratifying to note that constitutional ambiguity on the status of the FCT has been removed. Besides, it will be a thing of joy to reflect democracy on the choice of leadership. This should be a gift to the nation as Abuja marks its 46th birthday. The other daunting challenge now is the imperative of integrating the original inhabitants who already had a court judgment on the legality of appointing one of them as a Minister. A Court of Appeal in January 2018 specifically ordered the President to appoint an original inhabitant as a member of the federal cabinet. That order has not been obeyed and should be obeyed in the interest of peace and stability in the Territory.

In the main, the majesty of democracy in the Territory cannot be resisted at this moment. Democracy as the pulling power of development should be allowed to flourish in the Territory, lest the Municipal Area Council Chairman who is already exercising that power as an elected CEO in the City will continue to exercise authority of a democratically elected Mayor.

So, let the fire of democracy fall in Abuja so that we can have an accountable leadership at all levels of governance in the Capital of the Federation. This is what Abuja needs at the moment. I hope President Buhari will seize the moment to make history as the man who defined the status of Abuja and democratised, sorry legalised its leadership recruitment.