Who will restore Abuja as national capital?
I am so sorry, I have to engage you with my unending Abuja story again this week because our capital’s controversial story continues to return to us as a bad decimal. Abuja, originally known as Suleja controversially swapped its name from a Niger state’s traditional emirate, 47 years ago through the Justice Akinola Aguda’s very controversial panel.
I mean that the Capital the military artfully conceptualised for us since the General Gowon’s administration, proclaimed for us by General Murtala Muhammed in 1976 and actualised for us by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, on December 12, 1991 remains controversial till the present.
Abuja remains the Capital of the Federation with a controversial status. The capital has now become a controversial butt of witticism and another ‘weapon of mass distortion’ of facts by lawyers and journalists who haven’t adequately researched the capital’s 47-year-old controversy.
Oh, Abuja, our Abuja that many journalists haven’t been able to separate from the presidency and the three arms of government that are ‘tenants’ of the federal government. Even its nomenclature remains consistently controversial. The 1999 constitution provides that Abuja is Nigeria’s ‘Capital of the Federation’. The same constitution in another inconsistency calls it the the ‘Federal Capital Territory’. While the political scientists and civil society pundits who continue to claim that we don’t have a nation most times call the controversial capital, the ‘nation’s capital’. Sone other sundry writers about the current Abuja 25% controversy on whether a presidential candidate needs 25% to be president have called the capital a ‘national capital’ as it is known in Australia, et al. What is more curious, even our great Olatunji Dare, a significant professor of journalism joined the debate on Abuja and 25% the other day when he wrote on ‘Abuja’ FCT Super Residents’ in his back page column (The Nation).
And so whatever we call the ‘Capital of the Federation’ there is one inescapable fact as some cover stories on Law Pages of magazines suddenly remember the capital as a cover piece: The status of Nigeria’s capital remains unknown to even most lawyers and public affairs analysts. Although the status is clear to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court via various pronouncements on concomitant issues including the controversial 25%, some ministers who worship in the same Temple of Justice have continued to bamboozle the nation on even declarative judgments on Abuja as ‘the Capital of the Federation’. I don’t know whether it is part of what my brother Simon Kolawole calls ‘It is all politics’, just to confuse the nation and its courts at this time.
And here is the thing, as all the combined effects of all the efforts of all Ministers for Abuja, who (have represented the President) and the Senators and House members since 1999, for instance have not led to clearing all the ambiguities concerning the status of Abuja, this is a time for the in-coming government to put Abuja on priority list of ‘Restructuring of the Federation’.
Specifically, as I was saying, the in-coming President should not regard Abuja as just a cabinet position in the ‘Executive Council of the Federation’. Abuja should be seen beyond the way the iconic Olatunji Dare, a literary stylist has contextualised it. It should be seen for what it is – Nigeria’s Capital that should have had its democratic structures since 1992 but for some democratic shenanigans in the last days of General IBB, who cancelled the already prepared electoral structures and even candidates for Mayoral Elections on the then platforms of NRC and SDP. The Mayoral candidates then were Ibrahim Tukurah (SDP) and Adamu Shuaib (NRC). The IBB administration curiously cancelled the elective principles established then through the Chief of General Staff, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, Deputy to IBB. All of the candidates, Tukurah, Shuaib and Aikhomu have since joined their ancestors.
All told, Abuja is a solid Federal or Federation Capital that should not be trifled with. Its Chief Executive should be elected as In Washington D.C, London, Jerusalem, Hong Kong, among other remarkable capitals in the world. Here are some references:
Controversial as its status remains, the constitution is clear enough from the complicated Sections 299-304 that Abuja is the capital of the Federation and the Governor of the Capital is the President and the Deputy Governor is the Vice President. The same constitution in another provision empowers the president to the extent that, ‘he may appoint a Minister’ for the Capital.
This is the evidence from the organic law of the land:Section 302 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 Minister of Federal Capital territory, Abuja ‘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.
The same controversial sections provide that the National Assembly located in the Three-Arms Zone, Abuja, should be the Assembly for the Capital. The same 1999 Constitution empowers the same National Assembly to settle part of the status challenge for the Capital: Here is the clear provision:
‘Section 303 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999: Administration of the Federal Capital territory, Abuja’
‘The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall comprise six area councils and the administrative and political structure thereof shall be as provided by an Act of the National Assembly’.
Sadly, 24 years of democracy hasn’t produced any clear Bill on how ‘the administrative and political structure of Abuja’ and its six Area Councils should be run. There have been some quasi-administrative measures including a President Obasanjo’s Executive Order 2004, which produced the Mandate Secretariat structure after scrapping the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory (MFCT). There has been an Abuja Internal Revenue Board, which once curiously outsourced its function to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). There was a 2018 Bill for the Abuja Civil Service Commission (ACSC), which the Clerk National Assembly duly filed to the President for his assent. Instead of signing it into law, the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari forwarded it to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation for advice. The Bill has since been there as neither the president nor the National Assembly members have asked for any update. On several occasions since 1999, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation has shown hostility to autonomous and democratic FCT when it comes to Justice Administration for the capital: Reason: Sections 300-304 of the same constitution make the AGF of the Federation the AGF of the FCT. Despite the 2004 Executive Order on FCT, the FCTA can only appoint a General Counsel as the Executive Head of the FCTA Legal Secretariat. The Minister can’t appoint Attorney General for the FCT.
‘Our Federal Capital Without Federal Character’
The President from May 29, 2023 should note that it is a national tragedy today that the ‘Capital of the Federation’ that the 1999 Constitution has legalised for us as our “Centre of Unity”has become a dangerous “Centre of Disunity”. General Murtala didn’t promise us a capital that will be dominated by a section of the country. There has been lamentation that Abuja has been run as if it were one of the states of the North. Since inception as I have written several times here, no Minister of FCT has been appointed from the South. Hold your breath: only Minsters of State including, Mark Okoye, Prof (Mrs) Miriam Ikejiani-Clark, Ambassador Desmond Akawor, Senator John James Akpan Udoedehe, Navy Captain Ominiyi Caleb Olubolade, Chuka Odom, Oloye Olajumoke Akinjide… None of these appointees served as substantive Minister of FCT. Note that the one being reported as FCT First Minister, Mr. Ajose Adeogun (1976-79) was never designated as FCT Minister. He was a Minister in Charge of Special Duties assigned by General Olusegun Obasanjo to begin the political and administrative legwork for the FCT from 15B Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos and was always staying at the Field Base in Suleja Niger State then whenever he was in Abuja as there was no structure to occupy then in the newly proclaimed Federal Capital Territory.
What is worse, the outgoing Minister of FCT Muhammad Musa Bello hails from Adamawa State while the FCDA Executive Secretary, Shehu Hadi Ahmad, an engineer, hails from Gombe State. A check on the list of appointees for all the agencies in Abuja shows that more than 95% of them are from the North. This trend began long before the death of Justice Akinola Aguda who once wrote (in The Guardian) an Op-ed article titled, ‘My Regret About Abuja’.
Examine this: After procrastinating for more than two years of his second term, President Buhari final appointed Mandate Secretaries (equivalent of Commissioners in the states) for the Federal Capital Territory FCT, on November 22, 2021. The appointment of the Mandate Secretaries, announced in a statement issued 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. But barely a few hours after the announcement, a coalition of Civil Society Organizations, (CSOs), called on the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Mallam 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. This is not new but the trend has worsened under the outgoing President Buhari who doesn’t respect federal character even at the Federal Character Commission (FCC) where both the Chairman and the Secretary strangely hail from the North.
Appointments in Abuja should reflect federal character. I have seen the permutations and media lobbying for the FCT Portfolio from May 29, 2023. Doubtless, northern political leaders have always arm-twisted Nigeria’s president to concede the Abuja slot in the Cabinet to the North. They have strategically begun that lobby. That should be noted.
So, there are three critical issues about Abuja for the president the morning after May 29, 2023: There should be a constitution review to elect Abuja’s Chief Executive or Mayor; the first substantive Minister of southern extraction should emerge to restore confidence of all in the Capital of the Federation; the 2018 Court of Appeal’s declarative judgment that an Abuja indigene should be appointed as a member of the Federal Cabinet must be respected and there should be a Bill to the National Assembly to work out a clear ‘Political and Administrative Structure for Abuja as recommended by Section 302 of the 1979 Constitution. That is the only way, Abuja as our ‘Paradise Lost, can be restored – to bless the memory of the founding fathers.