Senator Bala Mohammed
Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, Senator Bala Mohammed, gives an insight into his agenda for the development of the capital territory and reasons behind his current policy plank and project continuity. He speaks in an interview with Nduka Nwosu
What are your agenda in office?
Successive administrations backed by the capital outlay deployed by the Federal Government were heavy on infrastructure. Of course we have continued with this game plan with a focus on the social challenges the FCT is grappling with. There are social challenges, challenges of population growth, challenges of movement, challenges of demand and challenges to create a form of institution within the FCT so that we can grow to the level where we will be able to provide infrastructure and services especially affordable housing for low and medium income-earners, which the development right from the onset did not capture. Property in the main cities are not affordable by over 80 percent of medium income-earners and this is a major peg, an issue that needs to be resolved by my administration. So far so good, I am satisfied to an extent, but we are really confronted with so many challenges and of course we are behind in terms of management of the human explosion in the FCT. We did not envisage what we have on our hands because Abuja, which was projected for less than 600,000, now is brimming with a population of over three million people and we don’t stop people from coming into the city that belongs to them. It is their own because of the citizenship charter; we have to make sure that we open up the city through whatever means and that is what we are going to discuss. We are trying to develop more districts, an approach for infrastructural development. I have pursued this issue with so much intensity and right now some of the corridors and districts are witnessing rapid development but not without some PPP arrangement using the Katampe model while extending our infrastructure development to such areas as Mabuchi, Kaura et al. So with this approach, interest on the PPP arrangement is growing and this template is extending to the Katampe 11 model. Secondly, we are opening new frontiers for our land swap model, where the land becomes a major resource in the development of our districts in partnership with the private sector.
What are your plan for the resettlement of original indigenes of Abuja?
The concept of urban renewal was conceptualised by this administration. When I came in, I initiated the idea of resettlement and compensation in two ways, first by redefining the status of Abuja as a territory to ensure every Nigerian that comes here acquires the status of a citizen. That meant we had to resettle and compensate the original settlers, which policy has been there. Initially the idea was to move every original inhabitant out of the city, making sure that his habitation, his economy, and his entitlements were settled. Government started this, but there was a policy summersault because the required share capital was not forthcoming, government decided to accommodate within the framework of its master plan of its 80,000 square kilometers the development of districts and settlements concurrently without having so many issues with the people, their culture and custom. This has failed because we had issues bothering on enumeration, culture and custom and the fact that there are so many of these settlements in and around the FCT, Wasa, Galisere, the Kubwa vicinity and their like. We had problems of enumeration like in Apo area, of the inflow of people from other parts of the country and of course the recurring issue of urban renewal. Urban renewal coalesces these problems and challenges to just one basic issue: the whole matter boils down to a PPP arrangement, especially with our ongoing projects in Wasa and Galisere. That affords us the opportunity to provide roads, water and other major infrastructure facilities inclusive of transportation. Obviously, both resettlement and transportation constitute a big problem, which we are addressing.
Any plan to correct Abuja Master Plan?
Abuja is the only city in Nigeria that is built with a well-structured urban and regional master plan; the master plan is designed to accommodate a gamut of activities determined by the geographic information system. Yes, there have been a lot of abuses, and those abuses are also within the value chain of the land administration. Sometimes land is converted into other uses, other than what they are meant for because of certain overriding factors or by conscious political or personal considerations. But a master plan is meant to be flexible, not sacrosanct. It can be changed by an overriding public interest and when such interests impede the master plan it must necessarily fall in tandem with the provision of basic infrastructure. Of course, the tendency to subject a master plan to abuse is there. Certainly there is a lot of conversion and abuse of the master plan even up to the use of green areas, because we have parks that are converted into social uses that are not recreational. Indeed, there is an absence of metropolitan condominiums that should provide night life and other uses in the city. A city like this with a population of about 6.5 million people, must be able to provide these things. London for example has Oxford Street, and Manhattan in the USA. We don’t have all of that here and that is why you see people converting recreational areas into brothels or drinking places. If you go to London, by 6pm, the parks are closed because they are meant for recreation. So we are doing everything to make sure we restore the integrity of the Master Plan because the defects surrounding it affect us negatively. The other aspect affecting the Master Plan relates to the current security challenges at the FCT. Certain corridors that were opened before now were not done in anticipation of these security issues and suddenly they are experiencing unanticipated closures. The city and the Master Plan were not designed in anticipation of terrorism; the city was designed by a Chinese architect and today this design is affecting the corridors such that we are exposed to vulnerable attacks.
The issue of land administration is viewed from the moment of allocation to ministerial approval and who the participants are. This is stage one. The next stage has to do with deeds and documents as well as the certificate of occupancy followed by design and development, which must fall in line with our requirements. We have our channels for identifying fraud and everything is tuned to helping the potential owner.
What are the prorities of the N306 billion statutory budgets for FCT?
The budget falls below the expectations of the ideal with a deficit of N401 billion for ongoing projects. In our business plan and from figures from the budget and debt management offices, under local debt, the airport road requires about N53 billion for its completion and it is already over 12 months behind schedule because of the gaps in the business plan. Essentially, the major thrust of our administration and that of Mr. President is to make the issue of dynamism in governance more efficient; it does not matter who awards the contract, but such contract must be completed; we are completing all the projects we inherited, with minimum attention to new projects because we don’t want to abandon projects. If we do our development partners will be hurt. Having said that, we have introduced the development of satellite towns and here our concern is in the provision of infrastructure facilities. In essence, the budget’s emphasis is one of continuity of ongoing projects and making sure we provide a new lease of life for the satellite towns with such social services as health, education and transportation.
What about plot allocations stopped by the Senate towards the end of El-Rufai’s administration?
As I said those plots were allocated when el-Rufai was the FCT minister. If you are a minister for a day, you have certain statutory and delegated powers to execute functions empowered by the office. Moral issues can come up as a result of some of those decisions made, which may look arbitrary and questionable regarding allocations in this context. But then, it is only a minister of the FCT that can allocate lands. About 3000 plots were allocated within the period of one week, and the Senate raised eyebrows as a result, and my predecessors were directed not to release them. Some have gone ahead to obtain certificates of occupancy while the transactions were halted. The matter was taken to Council by one of my predecessors and it was agreed that it would be resolved but since I came in, I have discovered so many things that were not right; for example the number of plots involved in this allocation are so many with certificates of occupancy already in place. We will neither give them nor allocate them to anyone because we are yet to conclude decisions on them. We have a lot of challenges surrounding these allocations including court litigations. We need to resolve all of these issues in the interest of Nigerians and move forward
How do you plan to tackle the problems of water supply in FCT despite near completion of the Lower Usman Dam?
What we did when we took over was to have a roadmap of all the relevant sectors of the FCT extending to administration, services, infrastructure, water decay and its sanitization. We discovered some areas of the FCT could not have water for upwards of two or three weeks. There was a problem of generation and refining of water, reticulation and distribution. We had to limit it in such a manner that we made sure that within 24 hours, every part of the city got water. We were able to achieve that. But certainly there were two issues involved: we are generating 10 million metric tons of water now from the Lower Usman Dam, the contract was given about seven years ago and it has reached 95 per cent completion, enabling us to provide another treatment plant that will produce an additional 20 metric tons, and the distribution is where we have the problem with the provision of doctored iron, a specification for the reticulation and distribution of water from the treatment plant to other parts of the city. We discovered that doctored iron is not customer friendly; it is very expensive and is not accessible off the shelf; you have to order for it and because of our own inadequacies in terms of substituting funds within the normal procurement budgeting allocation, we would not be able to deploy that money to the manufacturer to give it to us immediately we want to use it. We are currently using metal iron. We have a go ahead from Mr. President to use what we have because we have peculiar challenges on budgetary provisions. That is why we make sure all the debt on these two projects, the treatment plant and the surplus budget for the reticulation have been paid and of course because of the time line, we have done some evaluation and revaluation of the project with a rise of about N3 billion.
My aim is to make sure I produce and provide water to all the parts of the city. We have the Greater Water Project with a World Bank assisted fund of $500 million in Kuje. The idea is to have another dam, or another area where we refine water. If we do not think ahead, we will have a problem in the near future, what with our mass housing zone with about 12 districts. The project will pay itself ultimately.
What are you doing about the issue of mass housing policy of the FCT administration?
My administration has not made mass housing a policy. There are two issues: there is the mass housing programme determined by a framework for accelerated development programme of the FCT which was conceptualised by my predecessors and the idea was to provide large portions of land to individual developers and save them the agony of paying a premium at per square meter while developing the land at their own pace and within a timeline of two years. The second is the accelerated mass housing that provides large hectares of land to developers while allowing them to develop property within their own development control, but certainly, there was a lot of personal interest and discretion and both the developers and the administration did not seem to have the capacity for monitoring and evaluation of the project. Yet both policies were open to abuse. Since the FCT lacks the financial capacity to develop these lands, we have come up with an alternative, which is the land swap arrangement that takes account of both the technical and financial capacity of the developer, who also is expected to pay some premium on the land. The remaining portions of land are there for Nigerians for their personal allocation while complying with the normal premium allocation; the rest will go to the developer rather than waiting endlessly for the federal government to provide the facilities.
What is the latest on the development of Abuja Industrial District?
The business of the FCTA is to provide a planned city not an agricultural or industrial city; we are not competing with Kano and Lagos. However, we still have to create jobs in the FCT, through the provision of parks and these include industrial parks, agricultural parks and all of that. I inherited the Idu Industrial Park only to discover it is a warehouse district. Apart from that, I have opened a new frontier with Turkish and Far East investors. It is a 250 hectares zone designed for the development of a medium term industrial park; this is on course. The Idu Industrial Park has been diverted to a warehousing zone and this was not the original aim. The new policy insists on an industrial framework within a timeframe or revocation will follow.
Karishi Road is not yet motorable, why is this so?
Yanya is the manifestation of planlessness because we have not taken into cognizance the population of Nigerians that render support services and live in the FCT environs thus creating a heavy burden on the vicinities and their roads. We are in partnership with the Nasarawa State Government in opening up alternative districts and routes such that there will be a diversification of residence and routes for people coming into the FCT to work. We opened Magadishu because we were not able to finish the Karishi Road as a result of communal issues, which have been taken care of. Karishi is receiving top priority. The Guruku-Jitata Road built by the Nasarawa State Government from Jitata serves most people going to Bauchi, Maiduguri and Kaduna. The Maraba-Guruku Road will also help, while the one behind Mpape has been sealed with a PPP arrangement. A contract has been awarded for the Karishi-Ara Road in Nasarawa State and will ease movement from the South-east into the FCT, thus making the Gwagwalada route unnecessary. The Dutse-Gurara Road is more than 80 per cent ready and I believe at the end of this year we will be able to deliver it. It will reduce the tension on the road from Suleja. We are trying as much as possible to provide alternative routes such as the Gwagwalada-Kuje Road, which is far into completion.
Explain the concept of the PPP arrangement in FCT?
The PPP government/private sector initiative goes beyond land swap as the insinuation goes in certain quarters. It is infrastructure-oriented and is in three categories inclusive of the budgetary development of districts; we have an arrangement with a British consortium that has indicated interest in financing the development of a district with over 700 units of houses in Katampe, whose template will be replicated in Mabuchi, Kada, Kaura and about three or four other districts and of course we have gone very far with due diligence. Financing makes it imperative that the relationship has to be really articulated and interconnected in such a manner that there would be mutual benefit. There is a proposal for a $1.2 billion 37 story building housing the World Trade Centre with a condominium of facilities, at the centre of Abuja. It will make Abuja the next business destination in terms of conferencing, and anything required in international trade and commerce.
We have gotten accreditation and we are providing all the support to the investor who already has five plots in the central business area. We also have the Abuja Town Centre, an idea I borrowed from my predecessor Modibo, who wanted to develop a four-centre business district. We had to minimise it because of the huge cost implications. However, an American investment group has indicated interest. The development will reduce our transportation problems, accommodating recreation and leisure parks . Lastly, we have the land swap we are leveraging in favour of investors who are willing to match this with their financial and other resources.