What does it take to administer a fast growing Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, at this time of economic recession? Iyobosa Uwugiarenexamines the challenges
Some critical minds asked recently when President Muhammadu Buhari would appoint the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory.
Mischievous question, some will say. But, it came at a time when many residents of the city were beginning to entertain fears over the suspected activities of the Fulani herdsmen whose businesses were sending frightening signals to residents. And many had asked if the nation’s seat of power had been converted into a “Federal Cattle Territory.”
To be sure, until recently, herdsmen had virtually taken over the major highways in Abuja, including residential areas and gardens; and ostensibly bolstered by the failure of the appropriate authorities to apply the big stick, the herdsmen had started making inroads into Aso Villa and around the business area of the FCT.
Stunned residents and motorists were daily harassed and assaulted by the uncontrollable herdsmen. And like a resident said recently, they took over the city of Abuja like an “army of occupation.” During busy working hours, they obstructed the major highways and sometimes, attacked pedestrians, and with cow muck littering the roads.
Apart from the disgusting activities of the herdsmen, residents had started to express serious concerns about the environmental sanitation in a territory of 250 square kilometres- a city that many Nigerians and other residents feel very proud of.
Consequently, many residents had challenged the Minister of FCT, Muhammad Musa Bello, to rise up to the responsibilities of his plum office.
But then, could the minister be facing any challenge, especially at this period of economic recession? What is really going on?
At a forum organised recently by the FCT Chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), the minister admitted inheriting a city that had been “well-conceived, well-planned with first class infrastructure” that had grown rapidly over the last 30 years- growing at a rate of 20 per cent per annum, more than any other city in Africa.
“We met a city where facilities are grossly overstretched because they were meant to cater for a very much lower population than what we have now. Of course, we met a city where the planning and the concept initially envisaged by the founding fathers were gradually being eroded and being bypassed,” the minister stated.
“We met a city that was developing towards some level of chaos; chaos in service delivery, chaos in traffic management and some level of chaotic development in terms of buildings, infrastructure and social facilities,’’ he added.
The minister added that he met a city where a number of the contractors had stopped work, laid off staff and abandoned projects and a city that was grappling with the general insecurity that was pervading some parts of the country.
However, he said that with an administrative structure that is one of the best in Nigeria, manned by “professionals of all callings”, people who were the first crop of civil servants that inhabited the city, he had been working assiduously with his colleagues to rise up to the challenges enveloping the city.
“First and foremost, we tried to encourage the contractors to come back to site. From the record, throughout 2015, there were no capital releases to the Ministry of the FCT until in December of 2015. So, basically, for 11 months, no payments were made,’’ the minister said.
‘’So, what we did was to first and foremost request for the extension of the budget by additional three months, so that we would be able to mobilise all available resources to pay the contractors. That’s why you will notice during the last few months, some semblance of construction activities have returned to the city.”
He added that construction of the roads is on-going, saying the essential part of the liability, especially for the smaller sized companies, were paid and encouraged to continue to provide the services that they were providing.
He continued: “We noticed also some improvements in the sanitation in the city. While of course I will acknowledge that we are not there yet, but definitely, there have been some improvements and I think it is to the credit of my colleagues in the various departments that have done their work and also our ability to have paid the service contractors to be able to do as required.”
To be sure, the minister recently directed the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the FCT Task Team on Environment to, as a matter of urgency, get rid of herdsmen still grazing in the FCT. He described the act of grazing in the city centre as a “bizarre situation” and directed the two bodies to find a way of dealing with the situation.
He equally directed them to stop hawkers using pedestrian bridges in the territory for their commercial activities. The directives came as the minister also ordered any principal of government schools in Abuja who fails to achieve 50 per cent success in the 2017 WASSCE and NECO examination to honourably resign or risk being sacked.
Speaking at a meeting with school principals in the territory, the minister said that the 30 per cent success recorded in the 2016 WAEC and NECO in FCT schools was no longer acceptable. The minister, who was represented at the meeting by the FCT Permanent Secretary, Dr. Babatope Ajakaiye, insisted that either the students achieve at least 50 per cent in the next examination or the principals of the affected schools would be penalised.
The minister warned that the FCT Administration would no longer accept excuses of poor infrastructure or inadequate teachers being given as reasons for the poor performance, insisting that school principals must do everything possible to ensure that the situation changed. He said that it was unthinkable that the FCT, with the largest concentration of elites and which should be setting the pace for other states in terms of academic performance, was churning out mere 30 per cent success in very critical examinations as WAEC and NECO.
“My mission is not to come and make you sad but the situation is bad and you know it, and we are ready to tackle it. But you must be up and doing too and that is why I said I must call all the principals and talk to you to do the right things. That is what this administration is about,’’ Bello added.
“We are ready to put the right things in place. We are ready to work for Nigeria. But we want people that will join us to do this. That is why when you come to FCT today, it is not business as usual, and we want to send that message down to our institutions.”
Bello, who also visited a pedestrian bridge in Ludge recently, warned that hawking and other related activities were not acceptable on the pedestrian bridges across the territory, and called for stern enforcement. He told the AEPB and the taskforce team that his administration was not prepared to take excuses anymore on why the bridges were being used for illegal activities.
His reasons: “These expressways are the gateway into the Federal Capital City and the seat of power of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and therefore everything must be done to keep Abuja clean from all environmental nuisances in line with the vision of its founding fathers.”
The whole idea, according to the minister, was to wake up the city to go back to what it used to be, saying he had to do that against the backdrop of serious funding challenges, which is making his administration prioritise its objectives and obligations and above all, appreciate the need to be prudent managers of resources.
‘’This is the Abuja that we have seen and of course we spend most of the time in the city because when you go to battle, you have to choose your battle line. If you say you have to go in all fronts, you can’t do anything and that’s why we decided to concentrate on the city centre itself and gradually expand to reach out to the Area Councils and the satellite towns,’’ he further stated.
“And I am happy this is now very visible because we have a crop of very dedicated young men and women manning the Area Councils, starting from Abaji, Kwali, Gwagwalada, Kuje, AMAC and Bwari.”
The minister said his administration had also been working hard to rid the city of nuisances: street trading, street begging and some of the things that are not supposed to be seen in a city of FCT standard.
According to him, “Particularly, most of you would have noticed on Ahmadu Bello Way as you drive close to Apo, that road is now much freer because all those institutions that decided to change the entrances of their properties and premises against what was originally planned were compelled to reverse to what it was because that is a very important artery into the city that is meant to be free at all times.”
Asked what he has done or doing to strengthen institutions in the FCT, the minister said that his action would not manifest itself immediately.
For instance, he said that his administration had tried to instil the rule of law in what is done in all the offices and all the agencies of the FCT, saying this is something people cannot feel or see physically, but very fundamental if an efficient city and an efficient community and society must be administered in line with the rule of law.
“As I mentioned to you, Abuja is the only city in the entire federation that is a creation of law. So, for every activity, there is a law guiding it. But where we got it wrong over the years was when we jettisoned these things and then we weakened the institutions,” he told THISDAY.
“So, what we have been trying to revive and we will continue to do, is to strengthen these institutions to give the technocrats and the specialists in these institutions the confidence to be able to say no to any political appointee when things are being done wrongly.
“Or else, year in year out, ministers will come and go and at the end of the day, we always cry and fall back and reflect on the fact that things are being done wrongly.”
Bello said his vision as FCT Minister is to have a day when the minister or the Permanent Secretary of FCT would tell his/her Director to give him a piece of land in a beautiful valley and he will say no.
“A lot of people will tell you that we have been very prudent with managing finances and that is how it’s supposed to be. Every naira should work 100 per cent, not 10 per cent or 20 per cent. These are some of the things that are invisible that we are working towards in the administration, which of course will take time to manifest,” he further told THISDAY.
On what is being done to ease doing business in Abuja, the minister said that for example, a lot of building plans are now being approved on time. He said that even if they are not going to be approved, at least, within a certain period of time, a person is being informed as to why his/her plan is not being approved.
He continue: “These are all the ways we are trying to enhance how business of government is done because at the end of the day, government is really to provide services and as a nation, especially in the FCT, we want to key into this Federal Government’s focus and objective of trying to make Nigeria move 20 points up on the World Bank index of doing business. And I think we can do that by improving on all our processes and that’s what we are trying to do.”
He promised that his administration would complete the Abuja Light Rail project, which is 70 per cent done and has very critical components that include the rolling stocks, the locomotives, the signalling system and the entire management structure that will run the system.
According to the minister, “There is also the all-important Apo-Karshi Road, which we are working on, and which if completed will bring relief to motorists coming into the city from the Nyanya-Mararaba axis. These are all in progress and we do hope to complete all.
“Abuja has enormous water reservoir. The water treatment plant at the lower Usuma Dam has been projected to meet the needs of this city even at the rate of 20 per cent growth for the next 10 years. The water is there, but as it is now, from our analysis, less than 60 per cent of the city gets water.
“We are working to complete the critical infrastructure linking the various tanks constructed and under construction in the network of the city. So, for us, that’s a very important project that of course was commenced many years ago and has been on-going, but we intend to complete that.”
The easy-going minister reminded the people that they are in the regime of “change”, saying that a lot of things they were used to in the past in running public institutions, the policies, the paraphernalia and all related issues, had never worked.
He said, “When I arrive for public engagements or appointments on time, people applaud me. But for me, it is not an issue. For me, 12 is 12 and that’s why if you check my public outings, I always go there in time.
“On a few occasions, the protocol people will tell me, sir you better stay at home, they are not ready. But I say no I will go there and by the time you go there on time, everybody knows you will come on time and everybody goes on time.”
Tasking the FCT’s residents, the minister said that most of them had left the protection of the territory in the hands of government alone, saying every citizen of Abuja should have a passion for the city.
“I’m saying so because the rate of vandalisation of public assets and properties in this city is amazing and certain criminal activities, quite frankly are just unique to us Nigerians,” he said.
The minister added that traffic lights, streetlights and electric cables are being vandalised, while the new Abuja light rail system under construction had also faced vandalism. These are all fundamental issues that a minister of the FCT cannot handle alone,” he said.