The FCT, Abuja, is gradually living up to its billing, writes Thomson Ndukwe

Jonas Onoja resided in one of the satellite towns of Abuja until four years ago when he and his family immigrated to Canada upon winning the Canadian Visa Lottery. He was all too glad to leave Abuja which was then a forest of rusty cranes stemming from the numerous uncompleted projects that littered the nooks and crannies of the city coupled with inadequate infrastructure. The situation was even made worse by traffic snarls at various junctions and intersections, insecurity and the bedlam created by the swarm of rickshaws (Kekenapep) and passenger motorcycles. Leaving for Canada was an answered prayer.

It has been four years since he left by which time he had begun to experience some homesickness. He decided to touch base to reconnect with family and friends. Arriving the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport aboard the KLM, he was first fascinated by the new international wing of the airport. The running maze of cranes and raw concrete had yielded space to a splendid architecture. While in Montreal, he had followed the controversy that trailed the closure and the upgrade of the airport runway. The Ministry of Aviation had kept its word to deliver within the promised timeframe. This is a plus any day, he thought. The airport had taken a new shape and Abuja, he thought, could unarguably be the aviation hub of West Africa.

Upon emerging from the arrival hall he spotted Bolaji Ifelodun, his friend, who had come to pick him up from the airport.

Hugs and banters exchanged, Jonas scanned the airport once more to soak in reminiscences of his homecoming. Looking ahead, his saw a magnificent complex emblazoned with the sign, “Airport Terminal, Abuja Railway.” “A modern railway station?” Jonas declared in utter surprise. “Enter car make we go?” Bolaji jibed. “You think na only oyibo land de get train?” Just for the couple of years he was out of town, Abuja had recorded dramatic changes.

As they made their way to the city, Jonas began to count infrastructure projects that were either commenced, completed or coasting home to final delivery. First in line was the erstwhile collapsing airport driveway – a.k.a Bill Clinton Drive along with its bridge and interchange. Turning to his friend, he recalled how that spot had been a major traffic snarl and made travelling out of the city a very challenging journey. Similarly, on both sides of the road, he noticed a growing allure of the city which was not there at the time he played “Andrew.” The Gateway Mall, the Legislative Institute, Nigerian Korean International School, Dunamis Dome and an array of modern housing estates.

“Haba,” Bolaji quipped “Na wao.” How come I have not quite taken note of these things and you are just noticing them upon your arrival, just like that?”

“That is human nature,” Jonas countered. “What do they call it in Nigeria? Errrm, yes, ‘See finish.’ Familiarity, you know, breeds contempt.”

Bolaji is not alone in his dilemma. The humdrum of daily life always shades residents from the progress around them.

Jonas, on his own, was fascinated with the expansive vista of alluring cityscape, growing magnificence of elegant skylines and a diadem of beautiful parks and gardens laced together by modern infrastructure.

There is no diminishing the fact that Abuja is Nigeria’s success story. A modern city harvested from an erstwhile motley of pristine villages and a mosaic of aboriginal huts. He was elated to see the Independence and Constitution Avenues – the twin driveways bestriding the MKO Abiola National Stadium ending at the Three Arms Zone, as good as complete and how they have enhanced the radiance of the city. Vehicles can now ply both roads on dual mode.

On a drive around the city in the course of his stay, he observed other skillful touches which have spiced up Abuja’s mega city character. These include the east-end of the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Expressway leading to A.Y.A. It is the proverbial stitch in time that has saved nine. The completion of the road facilitated easy drive to and from the heart of federal government business. Viewed from its eastern cardinal point, the city is a photographer’s delight. Also close by, he observed the Aso Villa interchange and roundabout which has made for an easy detour onto the Outer Northern Expressway (ONEX) leading to Kubwa and Suleja Areas. It was not as easy as this in the past, he reminded himself.

Jonas had bought a parcel of land while in Abuja then. He decided to visit the Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS) to process his C of O. He could not navigate his way easily as a new network of infrastructure had been constructed which now connected the various government agencies and secretariats on this major government business hub, literarily the Abuja Government House. They comprise the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS), Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Council (ICRC) and the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), among others.

The excellent network is further complemented by the construction of the interchanges across the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Expressway which connects the Southern Parkway to Abuja’s Cultural Spine. This is the driveway which circles such critical centres as the National Mosque, Central Bank, Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Silverbird Entertainment Centre and the Yar-Adua Centre across the Jaiz Bank and Federal Ministry of Finance, among others.

One afternoon, after a particularly rainy day, Bolaji invited Jonas out for coffee at the Silverbird shopping mall. Jonas had hesitated a bit. He knew that area was rife with traffic congestion. He needed to free up time in order to keep up with another appointment. Pressured by his friend he gave in and was surprised that the place had become a one-way drive as a result of the completion of the Southern Parkway roads, bridges and interchanges.

As they sipped the Ethiopian coffee, from up the Silverbird high-rise, Bolaji used the opportunity to seize control of the conversation. He observed Jonas scanning the city from that lookout promontory. He was identifying new structures that had graced the Central Business District Skyline after the last time he saw it four years ago. The new entrants were the AFDB and the PPPRA towers, the new FIRS and World Trade Centre skyscrapers.

When Bolaji regained his attention, Bolaji cleared up his throat, and began telling him how residents await in confident anticipation the progress being recorded on the project for the dualization of the Apo Road – a strip of the Outer Southern Expressway (OSEX) linking the district with Wasa junction and connecting another road coming from Karshi which was already over 85 percent complete. Jonas also was excited to know that the arterial road S.30 behind Apo, passing through where his plot laid in Okanji District, has reached an advanced stage. Construction work just stopped short at the precincts of Kabusa Village. According to Bolaji, “the delay now is the last chunk of funding for work and for compensation of villagers whose houses have been caught up with the project.”

Jonas was now thinking about developing his property rather than selling it. He enquired on the regulations for housing development. Bolaji, informed him that the current administration, unlike previous ones, emphasized building vertically and encourages use of primary mortgages in line with modern housing development standards. Jonas nodded approvingly as this is consistent with the practice in the civilized world.

“Abuja has come of age,” he said pointedly, “and it is necessary for government to steer away from the culture of Father-Christmas land allocation which has over the years encouraged land racketeering and inundating the city with bungalows which are the major reason for urban degradation.”

On the surge of investor confidence and a growing delight over Abuja’s liveability credentials, Jonas recalled reading in 2018, how Abuja upstaged Lagos as the main destination for foreign investment. “I believe,” he said, “if we continue this way, Abuja would easily become one of the best cities in Africa, to live, work and play,” adding, “The unfolding scenic surroundings, open spaces for games and recreation are the stuff that great cities are made of.”

Jonas was however quick to point out that there were still areas where the city needed to up its game. Like the provision of amenities, environmental sanitation and others. Bolaji agreed with him. “Corruption is still an issue in the country,” he said, “There are, however, quite a few leaders doing their level best. The tendency is often to lump all of them in the same corruption basket.”

For Jonas, the present FCT Administration needs to be applauded for the progress made in the midst of dwindling revenue. It is also commendable that they are committed to working with people to evolve solutions rather than toeing the line of official bully, which is what many Nigerians would prefer. “Enforcements must be given a human face,” Jonas remonstrated.

“As a lawyer, I was aware of the plethora of suits in the courts, arising from the highhandedness of the past. These are matters hidden to the public. I am privy to the huge judgement debts incurred by past administrations as a result of unbridled arbitrariness.”

Bolaji motioned to the waiter for his bill, while stating, “One thing your coming has taught me is to be appreciative of the challenges confronting our leaders and to be more observant of my surroundings.” “Yes,” Jonas responded, “in the advanced world, there are criticisms but they are always constructive. In our country, na so so bad belle.”

Jonas has since returned to Canada with a better appreciation of how far Abuja has come over the last five years. The determination of the present administration of the FCT to do what is right despite the economic downturn is what has led to so much progress.

Truth is that Abuja is still work in progress and she cannot attain the status we all want her to be as long residents do not take ownership of the Abuja Project and nurture and protect it as our own.

The current FCT Minister in his last October 1 address to the people of the FCT said that there now exists in the FCT, a generation of Nigerians who, though not indigenous to the FCT were born here, schooled here, are married here and are now raising their families here. Many know no other place but the FCT as their home.

The time really has come for all those who truly love the city to take ownership and work with the current administration that has pulled out all stops to ensure that Abuja lives up to its billing as the capital city of the greatest country on the continent.

Ndukwe wrote from Durumi, Abuja