Adewole Adebayo traces the history of the relocation of the capital of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja to pre-independence agitation by former Premier of the Old Western region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and stresses that President Bola Tinubu has constitutional power to relocate any parastatal from Abuja to any part of the country in the interest of the nation.
There are so many uncertainties these days and Ship of State is constantly missing her anchor. Nigerians are not just questioning the credibility of one another, we are questioning the rationale of our own existence!
Life is about change and its constancy. Yet, however much a stable entity gyrates in response to internal or external stimulus, the core ought to be stable.
Nigeria by now has a number of cores, including federalism, multiethnic and multi religious diversity and unity in that diversity. The idea of a Federal Capital Territory in Abuja is a major core. We should all be able to accept that Abuja as a centre of unity is no longer available for debate.
Recent attempts to raise partisan skirmishes and cross swords in regional tournaments over the status of Abuja are coming at a time when statesmen and elders are absentmindedly avoiding life threatening abominations at our door steps.
I want us to rest the issue of Abuja and focus on ensuring that we have an actual government in place, willing and able to exercise authority in Nigeria and enforce its writs.
The establishment of Abuja and the relocation of the Federal Capital Territory from Lagos to Abuja was the idea and initiative of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group who started campaigning for the relocation of the Federal Capital to an equidistant point at the centre of Nigeria. Chief Awolowo even volunteered that if the Federal Government had no money to fund the relocation, the Western Region was prepared to make significant contributions to the cost of building the new Federal Capital and relocation of the Federal Capital from Lagos to the new Federal Capital on the condition that Lagos should be merged with the Western Region.
This idea was opposed by the Northern People’s Congress led by Sir Ahmadu Bello and the NCNC led by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who both insisted that Lagos should remain the Federal Capital and no new Federal Capital Territory should be established. Awolowo’s proposals were voted down at the Lancaster House Conferences that led to the Independence Constitution of 1960.
During the military interregnum after the 1966 coups when Awolowo served under Gowon, the idea resurfaced as part of the conditions that Awolowo gave to serve under Gowon. State creation was the most prominent of Awolowo’s conditions, especially the creation of Lagos State amongst the 12 States created in 1967. However Gowon was not eager about relocating the FCT away from Lagos, but the idea remained an article of faith for the Western State political elite.
When Murtala Muhammed took over, the Western State elites, both civilian and military, prevailed on Murtala to act on the relocation with automatic alacrity.
They provided the manpower led by Justice Akinola Aguda, Tai Solarin, Fola Alade, etc who are majorly Awoists to name Abuja because it was already mathematically preordained as the geocentre of Nigeria. Awolowo had in 1953 originally proposed somewhere around Kafanchan.
Therefore:- Abuja was not and it is not a northern agenda or plot or conspiracy.
Tanzania, Australia, Brasil, Ivory Coast, etc have done similar relocations.
It can never be in the interest of Western Nigeria to have Lagos reinstated as the Federal Capital Territory, as this would be a monumental relapse and loss of a significant victory in a struggle that began about 80 years ago. No reasonable, thinking and sensible person in the West would wish to have the capital of Nigeria in Lagos or anywhere in the six South West States!
Abuja is a fantastic place to have the Federal Capital Territory and it should remain so. All Federal Government agencies should be headquartered in Abuja, with flexibility to operate remotely or physically in every part of Nigeria.
FCT in Abuja is not an achievement of the Northerners and it is not a legacy that the northern political elite can claim pole position to protect.
It will be unconstitutional, unwise, counterproductive and wasteful for President Bola Tinubu or any other president to even conceive the nonsensical thought of reversing the establishment of Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory.
To begin with, Lagos or anywhere in the old Western region is not available for such hosting. That decision is final. South West will never host any Federal Capital. Period. There is no land in the East or South except perhaps the northern forests of Cross River State to spare for that.
There is hardly anywhere else in the north more suitable for it than the present location named Abuja. It can be renamed Nigeria City or Naija Town or whatever but Abuja is cute enough. I’m certain that we can’t even afford to start a new FCT away from Abuja where we have made significant investments in infrastructure and civic unity.
However from time to time, the President as Chief Executive may direct operational units of any executive agencies to be located in any part of Nigeria and carry out activities from such places in the national interest. Such a decision is enabled by all the executive powers of the Federation vested in the President under section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Where the President makes any decisions for which he or she is constitutionally and legally empowered to make, there may still be political costs attendant to such a decision if poor political judgment is applied or is poorly communicated. A political leader may be punished politically for legally valid actions. The right to question authority or oppose policies and measures are reserved in a democratic polity.
The Federal Capital Territory of a country with a functional economy is hardly the prettiest or wealthiest necessarily. It is incumbent on State Governments to govern their States well and attract investments and development. The Federal Government is also not obligated or expected to concentrate only on the Federal Capital Territory for development and investments. There is no reason why Ajaokuta or Ikot Abasi or Jos or Nkalagu should not attract as much federal attention as Abuja.
For the sake of long-term peace, we should adequately compensate the original owners of the land we have confiscated and made into the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja.
It is the fair and just thing to do. As far as a suitable and appropriate Federal Capital Territory, Abuja is good enough.
-Adebayo, a presidential candidate in the 2023 general election, writes from Lagos