By Law Mefor
Given his antecedents and personality, strategic thinkers would wish Nyeson Wike to be deployed to the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Works, or Ministry of Power. As pillars of the country’s economy, these ministries and some others require special attention.
Insecurity is the main cause of the nation’s devastated economy. Food insecurity and instability of the polity are caused by herdsmen, bandits, and terrorist activities; despite investing trillions of naira since 1999, when civil rule was reinstated, Nigeria has not been able to consistently generate, transmit, and distribute 5,000 megawatts of electricity; and Nigeria’s lack of infrastructure has also reached crisis levels.
Instead of being deployed to these places as many had anticipated, Nyeson Wike gets drafted to the FCT as the minister. Wike, however, also has a crucial role to play in the FCT because it is another facet of our national life that demands attention.
The damaged master plan of the FCT has concomitantly fractured and warped the FCT’s master image beyond recognition. Since Nasir El Rufai served as minister 20 years ago, Abuja has slowly become worse. It is as though the city has never genuinely had a minister who understood the responsibilities of his position.
As a result, the FCT is currently transforming into a large urban slum and is repeating the errors the nation committed in Lagos, thus becoming Nigeria’s poor attempt to create a new federal capital city. These mistakes include everything from basic problems with sanitation to construction by the master plan to have a city that will stand up to any metropolis in the world.
Yes, the same circumstances that caused the nation to relocate its capital from Lagos to Abuja are at replay. Abuja is 2.5 times bigger than Lagos in terms of land area. The purpose of enlarging Abuja was to establish a site where growth could be planned and staged. The tallest building in Abuja should have twelve floors, according to the city’s master plan. The city will have a lot of gardens, parks, and other green areas.
However, a large number of the spaces that were originally used for parks and greenery are now being developed for office and residential buildings, which taints the charm of the wonderful Abuja city. Since many of these illegal structures are located near waterways, when it rains, flooding occurs, destroying buildings, taking lives, and causing property damage.
Abuja is the only major city in Nigeria where a fresh start is possible. However, ever since the Murtala Mohammed regime conceptualised it with Decree 6 of 1976, there have been several blunders. The first big blunder was the failure to relocate the native Abuja residents from the FCT, to prevent Abuja from belonging to just one group of Nigerians or section rather than all Nigerians – a no-man’s land, so to say. (The International Planning Associates (IPA) was commissioned in June 1977, by the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to produce the Abuja Master Plan and its regional grid).
Normally, the locals should have been relocated to the states—Niger, Nasarawa, Kogi, etc.—whose lands contributed to the FCT, following the payment of fair compensation to them. Before Abuja’s physical growth as the new capital territory, this should have been done. But it was not done.
For this reason, Abuja’s indigenous population has remained a crucial component of the FCT, and several governments have had trouble integrating them. Several FCT administrations, most notably Lt Gen Jeremiah Timbut Useni as FCT minister throughout the Abacha and Abdulsalami eras, established chiefdoms in the FCT and granted their chiefs staff of office to ensure their continued presence in the FCT.
Since it is too late to move the indigenous people to the contributing states and they have nowhere else to call home, any successful FCT minister would have to deal with the contradictions and carry the indigenous people along and this Wike has graciously promised to also do.
The President selects someone to handle the FCT on his behalf because he cannot afford to do so himself. The Minister/Governor of the FCT is the President, according to the 1999 Constitution (as amended). As the President’s vicar, Wike thus acts as his representative/governor and takes all decisions.
Since taking office, Wike has conveyed the idea that he has the vision and political will to rival and likely even surpass the El Rufai era. Wike has held several well-known positions in the past, including chairman of the Obiakpor Local Government, minister of state for education, acting minister of education, and finally two terms as governor of Rivers State, which served as his last position before being named FCT minister.
Wike is a highly independent-minded individual with a strong sense of purpose and clarity of vision, whether you like him or not. Just hours after taking the oath of office, he held his first press conference, proving that he is aware of the problems the FCT is experiencing and, more significantly, that he is committed to fixing them. For instance, Wike clarified that structures that were not constructed by the Abuja master plan would need to give way. He centered his belief on the need for a proper city, the necessity for law and order, and the steps that must be taken to restore the master image and aesthetics of the Africa’s most significant metropolis.
The startlingly high level of insecurity in the FCT, the city that is meant to be the safest in the country and a popular tourist destination, was once again brought to light by Wike. Armed robberies and other crimes are increasing, and bandits and terrorists have recently made considerable inroads into Abuja.
He is also correct to say that the satellite towns need to be upgraded to ease the pressure on the city centre. Wike needs to take decentralisation of the bureaucracy from the city center into consideration. Neither the FCTA nor the FCDA may be required to operate from the City Centre. If Abuja is to be decongested, radical decisions must be made, making Wike’s nomination as minister of the FCT a significant move for his capacity.
There is also no excuse for the Area Councils not to act as the operational hubs for institutions like the Defence headquarters, and various other ministries, including agriculture and defence. Instead of the city centre, where the majority of Nigerians currently gather, Area councils need to emerge as major centers, to host workers, contractors, and developers as well as some important MDAs.
Even the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), which built a suitable structure close to the APO mechanic village, chose not to move there and remained in Garki, adding to the city’s congestion.
To restore Abuja’s master plan and master image, as Wike also stated, strong and surgical measures are needed. But Wike faces obstacles that must be overcome. The Abuja master plan was destroyed by the wealthy and political elites. He needs the President’s full backing to deal with them in addition to his obvious political determination.
The poor have also contributed to Abuja’s degradation since they have no other choice but to build indiscriminately on land that the local chiefs, who have no legal authority, offered them. Genuine alternatives are required. Wike must put his vision into action by making sure the poor are well-cared for to guarantee that they have access to affordable mass housing (even London has Council Flats for the Poor), strategic marketplaces, and other amenities.
Equally apt is Wike’s desire to reintroduce Abuja mass transit. This will ensure effective and cheap urban transportation that will connect the city centre and all satellite towns to Abuja city centre.
Abuja shouldn’t just be for the wealthy alone; just like any other mega city, Abuja should have areas for the high, medium, and poor classes.
Wike is coming.
Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.