By: Akin Ogunbade
There is no doubt Abuja, is a unique city that all of us as Nigerians feel very proud of. It’s the only city in the entire country that is a creation of law; a city that was created when the founding fathers some 40 years ago decided to get a place that is going to be the center of unity for all. Abuja is a project in progress, a city that was designed and planned to be develop in 25 years into 74 districts as well as sector centers with integrated infrastructure. Thus, we all have our passion and feelings about this city.
But what type of city did the FCT Minister; MalamMuhammad Musa Bello inherited in November 2015 when he assumed office? The Minister 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. Though the concept was to have Abuja as the administrative centre for the country but along the line there was population surge due to various reasons ranging from economic, social and religious problems in various parts of the country because most of the federating units seems not to working.
In fact, he met a city where the planning and the concept initially envisaged by the founding fathers was gradually being eroded and being bypassed. The city 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. Bello met a city where a number of the contractors had stopped work, laid off staff and abandoned projects; many uncompleted projects due to deliberate refusal by previous administration’s to fund these critical projects that have led to the myriad of problems which many perceive as a sign of poor performance on the part of the present Administration.
The Apo – Karshi road for instance, is a mere 14km road project that was scheduled to be completed in December of 2011 but was abandoned and starved of funds until this administration took the bull by the horn and budgeted N1.5 billion in the 2016 budget to complete the road to provide alternative route to motorists coming into the city from the Nyanya-Mararaba axis.
This same fate is what has befallen many parts of the city and Satellite Towns where deliberate refusal to relocate indigenous settlements away from the city center have hindered the completion of critical infrastructure within the city center thus leading to the ugly situations you find around places like Garkivillage, Utako, Jabi, Mabushi and a host of others. Because the road and sewage networks have not been completed and fully integrated, the roads are always flooded with storm water any time there is a heavy downpour while the drainages are blocked with refuse sometimes reckless dumped by residents who cannot observe simple hygienic habits but are expecting the government to everything for them including cleaning of their toilets.
What did the Minister do? First and foremost, the contractors were encouraged to return back to site. From the record, throughout 2015, there were no capital releases to the FCT Administration until in December of 2015. So, basically, for eleven months, no payments were made. It also became necessary to request for the extension of the budget by additional three months, so as to be able to mobilize 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. Construction works on the roads and other critical infrastructure are now being continued. 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 expected to render.
Basically, the whole idea was to try and wake the city up and return to what it used to be. Of course, all of these are being done against the backdrop of serious funding challenges, which is a reality we are all facing as a nation but which also will make us stronger as a people, make us prioritize our objectives and obligations and above all, appreciate the need to be prudent managers of resources.
No doubt, many Nigerians would love to see the Federal Capital Territory develop and grow as a model capital city and to this end they usually write and speak firmly against any perceived shortcomings. But when these socio-political criticisms are made out of outright ignorance, they create more problems for the Nigerian State than they are intended to solve.
Some people appear to be speaking in a manner that one would have thought they were contributing to the genuine efforts targeted at the development of the city but only ended up displaying sheer ignorance on activities and the initiatives taken by the Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, since his assumption of office. It is really surprising and disheartening too, for any discerning individual to feign ignorance of the remarkable feats so far recorded by the minister and his team. For the avoidance of doubt, the change agenda of the government means putting all things aright but however, not with impunity like it used to be in the past.
There are some who recently, even talk obliviously that the minister considers himself a superman who can deliver by a solo effort, which definitely is mischievous at best. Since the minister has answered such critics in his recent outing at the NUJ Abuja Council Congress meeting, there seems to be a change of style to the mischief. Thus, the running of the FCT Administration and indeed Abuja, has not in any way suffered because everything has been moving as planned. The minister is equal to the task of effectively and efficiently managing the affairs of the Federal Capital Territory and that would always be done in accordance to extant rules.
It would be of interest to put in public domain that the current FCT Administration inherited over 1,300 court cases due to impunity or a sort of executive rascality. This Administration is not prepared to flaunt the rules as everything would be done in line with statutory regulations and cannot be stampeded to take actions not in accordance with the rule of law.
The minister has made tremendous efforts to take the FCT to the desired level in city management, which definitely cannot be seen by the myopic, and narrow minded persons apparently that cannot appreciate orderliness. Otherwise, how can anyone claim ignorance of the massive roads rehabilitation that is ongoing especially, in the city center? Major contractors are back to site, for instance, the interchange along the Airport Road and Bill Clinton Drive previously abandoned is presently being completed and that applies to several others.
However, could anybody dare to say the introduction of the Household and Community sanitation exercise has not helped in sanitizing the Territory, particularly in the Area Councils and Satellite Towns?
It may be recalled how the minister took it upon himself few weeks after he assumed office to clear the unpaid salary arrears of Area Council workers, even though this responsibility did not fall directly under his purview. Moreover, that was the time states were going cup in hand begging for bailout from the Federal Government.
To the minister’s credit, he has had to offset the over N2 billion owed cleaning and maintenance contractors by previous administrations, to enable them resume work on the evacuation of solid waste in the city cente rand satellite towns as well as the streetlights. The debts owed contractors below N20 million were also cleared totaling over N6 billion; in addition, over N19 billion was paid to multinational contractors to enable them return to sites. In the first quarter of 2016, the FCTA also released the sum of N5,744,835,928.38 to various development partners being counterpart funds for the projects that they are executing in the Federal Capital Territory which were never attempted in the past.
The minister equally paid over N1.787 billion to the Universal Basic Education Board, which included arrears that have not been paid since 2013. He has further released the sum of N2,939,681,413.96 and N808,075,585.62 as counterpart funds for the Abuja Rail project as well as its consultancy services respectively. All these obligations ought to have been carried out by the previous FCT Administrations but were surreptitiously avoided in the name of lack of funds.
Within his short sojourn in the FCT, Malam Bello was able to achieve all these through prudent management of resources accruing to the FCTA as well as drastic reduction of frivolities. That deserves a big kudos especially at this painful period of recession.
It should be noted that his Household and Community cleanup exercise is also already yielding results as some of the refuse heaps that once dotted the city center, satellite towns and Area Councils have already been cleared. Several refuse dumpsites in the FCT like the one in Gosa have been leveled to provide better access points. As a matter of fact, the FCT is at a stage now where it is trying to develop waste sorting centers, technically referred to as Waste Transfer Stations for the purposes of recycling waste and prepare it for would be investors.
Furthermore, the Minister has resuscitated the hitherto moribund Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and replaced its leadership with capable hands that are already delivering on the expected goals. It is worthy of note that Malam Bello also followed this up by establishing the FCT Task Team on Environmental Protection to work alongside 200 officers/men of the Nigeria Police Force and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps for enforcement purposes. The Task Team has so far impounded hundreds of unpainted taxis including “One Chance”, keke Napep as well as Okada motorcycles. They have arrested several hundreds of street hawkers and broken the beggars syndicate in the Abuja metropolis. All of these were done to give the green and clean vision the accelerated push it deserves.
Every discerning resident must have noticed some improvements in the sanitation in the city. While of course one will acknowledge that we are not there yet, but definitely, there have been some improvements and I think it is to the credit of the FCT Minister who has paid the service contractors to be able to continue to provide these services as required.
There is also the cleaning up of all the Land related Departments (Departments of Land Administration, Development Control, Urban & Regional Planning as well as AGIS), which have tremendously improved the ease of doing business in the FCT. Today, prospective developers can be rest assured that they can get building approvals within a record three-week period.
There are equally other laudable initiatives that have been embarked upon by the Minister like the demolition of illegal shanties in Dei-Dei, Area 1, Utakoand Wuse Districts among others. There is also the planting of trees along road corridors to improve the city’s ecosystem and aesthetics, as well as the provision of N1.5 billion in the 2016 budget for the completion of work on the Apo/Karshi road, which was previously abandoned due to paucity of funds. The 2016 budget has just been assented to by Mr. President and the city will definitely witness more activities. Be assured, what you cannot see is flouting the laws because this Administration like the Federal Government is a respecter of the laid down rules and regulations.
The issue of the missing manhole or flood drain covers is another story entirely because this is a peculiar Nigerian problem. No place in the world including Washington DC or London would citizens go all out to vandalize and steal public facilities like manhole covers, rail for bridges, traffic light equipment and streetlight cables to mention a few. The FCT Administration has engaged security agents particularly the Nigeria Security and Civil defenceCorps to lessen the activities of vandals despite the very weak laws the metropolitan managers are operating under. The FCT Administration under Bello has also rehabilitated some of the roads in the city center like the M20 road leading to the popular UtakoMotor Park, the road shoulders along the ShehuShagari Way in Maitama District, Ring Road 1 (Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway) in addition to the complete rehabilitation of the road between the National Assembly Complex and office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) provided with storm water drainages and ornamental trees planted on both sides.
Aside, his Administration has also concluded arrangements to install new model traffic lights in 98 intersections of the Federal Capital City that is expected to come up within the next 2 to 3 months to improve traffic management in the city.
Unfortunately as citizens, most of us have left the protection of the critical infrastructure in the hands of government only. But that shouldn’t be. Every citizen of Abuja should have passion for this city. I’m saying so because the rate of vandalization of public assets and properties in this city is amazing and certain criminal activities, quite frankly are just unique to us Nigerians.
For instance, traffic lights are being vandalized. Streetlights are being vandalized. Electric cables are being vandalized. You will be surprised also to know that the new Abuja light rail system under construction has been faced with vandalisation. Some weeks ago, vandals dug out streetlight cables and cut them off. These are all fundamental issues that a Minister of the FCT cannot handle alone without the support of members of the society.
But despite all these laudable achievements, it seems people choose things they would like to see and acknowledge, thereby electing to malign the Minister by distorting facts and misleading the public. That not withstanding, the city is there for every body to see and judge. Although, I do know that majority of Abuja residents do appreciate.
We must understand that given the character of assignments of this nature, being a Minister of a placelike the FCT, we really have to be fair to the occupants;judgment should be after the tenure and not during the tenure because work is still in progress. The Minister is doing his best in this job and will continue to do so until we reach the Promised Land.
Mr. Ogunbade is a Public Affairs analyst based in Abuja