By Ugwoke Idika-Ogor
The Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA), the administrator of Abuja, the nation’s capital and seat of power, is passing through a difficult period. The Mohammed Bello-led Administration is not finding the running of the territory an easy task.
The administration, like the larger ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government is grappling with mounting challenges and fallout of what it usually attributes to the large scale corruption and massive looting of the treasury by the former President Jonathan-led government, leading to ongoing trials of the former top officials.
The onslaught of militants on oil and gas installations in the oil rich Niger Delta region has not helped matters at the federal and state levels thus altering significantly the prospects of a full implementation of the 2016 federal budget.
The FCT administration is also grappling with dwindling federal allocation and the danger of not meeting financial obligations.
The situation, has, consequently impacted infrastructure delivery, environmental sanitation and other contractual obligations negatively.
The situation led to posers by Abuja residents as to whether a government is in place and why activities were moving at a snail pace while complaints rang on the inside of heaps of files unattended.
Taking the Bull By the Horn?
Realising the futility of governance without funding or a strong revenue base, and the need to cover lost ground, the FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello and the Permanent Secretary, Dr Babatope Ajakaiye, have been firing on all cylinders.
In order to rescue the city from a growing menace of filth, the administration embarked on a strategic cleansing exercise with the sacking of the management of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB). The minister sacked the Director of the board, Baba Lawan and
replaced him with Mrs Oluwatoyin Olanipekun. He also ordered the removal of all heads of department and unit heads replacing them with their deputies. A 200-strong task force comprising policemen and operatives of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps headed by Ibrahim Adamu Moniel, a retired Airforce Squadron Leader, is in place to enforce debt recovery and ensure compliance with environmental laws.
With a huge debt overhang and other liabilities in the neighbourhood of N400 billion, the administration inaugurated a committee to recover funds owed it by government agencies and other clients amounting to N9.8 billion.
With a 28,000 strong workforce, N4.1 billion as monthly wage bill and only N2 billion accruing from the federation account, the choice is clear: debt recovery and aggressive revenue generation drive to improve Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
Speaking recently while receiving the Chairman of the FCT Ministerial Task Force on the recovery of N9 billion owed the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) in her office, Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, said Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have no business owing the AEPB as such expenses ought to have been fully catered for in their annual overhead budgetary expenditures.
“We want to convey a very strong message to all the MDAs under the office of Head of Service, that is the Ministries and various Parastatals that if efforts are not made to clear these debts by the next overhead allocation, we will have no option than to ask the budget office to make deductions at first charge.
“That is the arrangement we even have here with the PHCN or Abuja Electricity Distribution Company. We’ve given the budget office approval to deduct our bills and they are still doing it,” she said.
The effort is already yielding fruits as some of the agencies have started complying with the directive even as it took drastic measures for some of them to pay. For instance, it took a recent sealing off of the National Hospital, Abuja before it effected payment of debt owed AEPB amounting to N7 million.
Bail Out for Area Councils
In order to strengthen the capacity of the area councils to operate effectively, the Bello administration released a bail out package of N1.6 billion for the six area councils in Abuja to enable them pay salaries and allowances. But like the bail out at the federal level with attendant cases of diversion of such funds and the attitude to hope for more bailout funds, the administration warned that there would be no further bail out for area councils and urged the councils to be proactive and use the channels available to them to generate revenue.
“Permit me to tell you that serious challenges await you at the area councils. The bitter truth is that all the six area councils cannot pay staff salaries and other obligations.
“Even though the FCT Administration has gone extra mile to assist the area councils, you are better off taking proactive measure to your various councils.
“You must turn around the potentials of your area councils into wealth, by boosting revenue and blocking leakages, so that your councils can be financially independent and you will be able to deliver the expected dividends of democracy,” he told area council chairmen at a recent meeting.
Prudent Management of Resources?
Faced with the stark reality of a financial meltdown, the administration resorted to frugality in management of the lean resources available, a situation that is generating loud complaints from staff and clients. This line of arguments by even successive administrations has elicited doubts from the populace as Nigerians have severally witnessed the reverse side of the arguments.
But speaking recently on how the administration has weathered the storm at a time state governments are unable to pay salaries, the Permanent Secretary, Dr Babatokpe Ajakaiye, said prudent management of resources and blockage of leakages have led to the payment of N30 billion to contractors for the execution of various projects.
He said aggressive revenue drive with a view to improving the IGR, the administration was able to offset the N2 billion Abuja Railway Infrastructure counterpart funding with the Chinese government, another N1.7 billion counterpart funding with the Japanese government in different development areas including water management. The administration has spent a total of N5.7 billion on counterpart funding obligations since assuming office a year ago.
In view of paucity of funds, the permanent secretary directed all defaulters in the payment of water and other bills accruable to FCTA to be disconnected. He tasked all revenue generating agencies in the Federal Capital Territory to shore up their revenue profile for the sustainability of workers’ salaries and continued execution of infrastructural development in the territory.
At a recent meeting with officials of the Abuja Urban Mass Transit company, Ajakaiye called on them to block all financial leakages in the organisation to enable them shore up their revenue profile, stressing that the administration was not in a position to give the company any bail-out package.
Ajakaiye tasked them to fashion out creative and ingenious ways of improving the company, rather than take undue advantage of the firm to enrich themselves.
In previous administrations, there were cases of loud pronouncements of the determination to fight corruption and sloganeering in terms of prudent management of resources which ended in looting the treasury blind as was the case with the previous administration which is the reason for the frugality associated with the Mohammed Bello administration. How far these austerity measures would go remain to be seen.
Abuja is still in its second phase, in a three-phased development plan since its creation in 1976. In its renewed bid to restore sanity, deliver on infrastructure and continue with the tempo of development, the FCT government, is, therefore, budgeting N241 billion for the 2016 fiscal year.
Although it remains to be seen the possibility of fully implementing a budget still being debated at the National Assembly in June, the Mallam Mohammed Musa Bello administration proposed to spend N241,467,231,031 in the 2016 fiscal year for capital and recurrent expenditure.
The minister said out of the N241,467,231,031 proposed, a total sum of N149,056,610,051 which represents 61.73 percent, would go to capital expenditure while personnel cost is allocated N52,371,352,360 which also represents 21.69 percent of the total expenditure.
According to him, the overhead is the least with N40,039,268,620 out of the N241,467,231,031 which is 16.58 percent.
With a focus on infrastructural development of the entire Federal Capital Territory, the minister disclosed that N2,400,000,000 has been set aside for debt servicing. He assured that attention would mostly be given to on-going projects in order to expedite development.
It remains to be seen how far the budget would go with implementation expected at half year.
556 Illegal Schools Shut
To clear the huge mess that education has become in Abuja especially with regard to private schools, the administration recently met with proprietors of private schools under the auspices of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) to appraise the state of affairs in the sector.
At the meeting chaired by the Director, Quality Assurance of the Education Secretariat, Mr Ayuba Didam, said 556 illegal schools existed in the territory following investigations by the secretariat.
He said FCTA authorities had approved the closure of illegal schools in the territory. He said the schools were not registered with the Education Secretariat as required by law. He noted that the quality of teaching and infrastructure alone did not qualify any school to operate in Abuja but registration with the quality assurance department and warned against re-opening such schools without meeting stipulated conditions.
There are also concerns about the state of public schools in the territory reeling with dilapidated infrastructure and poor sanitary conditions and some cases in the suburbs where schools are non-existent.
FCT Online Presence
For a long time the Federal Capital Territory had operated without a strong online presence as the seat of power, failing in the process to utilise and optimise the gains of cyberspace and the internet revolution. The Mohammed Bello administration recently inaugurated a committee to oversee the redesigning of the FCTA official website with a view to increasing the tempo of information flow between the management and staff and the FCTA and its external publics.
Inaugurating the committee, the Permanent Secretary, Babatope Ajakaiye, urged the committee to come up with recommendations that would strengthen the online presence of FCTA and its agencies with a view to marketing them to staff and the general public in order to key into the global information flow as capital city and seat of power.
The committee has since submitted its report but the implementation of such reports is usually a challenge and the bane of contemporary governance in Nigeria.
In Abuja, it has become the tradition for the ruling party and the minister to prove his mettle by ensuring that his party and the party in power win elections in the six area councils of Kuje, Abaji, Bwari, Kwali, Gwagwalada and the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC).
The party in power has historically produced the minister, who in turn works hard to ensure that all the area councils are headed by chairmen produced by the party. There have been a few cases of the opposition holding forte in one or two of the area councils. There have, however, been some cases where the six area councils were evenly divided between the ruling party and the opposition party and a mix in the composition of legislative houses.
In keeping with the tradition, the minister led the campaigns of the All Progressives Congress Congress (APC) in the recently concluded area council election with a strong tone of the change mantra of the President Buhari’s APC-led government.
The APC won in five of the six area councils though not without the INEC’s own new mantra of inconclusive elections. Surprisingly, the All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA) seen as a South-eastern-based party controlling only Anambra State snatched the Gwagwalada Area Council.
The victory, was not however, as a result of the acknowledged strong presence of the Igbo people in the area but as a result of the rejection of the APC candidate by a coalition of forces that eventually elected the APGA candidate.
The story of Abuja would be incomplete without the mention of administrations that distorted the Abuja masterplan, officials who are adept at distorting land allocation processes, land scams resulting in cases of double or multiple allocations in spite of previous efforts at computerising and upgrading land allocation software.
The situation resulted in multiple litigations between land alottees and between allottees and government prompting the FCTA to inaugurate a committee to ensure quick dispensation of justice on all land appeals and petitions.
The committee, is headed by a lawyer and a deputy director in the ministry.
The committee, according to the FCTA authorities, “would mark the beginning of an end to injustice and impunity in the FCT land administration processes”.
The committee is charged with the job of promptly addressing “appeals and petitions from the public, investigate all land/property appeals and petitions submitted to the FCTA and duly referred to the committee; make recommendations for resolution of the appeals and petitions for the consideration of the permanent secretary and the honourable minister”.
The committee was further “mandated to ensure due enforcement of all approved recommendations and decisions taken in respect of any land/property petition and appeal case; to monitor and evaluate compliance with FCTA decisions on land appeal and petition cases, generate feedback for the consideration of the permanent secretary and the honorable minister as well as performing other responsibilities as may be assigned by the permanent secretary and the honorable minister.
While successive administrations concentrated majorly on outsiders seeking land allocations, scant regard was giving to staff and the possibility of their owning lands and houses, leaving them at the mercy of the elements, exposing them to corruption and other malpractices.
The Bello-led government is working in the direction of resolving such challenges, going by his recent position to provide workers with low income houses.
“What we need today in Abuja are low income houses which low income earners can afford and that is what my administration would further encourage to take care of the less privileged people in the society.
“We have too many highbrow houses in Abuja which have remained vacant despite the housing deficit the workers are experiencing in the city,” he said.
In conclusion, while the steps taken so far by the Mohammed Bello administration are commendable, it is a familiar path taken by previous administrations which usually falters along the line and sometimes corruption takes center stage as was the case with the last PDP administration led by the former Minister, Bala Mohammed.
Should he follow through with his resolve to change the tradition, the territory’s development would be assured and the better for it. Should he tow the line of his predecessors, then it would have been business as usual and we would await a restart of another era.
Idika-Ogor, a public affairs analyst, is based in Abuja