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Memo to Wike, the ‘Ikwerre landlord’ of Abuja

If you have lived in the “Garden City” of Port Harcourt like I did, you would know the term “Ikwerre Landlord” and what it means.…

If you have lived in the “Garden City” of Port Harcourt like I did, you would know the term “Ikwerre Landlord” and what it means.

With four local governments – Emohua, Ikwerre, Obio-Akpor and Port Harcourt City – the Ikwerre ethnic group is considered to be the largest in Rivers State.

The term “Ikwerre Landlord” is a descriptive reference to the fastidiousness of especially the Ikwerre property owners in Port Harcourt city on matters relating to payment of rent when due, cleanliness, noise and observance of decorum required from tenants. Needless to say that as a tenant occupying the property of the typical Ikwerre landlord in Port Harcourt, one has to observe the strict rules in order not to incur his wrath, which can be unpleasant.

Chief Nyesom Wike, the new Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, who has been breathing fire since his appointment, typifies that Ikwerre spirit. In appointing him to the job, President Bola Tinubu must have been persuaded after looking at Wike’s records from his days as Chairman of Obio-Akpor Local Government in Port Harcourt and as Governor of Rivers State. In both positions, Wike set score as one who can bend the rules if possible to get the job of ‘cleaning’ up and providing infrastructure to the city of Port Harcourt.

As a resident of Port Harcourt (I lived in Woji) during Wike’s tenure as Obio-Akpor Chair I can certainly attest to his ways and their results in both positive and negative terms.

Certainly looking at how Abuja has regressed as a city with decaying infrastructure, dilapidated and abandoned buildings, filth, insecurity chaotic traffic and distortion of the city’s master plan among other observable issues, an overwhelming majority of Abuja residents yearn for the days under Nasir El-Rufai, the city was orderly. Ever since he left, the ministers that came after him have by the consideration of residents, performed below expectations leading to the aforementioned issues cumulatively that Abuja is now having to grapple with.

The coming of Wike with his track record in Port Harcourt and his rather rambunctious, unconventional ways is perhaps what is needed to jump-start the much-needed restoration of Abuja to the status befitting it as the capital city of Nigeria.

But how far can Wike go?

Wike must first understand that there are significant differences between Port Harcourt and Abuja in many respects.

As a provincial capital, Port Harcourt is not as cosmopolitan as Abuja. As the nexus of Nigerian government and life, Abuja is second only perhaps to Lagos in this respect. Indeed Abuja was deliberately intentioned and built to attract Nigerians of all descriptions so as to make it a cosmopolitan centre of Nigerian unity.

Here you will find Nigerians of all classes and status from all the federating states in the country working and living not as ‘settlers’ as is the case in some states, enjoying rights and privileges as bona fide residents/indigenes.

In addition, as the capital of Nigeria, Abuja also enjoys the status of an international city with diplomatic legations of foreign countries and institutions.

This presupposes that Wike in the discharge of his duties as FCT Minister must be sensitive to such issues in terms of methods and propriety so as not to put Nigeria in unfavourable light before the world.

Also, Wike will do well to bear in mind that while in Port Harcourt, he functioned as chief executive with full powers, his position as FCT boss in Abuja is not quite so. With the calibre and status of Abuja residents he is likely to get entangled in litigations if they feel their rights and privileges are trampled upon. This will most certainly distract Wike’s stated aim and possibly run him into trouble with President Tinubu who appointed him to the job.

So while the majority of Abuja residents want him to succeed in the endeavour to restore Abuja to the desired status, it must be realistically stated that Wike has his job cut out for him.

In this regard, I will recommend two steps which Wike must deploy to succeed in his task.

The first is that he must identify and consult with Abuja’s numerous stakeholders to sell and get the buy-in for his plans. He may not necessarily be in all of those sessions, but he must devise ways to be represented when he is not able to be present. From such engagements, he will likely get some ideas on how to implement his plans with less acrimony.

Secondly, Wike must embark on strategic and comprehensive public enlightenment to the residents of Abuja in order to send home his message of the transformational changes he intends to bring to the city. I say ‘strategic’ because Abuja being home to many groups and interests, there is need to segregate enlightenment in style and content to suit the various interests that reside in the city. For instance how and what you tell an audience of diplomats cannot be the same as shop owners.

Although it is difficult as this is what he is used to doing, as much as possible Wike should lessen his frequent appearances and tone down what some Abuja residents are beginning to see as scaremongering rhetoric directed at certain groups.

In order not to appear as too monotonous and evoking indifferent backlash from the public, Wike should learn to make these appearances and utterances sparingly for strategic effect. He should instead make use of the numerous media platforms in Abuja to send his message.

Wike’s appointment as FCT minister is seen by many as appropriate and deserving and with great expectations riding on it.

To that, I will say to him in his Ikwerre dialect, Ammeka o! Ikwerre Bu Otu!

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