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‘Obasanjo distorted Murtala’s vision for FCT’

Musa Baba-Panya is an indigene of the Federal Capital Territory and general counsel of the Original Inhabitants of Abuja (OIDA). In this interview, he says…

Musa Baba-Panya is an indigene of the Federal Capital Territory and general counsel of the Original Inhabitants of Abuja (OIDA). In this interview, he says the 40 years of the FCT is not worth celebrating because of its unrealised dream. He blames former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the inability to resettle and compensate the natives; and also speaks on President Buhari’s achievements so far.

Daily Trust: It has been eight months since the new administration came to office. How do you assess it so far?
Musa Baba-Panya:
President Muhammadu Buhari has made good his promises; there has been tremendous improvement in security. The president ran on four issues of security, corruption, unemployment and maybe power. Let’s take security. One of the first things he did was to take the command centre to the North-east, which was necessary. The American Chief of Staff was not sitting in Washington when they were fighting the Gulf War that didn’t even touch American soil. So as soon as Buhari changed the service chiefs, General Buratai personally led the troops in the frontlines. The morale of troops went up immediately. There was new focus and synergy in the operation. Boko Haram is dying, that is why they can only attack soft targets now. The next issue that is coming back again is the bombing of pipelines in the Niger Delta. That’s most unfortunate, but you can see that the NNPC last week was meeting with Defence Headquarters to secure our pipelines. On the issue of power, it is a fact that in just eight months Nigeria is generating 5000 megawatts of electricity. We can see the blueprint by (Babatunde) Fashola for all the three ministries under him on how to deliver housing, power and infrastructure to Nigeria. This is a radical departure from the past. On the anti-corruption fight, nobody can fault him. Every day there is a new issue on anti-corruption and people are even returning money voluntarily. I think the president is on the right track and there is a difference. Of course, the only thing we are yet to see tangible result from all his promises is the issue of employment. But again, they have a working plan and I believe that when the budget is passed, employment will happen.
DT: With what you have highlighted, why is there still much discontent in the polity against the government?
Baba-Panya:
Agitations will never stop. But there are some that can be unnecessarily explosive. We, the indigenous people of the FCT are among the agitators. My take is that since some of these issues, including the agitation for Biafra, were discussed at the last National Conference, including our case, resource control, etc; the government should look into that report again and begin to implement those recommendations that will strengthen our unity and accelerate our development. The confab was almost like a referendum by Nigerians and only fell short of producing a constitution. I just came back from a radio programme on Abuja@40 and I was asked ways by which our case could be resolved, and I said the need for the federal government to show good faith in its promises and the implementation of the confab report. There were good recommendations at the confab addressing some of the credible agitations.
DT: One of the agitations of FCT natives is their representation in key appointments in line with the federal character principle. How have you pursued this matter?
Baba-Panya:
At the advent of the present democratic dispensation in May 1999, the issue of federal character was retained in the constitution which started in 1979.  It talks about equitable spread in representation, including at state and local government levels so that no particular tribe, section or location dominates. FCT is the only part of this country that has not had federal cabinet representation since 1999. Every other state has had at least one minister as provided by the constitution. I cannot comment any further because we have gone to court. Nonetheless, federal character exists in the Federal Character Act (2004).
DT: Abuja turned 40 on Wednesday, how has the dream been realised?
Baba-Panya:
We didn’t celebrate it. But February 3, 1976, General Murtala Mohammed made the broadcast. I was eight years old then, it’s not hearsay, I witnessed it. I can remember vividly listening to it on radio; his crisp voice, almost in Queen’s English, he had good diction. And later in the evening I watched it on NTA. In creating Abuja, he said: “The indigenous inhabitants will be resettled outside of the territory of Abuja to areas of their choice at government’s expense.” In other words, he was referring to compensation and resettlement. He said in order to avoid any sectional, tribal, regional claim to the new capital and to avoid land speculation, a decree was going to be promulgated to the exclusion of states such as Niger, Plateau and Kwara where the territory was carved out and the original inhabitants to vest ownership of land on the government. And true to his word, the next day, Murtala signed Decree No. 6 formally giving legitimacy to FCT. Today it is known as the FCT Act and section 1 of it has now become Section 297 which took ownership of the whole of the 8, 000 square kilometres territory and vested it in the Federal Government of Nigeria. Murtala meant well. Eight days later, 13th February, 1976 Murtala was killed in a coup and Abuja died with him. The real Abuja died with Murtala because 40 years down the line the indigenes are still here without titles, ownership of land and compensation. Yet section 1 of the decree now found its way into the 1999 Constitution. The question is: why is it only section 1 of the Decree No 6 that was smuggled into the constitution when there are sections 4, 6 and 7 that talk about compensation? And compensation is repaid within a space of 12 months. Claims were supposed to be made. Ordinarily, you don’t take possession of compulsorily acquired land until you pay compensation. Until that, if you take possession, that is trespass. That is why Section 297 to us is a satanic clause and has no business in the 1999 Constitution. It could only have come from a decree under the military and not under a democratic regime.
DT: Do you suspect Olusegun Obasanjo who succeeded Murtala playing a role in the return of that law?
Baba-Panya:
Of course, he was part of the SMC that promulgated that decree. But the problem with Abuja started with him. He took over from Murtala and in 1978 he signed a memo of the Head of State gazetted that now changed the course of history and the whole vision of Abuja. Before then they had hired a consultancy of the University of Ibadan to conduct a demographic survey of Abuja to find out if indeed there are inhabitants, how many they were and what their communities were. The report of that survey showed there were about 400,000 inhabitants and they estimated the cost of resettlement at N2.8 billion. Calculate the interest on that amount now. The nation’s budget that year was N400 million. What that meant is that you need about seven years budget to do what Murtala envisioned. He now said “instead of payment of compensation, the little resources available should be channelled to the development of the federal capital city, where the seat of government would be. It will no longer be compulsory for the inhabitants to be compensated.” These were Obasanjo’s words under seal as head of state. And that is where the ‘policy of integration’ started. What Murtala envisioned was after resettlement, the land now becomes virgin belonging to no one but the Federal Republic of Nigeria so that every Nigerian can lay claim to the capital city. You see, it was truncated on 4th July 1978 by the singular circular of Obasanjo and since then that’s why we are still here. The FCT after Murtala is just a ghost and it has no place among the living. We celebrate Murtala but because of his death that’s why the injustices have persisted. The change of policy has affected us, our culture and farmlands. Most of our settlements have become slums and our children now live around brothels and all sorts of things. We don’t have cemeteries and burial grounds for our dead. How bad can it get? Our youths are getting impatient. Abuja is a ticking time bomb. The hour glass is nearly empty.
DT: What is the way forward for the original inhabitants?
Baba-Panya:
At the National Conference, we made five requests: one: that Abuja be given ministerial slot; two: that there should be law for elected Abuja mayoralty; three: compensation must be settled once and for all; four, two additional House of Representatives seats; and five: two area councils should be created for the FCT. We requested in the interim the creation of the Abuja Indigenous People’s Development Commission (AIPDC) in the form of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

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