Few moments after his inauguration on August 21, 2023, along with 42 others, Barr Nyesome Wike arrived at the premises of the Federal Capital Development Authority to assume duty as the 17th Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). His first public remarks largely renewed the hope of FCT residents who felt inspired that ‘Mr. Project’, as he was called while serving as the Rivers State governor, had landed in Abuja to hit the ground running.
His maiden remarks, some of which sounded like a riot act, pointed to a man who had come to continue the job which Malam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai could not complete when he left as FCT Minister 16 years ago.
Speaking during his first press conference as FCT Minister, Wike declared that developers who built on green areas would have such structures demolished. “Those who were allocated land and refused to develop them, we will revoke such lands and re-allocate them to those who are ready to develop them,” he said, adding that “Uncompleted buildings that have become a haven for criminals shall be reclaimed by the government and put into good use.” He warned property owners who don’t pay ground rent to do so or suffer property revocation.
From his public declarations, Wike’s projected deliverables for the FCT residents include security, sanitation, preservation of the Abuja master plan, infrastructure development, restoration of Green Areas, removal of shanties, blocking of revenue leakages and ground rent payment.
Abuja became the country’s new capital city through the military Decree No. 6 of 1976. It was proclaimed on February 3, 1976, as Nigeria’s new federal capital by the late Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed. Growing, expanding, and developing under several administrations, military as well as civilian, Abuja is comparatively rich in recognisable features of a modern capital city. However, while some sectors could be said to have experienced substantial development strides, so much needs to be done in others. Such are the critical areas we advise Wike to pay greater attention to. The mention of at least three of those under-developed areas is important. They are satellite towns’ development, infrastructure and security.
For much of the over four decades of developing the FCT, infrastructural development has been strategically concentrated in the city centre due to the neglect of satellite towns where the greater percentage of residents live. Even the creation of the Satellite Towns Development Agency has not helped much to fast-track development in rural and sub-urban communities of the FCT, especially in terms of healthcare delivery, roads, water and sanitation, waste management and access to basic necessities of life.
The infrastructure deficit in the satellite towns of Gwagawalada, Kwali, Kuje, Bwari, Abaji, Zuba, Jiwa, and Dei-Dei would continue to encourage illegal settlements within Abuja city, which is not without attendant negative consequences on the security of residents and their general welfare. Residents of these sub-urban towns should have no business going to the city centre every day if the communities they reside in had received government attention.
We, therefore, call on Wike to explore the possibility of collaborating with development partners such as the African Development Bank to guarantee development balance between Abuja city and the satellite towns.
Infrastructure, especially the transport and water sub-sectors, is another strategic area where the FCT minister’s intervention is critically required. While we commend Wike for, within 30 days of his assumption of duty, approving the rehabilitation of 135 roads within Abuja city, and for directing the FCTA permanent secretary to release funds for the rehabilitation of the vandalized Abuja Light Rail facilities, the minister would impact more on FCT residents if he revives the intra-city urban mass transit system which worked well under Nasir El-Rufai. This would reduce the hardship faced by workers and artisans who commute daily from satellite towns to the city. In doing this, Wike must fight the intrinsic corruption and a complete absence of maintenance culture that killed the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company (AUMTC).
Security is the third most critical area waiting for Wike’s action. Providing necessary support, he would be remembered for ending the one-chance phenomenon that has continued to make Abuja residents unsafe. A functional transportation system with well-structured motor parks and bus stops would kick transport-associated crimes out of the FCT.
However, the minister’s idea of sending people who sell their products with umbrellas under the trees for being security threats sounds too elitist. Some of them are engaged in legitimate businesses and if they are forcefully evacuated, it could create unnecessary unemployment which will in turn lead to other things.
As the new FCT minister seeks to restore Abuja’s lost glory, we urge him not to get carried away by the paraphernalia of preserving the Abuja masterplan. If the Japanese architect, Kenzo Tange, who designed the Abuja Central Business District were given a second chance, he would today, find several faults with the much-celebrated architectural design called Abuja masterplan. Granted that distortions of the masterplan may have occurred, we advise Wike to look at issues within the context of existing realities; with a view to averting collateral damage that would be costlier than allowing some of the distortions to stay. Government would be the worst victim of such collateral damage.
Daily Trust wishes Nyesome Wike well on this assignment.