They always forget Abuja’s birthday

Opinion

Again, they forgot Abuja at 44 last Monday January 3, (1976-2020). They don’t respect any sense of history. Why don’t we celebrate achievers and thinkers?

They forgot February 3, again as the most important birthday of the nation’s capital, Abuja. It is the Founders’ Day they always forget. The military powers that created Abuja are still wielding power but they too often forget their most important achievement while in unconstitutional power between 1966 and 1999. They forgot again last Monday (February 3) that the nation’s capital clocked 44 that day. No fanfare. No one popped champagne. No colloquium. Not even a statement from the presidency and the FCT authorities including the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) Abuja’s oldest physical development agency.

Curiously, the civilian powers that have been nurturing democracy from Abuja since 1999 too forgot that last Monday was Abuja’s birthday. The governor and deputy governor of Abuja (the president and vice president) according to the 1999 constitution as amended too forgot that their original 37th state and capital of the federation was 44 years old last Monday. Former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who physically moved Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja exactly 28 years ago may have forgotten too how the then FCT Minister, Major-General Gado Nasko gave him the key to the capital city in an early morning impressive ceremony at the city gate on Thursday, December 12, 1991. Mr. Bisi Olatinlo, then of the FRCN (who speaks Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba fluently) was the main Master of Ceremony. Painfully enough, all the presidents and FCT ministers except former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, have always forgotten to mark Abuja’s birthdays. Abuja has two distinctive birthdays they always forget: February 3, 1976 when the then Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed proclaimed Abuja as Nigeria’s new capital and legalised it (with a decree, Decree. No. 6, 1976) and December 12, 1991 when the then Head of State, General IBB moved the capital from Lagos to Abuja.

Only President Obasanjo and Malam el-Rufai as FCt Minister marked the birthday when Abuja clocked 30 in 2006 with a month-long grand programme that was rounded off with awards to deserved contributors to the growth and development of the nation’s capital since its birth. Yours sincerely was one of the recipients of the awards.  Curiously even when the capital was to mark its 40th birthday on 3rd February in 2016, no one remembered except yours sincerely who lamented in a back page article titled, “Forty hearty cheers! But who is saluting Abuja @ 40?,”which appeared on Wednesday, February 3 when Dare Babarinsa lent his column for the landmark article. Yes, no one cared about the nation’s capital even when states that marked their 40thbirthday then celebrating theirs. Abuja has been an orphan of some sort perhaps because of total absence of democracy in its governance processes.

Here is the unreported trouble with Abuja: All the 36 states’ governors are elected but the ‘militicians’ who gave us this constitution made Abuja just a part of the office of the president, no thanks to Section 299-302 of the 1999 constitution as amended. Even the original inhabitants who have been agonising without organising well about unfulfilled promises since 1976, did not remember Abuja @ 40 and I said so here on February 3, 2020. Then I had noted: It should be 40 happy cheers to the people and government of Nigeria today (3rd February, 2016). Strangely, again as I read from the book of lamentation about this tragic amnesia that year, all the authorities in Abuja from the presidency through the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) headed by a minister, seemed unaware of the landmark and events that should have been organised to mark the historic birthday of Nigeria’s capital.

It is inscrutable that the two birthdays of Nigeria’s political capital, generally believed to be one of the few monumental achievements of Nigeria’s ‘militicians’ (military & political leaders) have always been forgotten by the rulers of the capital city. Even the association of the original inhabitants has failed or forgotten to mark the unfortunate grabbing of their native land 44 years ago. There have been rumblings that the original inhabitants are ready to protest the alleged land grab to the United Nations. They have again missed a historic opportunity to draw national attention to the resettlement and settlement the Murtala-Obasanjo administration promised them about 44 years ago.

It has always been a mystery of some sort that both the Presidency and the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) have always forgotten these dates with history (every year). Even when the big men in Abuja celebrated the Centenary in 2014, nobody remembered Abuja as one of the monuments the government of Nigeria had created within the construct of the centenary.

As I have always pointed out, the 1999 Constitution as amended unequivocally makes the President the Governor of the nation’s capital (Section 301). Section 302, however, authorises the President to delegate his gubernatorial powers over Abuja to a minister if he so wishes. So, there is a sense in which the Office of the President can celebrate Abuja’s birthday. In the same vein, he (the President) can delegate the power to celebrate Abuja to any minister that seems to be sleeping on duty whenever the bell tolls on 12th December and 3rd February every year. But since 2006, neither the Presidency nor the FCTA has remembered to mark Abuja’s birthdays in a befitting manner. They all always forget that there was a leader that had a dream that they can’t run with at the moment! They always forget that it is important to mark such dates with seminars and even international summits on how to cope with contemporary issues such as urban renewal and livable cities.

And Murtala’s unfulfilled promises to Lagos…

As I always remind all of us, of all the failings exhibited about Nigeria’s capital, the most telling are unfulfilled promises made to Lagos, which was proposed by General Murtala in 1976 as “Economic Capital of the Federation.”

In his broadcast to the nation on 3rd February, 1976, Murtala had promised that Lagos would not only be designated a “Special Area,” it would be Nigeria’s commercial capital and the deal would be incorporated into the 1979 Constitution then in the works. His words:

‘…Lagos will, in the foreseeable future, remain the nation’s commercial capital and one of its nerve centres. But in terms of servicing the present infrastructure alone, the committed amount of money and effort required will be such that Lagos State will not be ready to cope. It will even be unfair to expect the state to bear this heavy burden on its own. It is, therefore, necessary for the Federal Government to continue to sustain the substantial investment in the area. The port facilities and other economic activities in the Lagos area have to be expanded. There is need in the circumstance for the Federal Government to maintain a special defence and security arrangement in Lagos, which will henceforth be designated a SPECIAL AREA. These arrangements will be carefully worked out and written into the constitution. Kaduna and Port-Harcourt are to be accorded similar status and designated special areas under the constitution…’

This is one remarkable promise to Lagos that no government since 14th February 1976 has fulfilled. The General made the promise on 3rd February and he was assassinated on 13th February 1976.

So, Abuja, is a city founded by the Generals and General Buhari should be proud of that heritage. That is why he should join the bandwagon of builders by fulfilling the Murtala’s promise to Lagos 44 years ago. After all, it was permissible to blame the PDP for neglecting the APC-controlled Lagos for 16 years before they came in 2015. But now Lagos and Abuja will no longer hate each other as they are both controlled by the same political party, the APC. So, President Buhari should let the general turn well in his grave today by fulfilling the covenant he (Murtala) had with the people of Nigeria on Lagos 44 years ago. It is in a way gratifying that the federal government is just beginning to rehabilitate the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway – 44 years after the promise.

We need to continue to celebrate the Nigeria’s can-do spirit, which built Abuja, the Constitution appropriately calls the ‘Capital of the Federation and seat of the Government of the Federation’ (Section 298).
As I have always noted on Abuja, our Abuja, the nation’s capital should indeed be run as the ‘Federation Capital’, not just as ‘Federal Capital’ that may not reflect federal character. Leaders who are assigned to run the Territory as it is now should always bear that in mind.

One of the challenges that Abuja already faces now is how to reflect national unity and federal character even in the bureaucracy of the FCT. This is an occasion to reflect on the expediency of restructuring that element that has already caused some blight on the nation’s capital.

The other daunting challenge now is the imperative of integrating the original inhabitants who already had a court judgment on the legality of appointing one of them as a Minister. A Court of Appeal in January 2018 specifically ordered the President to appoint an original inhabitant as a member of the federal cabinet. That order has not been obeyed and should be obeyed in the interest of peace of stability in the Territory.

In the main, the majesty of democracy in the Territory cannot be resisted at this moment. Democracy as the pulling power of development should be allowed to flourish in the Territory, lest the Municipal Area Council Chairman who is already exercising that power as an elected CEO in the City will continue to exercise authority of a democratically elected Mayor.

In the main, there should be conclusive democracy, notably an Act of the National Assembly that will define the status of the Capital of the Federation. This is what Section 303 of 1999 provides:

‘The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall comprise six Area Councils and the Administrative and political structure thereof shall be as provided by an Act of the National Assembly’. Sadly, since 1999, the presidency and the National Assembly have failed the Federation: they have not fulfilled the mandate of the organic law of the land as in Section 303 of the Constitution – an Act of the National Assembly to define and set out the Administrative and political Structure of FCT. This is a gross dereliction of responsibility on the part of all of us who have continued to rely only on Presidential Order No.1 2004 Malam Nasir el-Rufai, then FCT Minister got from President Obasanjo to address the lacuna on FCT status.

So, let the fire of democracy fall in Abuja so that we can have an accountable leadership at all levels of governance in the Capital of the Federation.

The Guardian

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