By Akinsola Alonge
It was Charles de Gaulle that said, “Men are great only if they are determined to be so”. It is apparent that the FCT has not been so lucky in having ministers determined to be great and reproduce (at least if they cannot surpass) the achievements of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai regarding the administration of the city affairs. The following questions you hear these days are troubling and shameful: Who is the FCT Minister? Why is Abuja becoming dirty and disorganised? The level of mediocrity and impunity that has overtaken this beloved city since 2007 is unprecedented and saddening. For Architects and allied professionals like I am, reckless distortion of the FCT Masterplan, organisation and administration is disheartening.
It is a fact that the best administration or measure that mitigated the spiralling decay in the FCT was the Obasanjo/El-Rufai partnership between 2003 and 2007.The partnership confronted the corruption, impunity and recklessness that they had met entrenched in the system. They adopted a “no-nonsense” and “no friend-of-the-status-quo” approach to achieve results. Mallam El-Rufai developed and perfected a system that was on its way to making Abuja a truly Modern Capital City like Johannesburg and Abu-Dhabi and left with outstanding success. Unfortunately, every other administration has been peopled by politicians who are after their pockets rather than effective administration of the FCT.
Great Hope and Expectation
Since most of us (including this writer) voted for Buhari, we had and still have great hope that it is possible to re-enact the spirit of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as regards the FCT administration. So let us give the present FCT Minister, Mallam Muhammed Bello the benefit of the doubt. Though, I must say that lots of Nigerians are disappointed that no visible plan of action has been seen yet. It is expected that Mr. President would form a powerful partnership with the Minister just as President Obasanjo did with Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. I have great liking for PMB and utmost confidence in his ability to bring change to the FCT and Nigeria. The FCTA ought to be chaired by Mr. President as Governor as provided by law while the Minister should serve as the Minister of State just as he is doing with the Petroleum Ministry.
The hardest thing to do in Nigeria is to be different and take pride in perfection. It is said that Mallam Muhammed Bello abhors corruption and is a stickler for details. Though not too late to act, it was expected that within a few weeks of being sworn in, he would start dismantling most of the shameful legacies of the immediate past FCT administration that took pride in allocating green areas, sewer/waterways and open spaces to government officials, religious organisations and other patrons.
Degeneration and Impunity
Our beloved Capital City Territory has degenerated to the extent that Mr. President will need to declare an Emergency for the re-birth and renewal of the FCT in its entirety from the septic corruption in the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) where officials make it difficult for registered professionals to thrive as evident in the development of non-fancied, non-iconic buildings in the city, to the allocation of visible green areas to Mosques/Churches (this is a present danger that the APC-led government should immediately avert before it becomes a dragon that cannot be contained). For instance, it is in the public domain that the former administration allocated a plot of land to a popular church in Apo which was later discovered not to be originally designed for a religious institution and has become a contentious issue now.
Another impunity is in the allocation of green areas to selected individuals for the development of an Event Centre and a Mosque for Wuye District Muslim Community adjacent to the FCT Wuye District Office. Another gloomy example is the allocation of a corridor between Federal Ministry of Finance and the Yobe State House along Ralph Shodeinde Street in the Central Business District to a Car dealer where cars are now being sold, thus constituting a security risk to this important Federal Government Ministry at this time when we should be more security-conscious.
We must not allow these acts of impunity to continue unchecked. We must also not be tempted to think these issues can be covered up in the course of reviewing the city’s masterplan. Neither should we act as if it is none of our business to poke our snout into the administration of the city, because such will be like a self-threatening suicidal time bomb targeting the development of a modern planned city.
Questionable Land Allocation
Allocation of plots to influential politicians, military personnel, civil servants, etc., for gardens is now the practice, where permanent structures are erected as event centres, restaurants, car-sales depots, etc. Even the existing spaces allocated for gardens are not properly maintained. For instance, the Asika Ukpabi Gardens in Wuse Zone 5 has degenerated so far that it has become a den of thieves and an eyesore to the public. This garden was commissioned by the then President Obasanjo/El-Rufai.
One will feel terribly disappointed that it had to take Senator Dino Melayo and his colleagues from the Senate to alert the FCT Minister on the abuse of the green areas in Maitama along the Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway/IBB Boulevard, opposite the Aguiyi Ironsi Barracks. Of recent, a director in the FCT was openly embarrassed on a national TV as being part of the beneficiaries of the impunity and lawlessness that has characterised this projected modern city, for erecting his personal house on that same green area.
Meanwhile, green spaces that have survived the indiscriminate conversion into personal uses and retain their status as gardens are not properly maintained. As the Dutch journalist living in Nigeria, Mr. Femke Van Zeiji stated, “mediocrity has overtaken corruption to wreck Nigeria”. It is noteworthy that it is solely the duty of the FCT Minister to ensure that this City becomes the pride of Africa it was envisaged to be at inception. He should be ready to work hard at (achieving) this without waiting for the interference of members of the national legislature or prompting of members of the public.
Necessary Action and Suggestions
The FCT Minister should please dismantle all the structures of mediocrity put in place by the immediate past FCT administration in administering this city, so that he can achieve the expected results. It is really worrisome that the Central Business District of Sandton in Johannesburg was created in the mid-70s almost at the same time as FCT Abuja. Can you compare the status of that beautiful district of Sandton with our beloved Central Area, Maitama or the almighty Asokoro District? No!
One of my simple professional suggestions is that the original masterplan and the approved revisions as approved by the President/Ministers should be mass-reproduced and made available to the general public. This step will curb arbitrariness and cronyism in the FCT. This will help the public, especially professionals to be on guard against potential abuses and become reflex whistle blowers against the mafia in the system.
There is need to also dismantle and re-organise the development control, AGIS and other agencies of the FCT. There should be a seamless system of approval for land and design approvals in the FCT in collaboration with Architects, Town Planners (NIA, NSE, NITP, etc) involving BPP in generating consulting firms to form a body for design approval and development control. We can learn from the city of Addis-Ababa in Ethiopia. We can also create and re-invigorate monitoring and enforcement teams in conjunction with professional bodies to checkmate illegal structures, below par excellent designs output for the city and satellite towns. These bodies should be time-bound and rotated.
Concerted efforts need to be made to complete major districts around the precinct of developed areas and zones like Durumi, Wuye, Mpape, Life Camp, Kado and Lugbe district that shame us a nation. We need to open up the satellite towns by putting in place first-class facilities and using international standard class contractors. There is need to create an Abuja disciplinary or orientation body like KAI in Lagos but must be PPP-driven in order to prevent it from being moribund within a short period. The body will educate and keep reminding Abuja residents on cleanliness, courtesy on road usage, work against illegal/uncivilised behaviour like posting of posters on bridges, trading on the road/under bridges, walking on flyover embankments, crossing highways by pedestrians like rabbits being preyed upon, illegal taxi stops and other vices.
We need to design and construct modern large car parks, markets with adequate parking lots and international airport. There is also need to enforce the design of modern and iconic Malls by individual developers in the FCT instead of box-like structures currently being labelled as malls or plazas that are springing up all over the city. The so-called Malls within the city must be properly insured. The FCT Minister should please take a look at the recently-proposed almost $1Billion Airport to be constructed in Senegal and use it as an inspiration to actualise Mallam El-Rufai’s dream of building a modern state of the art airport, meant to be the best in Africa. The Airport we have now inclusive of the Chinese addition is a joke and does not reflect our seriousness of creating a hub for excellence and tourism.
Finally, the FCT Minister should convene a conference of stakeholders, professionals in the built environment, officials of the Ministry of Environment, etc., to brainstorm on the best way of actualising a dream of a befitting capital city for the most populous black nation in the world.
Akinsola Alonge is a Chartered Architect and the PRO of the Association of Consulting Architects of Nigeria (ACAN). This article is his personal opinion and not the position of ACAN.