13 tasks next Abuja minister must undertake to make life better for residents

Abuja City Gate
Abuja City Gate, Abuja

Life in Abuja is getting worse for many residents amidst poorly maintained infrastructure and worsening security.

The situation is same for both rural and urban dwellers of the Nigerian capital.

Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist and poet, said he becomes sad whenever he returns from a trip outside the country to Abuja.

“The sad point is that even the less endowed African Cities boast of working urban facilities than we find in Abuja”, the activist told PREMIUM TIMES Saturday. “The contrast is shocking especially when one returns from visiting even the humblest African Country.”

Abuja, one of the fastest-growing cities in Africa, has gradually become a sharp contrast of its original plan especially under Mohammed Bello, the erstwhile FCT minister. His administration seemingly turned a blind eye as infrastructure and public utilities in the city deteriorated.

So, when news of Mr Bello’s ministerial re-nomination broke, some Abuja residents expressed shock and disappointment.

Ultimately, there was palpable fear of his return as FCT minister.

“The immediate past minister made no positive impact in the administration of the FCT. He left the city worse than he met it and was colourless throughout his time”, said Lanre Suraju, an anti-corruption crusader.

‘A regime of incompetence’

One of Mr Bello’s first promises, upon assuming office in November 2015, was to secure the city and improve infrastructure in the entire territory. However, road mishaps escalated and crime rates soared under his watch as a result of defective traffic and street lights that became prevalent.

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CCTVs that would have helped detect crime remained non-functional. Poor waste management and the rampant trend of open defecation gained the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) the title of “a stinking city”.

Two years into Mr Bello’s regime, in April 2017, hundreds of frustrated residents stormed the administrative headquarters of the FCT. The protesters lashed out at the minister, accusing him of displaying incompetence in handling basic amenities across the nation’s capital.

They labelled the minister as setting bizarre antecedents for Abuja, where some past ministers were regarded for their hands-on approach that guaranteed functional municipal infrastructure.

“Since the creation of Abuja, this minister is the most clueless,” Deji Adeyanju, one of the organisers of the protest had told PREMIUM TIMES.

‘We say No to the FCT Minister of Darkness’, a placard carried by one of the protesters read.

The march came barely months after PREMIUM TIMES reported how residents were growing increasingly frustrated by the poor state of facilities in Abuja.

PREMIUM TIMES analysis of Mr Bello’s stewardship in three years, last November, revealed that the minister performed below par.

Senate’s Missed Opportunity

Following his renomination by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Senate on Thursday had the opportunity to question Mr Bello on his performance in office.

The lawmakers chose not to.

In continuation of its confirmation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 43-member nominees, the lawmakers gave Mr Bello the traditional ‘take a bow’ treatment.

After his lengthy address to the lawmakers, Mr Bello who was the 12th nominee to be screened by the Senate asked that they accord him the traditional “bow and go” treatment because he is a member of the National Assembly “by association.”

The lawmakers agreed unanimously and thus refused to question the nominee.

The ministers will only be given portfolios after the screening exercise, so it is not immediately clear if Bello will be returned as FCT minister.

However, frustrated residents are already campaigning against his return.

“I don’t think he should be returned”, Shehu Akowe, a resident said. “Rather a native of Abuja with better understanding of management should be considered. This is FCT but, we all have places of origin; rights and privileges associated with it. Theirs should not be different.”

Mr Suraj also described Mr Bello’s performance as disastrous and said it should not even be rated.

With the foregoing, PREMIUM TIMES enumerates 13 urgent steps anybody tapped as FCT minister must take to change the face of the Nation’s Capital:

1. Mount and revamp solar-powered street lights

This is largely considered one of the most urgent steps to be taken. Mr Bassey described as unimaginable the fact that many street and traffic lights in the FCT do not work.

Apart from aesthetic appeal at night, the situation has continued to pose a security threat as hoodlums hide under the cover of darkness to attack unsuspecting passers-by. Residents also blame the spate of night accidents to poor illumination.

A check by this medium showed that no part of the city is left out.

Reasons for the erratic state of streetlights were attributed to constant vandalism of installations by miscreants and the lacklustre attitude of contractors managing the facilities.

Also, the erratic power supply by the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) has continued to take its toll on the few functional streetlights which solely depend on electricity.

The AEDC had been accused by the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba of being in the habit of disconnecting streetlights with the hope of distributing recovered energy to residences of customers, according to a publication by the Sun Newspaper.

Experts believe the best way to tackle the streetlight menace is a complete overhaul of the system that will see existing streetlights replaced with those powered by solar energy as well as installing new ones in places that never had.

2. Revitalise traffic lights

Faulty traffic lights, which often lead to major gridlocks and multiple car accidents, have become the plight of road users in Abuja.

Between January 2016 and June 2017, 430 persons died in road accidents in Abuja. At least 50 per cent of the crashes were caused by non-functional traffic signals, an investigation by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR revealed.

That meant that Nigeria’s capital had the highest rate of accidents during the period.

Few weeks to the end of the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration in 2015, there was a fresh installation of traffic lights in Abuja

Moribund traffic lights were also revived.

But about 10 months later, most of the traffic signals stopped indicating any light.

As most of the traffic signals are not working, traffic wardens are posted to the busiest junctions to control traffic. Some junctions are simply left unattended to.
The new minister should take note of the foregoing and make a strong case for more funds for the installation of solar-powered traffic lights in his first annual budget. He should also ensure that road signs are properly marked, especially at intersections.

To check over speeding, more road bumps should be introduced to roads mostly plied by pedestrians.

3. Check insecurity and identify black spots

Armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, ‘one-chance’, killings among other attendant security lapses has become a common trend, making the FCT increasingly unsafe.

These vices mostly happen at night.

Insecurity in Abuja appears to have worsened, as crime – which many residents now consider a daily routine – soared.

One of such was the gruesome murder of seven police officers by armed gunmen last July. There was also the killing of a female corps member.

To check this, the new minister must identify the black spots and deploy adequate security operatives in such places to scare-off hoodlums. He should make paramount the aforementioned issue of installing streetlights across the metropolis, to make night seem day and thereby allay danger.

4. Tackle Power Supply

Nigerians are reeling in shock that in the 21st century, the Nigerian capital is still experiencing constant power outages, forcing residents, firms and industries to resort to inverters and generators.

The discomfort residents suffer amidst deteriorating electricity supply, and a scorching hot weather, has become a boost for sellers of generators and rechargeable fans, a PREMIUM TIMES survey showed.

According to the publication by Sun Newspaper, Mr Wabba, the NLC chairman, blamed the AEDC for the situation, accusing the power company of being insensitive to the plight of residents despite receiving about N500 million from the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to improve power.

Worse still, residents complain of being short-changed by the AEDC amidst increasing electric bills.

The coming FCT minister is expected to get to the root of the poor power supply and find a way to ensure constant power supply by working closely with the AEDC.

He should advocate for the distribution of prepaid meters across board.

5. Clear illegal dumpsites and stop indiscriminate waste disposal

A PREMIUM TIMES investigation exposed a building within the federal secretariat that was turned into a gigantic dumpsite.

Though the Abuja Environment Protection Board (AEPB) cleared the refuse dump shortly after the story broke, the situation was just one of the many of such eyesores.

Both satellite towns and villages of Abuja have come under a plague of garbage lately, as a result of the general inefficiency of the agencies in the sector, such as the AEPB and FCTA.

Heaps of refuse are more prominent in the slums where government presence is scarcely felt. However, even in parts of the municipality where the AEPB and FCTA man, illegal garbage dumps are now present by the roadsides and all manners of solid waste end up there.

The garbage is not only fouling the air, but it is also infiltrating and polluting water and contributing to disease outbreaks in the territory.

According to Mr Bassey, solid waste management does not require rocket science but the repositioning of the AEPB and FCTA. A more efficient waste clearing process should be put in place from the source (homes and offices).

Illegal refuse dumps and dumpsites should be banned and fines imposed on defectors.

More designated dumpsites should be positioned strategically. The administration should also form partnerships with agencies and private firms in the area of waste recycling.

6. Digitalise Public Transport System

Just like many urban cities all over the world, a digitalised urban transport scheme will go a long way to ease movement, check insecurity and add to the splendour of the city.

All commercial vehicles plying Abuja roads should be inspected and registered with a specific barcode for easy tracking. This will help reduce the trend of ‘one chance’ as cars without the barcode which can easily be accessed on the internet, would not be permitted to operate.

Commuters can also request for the vehicles barcode before boarding, for safety. Rickety and private vehicles caught on commercial duties should be impounded or fined.

Commercial tricycles and motorcycles should be confined in the rural and informal settlements.

7. Revive CCTV projects

The failure of the National Public Security Communication System (NPSCS) otherwise known as the CCTV project heightened the level of insecurity in the Nigerian capital.

The project, which was initiated by late President Umaru Yar’Adua, was conceived to help security agencies in the FCT keep the city safe.

The installation of the CCTV cameras failed due to poor management and vandalism, benefiting criminals.

Last year, government announced plans to revive the $470 million project but no much work has been done since.

The need for CCTVs cannot be over-emphasised, hence the need for the minister to take up the project as some of his first steps.

It was through a CCTV camera in a sex toy shop in Abuja that a young senator, Elisha Abbo, was recently caught assaulting a women

8. Build public and mobile toilets

To tackle the menace of open defecation, which has become a norm in Abuja, the minister should consider building mobile toilets where residents can easily check in when they want to answer the inevitable call of nature.

There should also be more public-private ownership and partnership of toilet facilities in parks, markets and public places.

Checks revealed that open defecation has increasingly become a norm in Abuja. Apart from the slums where the trend is more common due to lack of basic amenities, there are several popular spots where people defecate openly in the heart of Abuja.

The new government should impose a fine and deploy officials to check and arrest perpetrators of such eyesores.

9. Extend government intervention to Slums

Majority of Abuja’s residents stay in rural settlements and suburbs, due to exorbitant rents in the urban areas.

However, successive governments have turned their back on these slums, which many residents consider the real Abuja.

Of all the many developmental challenges posed by the slums in the FCT, that of health is grave.

Slum houses are shanties mostly built without toilet facilities, forcing inhabitants to open defecation, even in the urban areas. Suburbs are well known for heaps of garbage, lack of potable water and road network. Houses are built close to each other with little consideration for waterways or gutters, making the areas filthy.

According to the 2006 census, Abuja had a population of 776,298. According to the United Nations, the city grew at the rate of 139.7 per cent between 2000 and 2010.

By 2015, the Nigerian capital was experiencing an annual growth of at least 35 per cent. This means that the population has doubled over the years, hence the need to address housing structure.

The new administration should consider mapping a plan to meet the basic needs of the chunk of the city’s population living in slums.

10. Maintenance of blocked sewages and water channels

Complicating poor waste management is the blockage of sewages, causing severe flooding, according to Moji Makuonjola, a resident.

Some residents described Thursday’s heavy rain and its attendant flood in parts of Abuja as a warning for AEPB to be empowered to evacuate waste timely and professionally.

 

A careful implementation of the drainage and sewage plan of the city and outlying areas should take care of flooding which has become a menace in Abuja, said Mr Bassey the environmental activist.

11. PPP arrangement in water supply

With the growing influx of people into the FCT, new frontiers are beginning to open. This has necessitated the expansion of the urban and rural water scheme in the city.

Apart from the urban areas, people living in the suburbs and satellite towns depend on ‘Mairuwa’ (young boys pushing water on carts) for their water needs, due to lack of pipe-borne water.

The new government should consider adopting a Public Private Partnership arrangement for the water scheme, to ensure coverage and adequate water supply to the entire city and its expanding frontiers.

12. Complete road projects

The minister should, as quickly as possible, put efforts into completing several road projects kick-started by his predecessor such as Nyanya-Maraba and Keffi road. Residents living in those areas spend a lot of time in traffic compared to those who live in other parts of the city.

13. Others

The minister is also advised to do the following:

  • Confine cattle rearing to rural areas. This has increasingly become a nuisance to the city.
  • Find a way to address the rapid trend of street and ‘cooperate begging’.
  • Address street hawking and roadside food selling.
  • Make government agencies such as the AEPB, FCTA, Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) and others more efficient. There should also be an oversight to sanction them when they overstep their bounds. Other government agencies, in general, should also be transformed.

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