The original inhabitants of Abuja are stripped of their ancestral homes and are being marginalised, the writer says
The creation of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja in 1976 and the subsequent relocation of the seat of government from Lagos to Abuja in 1991, has resulted in political strangulation and chronic economic and socio-cultural destabilisation for the original inhabitants of Abuja.
The Federal Capital Territory covers an area of 8,000 sq.kms, larger than Abia State (5,243.7 sq. kms) and more than twice Lagos State (3.577 sq. kms.). From a political dimension, the peoples who are the original inhabitants of the FCT have, hitherto, enjoyed their political enfranchisement of a second tier of government until the creation of Federal Capital Territory.
In the FCT, the powers of a governor are bestowed on the FCT Minister by the President. The FCT minister without an iota of regard and accountability to the residents and original inhabitants of the FCT, on whose reason such power exists, clearly shows a high level of unacceptable political denial and marginalisation.
For instance, the minister is accorded all the privileges of a governor compared to any other minister in the country, yet, he is not elected and as such does not consult or seek the consent of the people of the FCT before taking any decision on their behalf. He pays courtesy call on the president on behalf of the peoples of the FCT and yet does not consult with traditional structures, members of the House of Representatives or the only senator representing the FCT.
While States have their various State Assemblies to legislate on critical matters affecting their states and also to serve as a check on the executive, the FCT remains another colony within a nation state yearning to be democratised.
Similar to colonial practice, the National Assembly, overburdened with pressing national issues and comprised of people who are largely not in tune with the challenges of the ordinary residents and inhabitants of the FCT, exercise an orthodox military orchestrated legislative role over Abuja.
Again, both Senate and House of Representatives Committees on the FCT are headed by non-indigenes. This perpetuates the sense of distance, non-representation, marginalisation, political deprivation and unequal exercise of rights as guaranteed in the Constitution.
The blatant neglect and disregard for the residents and original inhabitants of the FCT in the day to day running of the Territory by the Minister, who by virtue of his appointment is only answerable to the president, yet exercises ceremonial role over the territory as a governor, breeds yet another source of potential conflict.
While there are no technical barriers to appointing a minister from the FCT in line with section 147(3) supported by section 299 of the 1999 constitution, successive government have all deliberately failed to appoint a Minister from the FCT. This denies the peoples of the FCT effective representation in how they are governed.
During the joint public hearing on constitutional amendment held in Kuje, Abuja, an original inhabitant of Abuja aptly stated that “despite our patience with the Nigerian government to amend all the inconsistencies in the constitution which have led to the usurpation of our ancestral lands and disenfranchisement in electing a leader to govern us, we note with sadness that after 36 years, there has been continuous forceful demolition of our homes, farmlands and communities, haphazard relocations…’’. In terms of representative government, the peoples of Abuja are the most marginalised in the country.
The people of Abuja continued to suffer internal forceful relocation and displacement under the guise of national development purposes without adequate consideration for their socio-cultural survival. Even in their own land, they are treated as nuisance and infra dig. Further, people come from different parts of the country with their traditional historical evidence in tact but no one considers the ancestral attachment of the African man to his land when they get to Abuja. They are arbitrarily relocated out of their land, stripped of their sense of history and traditional ancestry which are often destroyed in the name of development.
The continuous lack of elected leaders and non-democratic means of appointing the leadership of the FCT denies the peoples their right to self-determination. This is not only unfair to the peoples of Abuja but amounts to deliberate deprivation and marginalisation.
While Abuja is supposed to be evidence of our level of democratisation, the reverse has since remained the case due to this constitutional and systemic short-changing of the peoples of Abuja. While the excuse of not creating an Abuja State is understandable due to the sensitive nature of it being the capital territory, this does not, however, justify the sheer refusal to amend the constitution to allow for elected administrative system for the FCT.
The people of Abuja also suffer discrimination on several fronts; in admission to tertiary institutions, their lawyers cannot even aspire to become chief judges, civil servants cannot dream of rising to become a permanent secretary or Head of Service. While the Minister of the FCT is a Minister today because he is an indigene of Bauchi, there is nobody in Nigeria who is a Minister because that s/he is an indigene of the FCT. They cannot even generate revenue just like states to develop their communities but rather, development of their communities at the mercy of a Minister who functions without sufficient legislative check on his actions.
Perhaps there is no better time to bring to the fore the marginalisation and the unfortunate political equation the original inhabitants and residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have been subjected to.
Like one of the council chairmen put it, “whatever you think you suffer in the South-South, we suffer it more”. Perhaps one of the most likely implications of politically ignoring the call for democratisation of the FCT through the opportunity presented by the on-going constitutional amendment is the likely agitation and restiveness within Abuja. Any attempt to push this issue under the carpet portends a great danger. It is important to note that the residents of Abuja and all the big people who run the country living in Abuja, Africa’s fastest growing capital city, risk being engulfed in a restive conflict if these issues are not urgently addressed.
There is the need to take precise legislative action through this viable opportunity provided by the on-going constitutional amendment to correct this imbalance. An outbreak of restiveness is not just a devastating journey to embark at this point, but will further deplete our already battered international image. One thing the government must consider is the fact that there are young people who are fed up with this unfair and unequal systemic short-change that they have continued to suffer alone and would not want to end up like their parents. Thus, political elites and all stakeholders must as a matter of urgent national security importance, listen to these agitations and prioritise the democratisation of the FCT in the ongoing constitutional amendment.
Enayaba Idawmwenhor Napoleon writes in from Abuja
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