The ease of moving through the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and finding a place to socialise or unwind alone after a hard day’s work, or perhaps with loved ones, is increasingly being limited as insecurity rages in Nigeria’s seat of power, like other parts of the country.
Parks and recreational centres in the capital city are beginning to see decline in patronage and revenues, while some face an imminent shut down. This is being driven by insecurity fears and also as government begins enforcement of its early-closure policy, and a ban on sale of alcohol.
Abuja is home to over 100 recreational parks and gardens- a fast growing business that typically drives the night life across the capital city, especially with a peak period from 7 pm to after midnight. Apart from serving fun seekers, findings show that parks and recreational centres employ thousands of residents and create a market for small businesses and entrepreneurs with wide range of products and services.
FCT Parks were initially managed by the government, but later concessioned to the private sector, using the Park and Recreation Department of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA). But the recent directive from the FCTA that parks should close daily operations by 7 pm is already crippling night business for the operators, and changing the lifestyle of residents, many of whom now live in fear of uncertainty.
The FCT Park Policy was signed into law in 2005 to regulate how parks and recreation centres operate, but was not implemented for several years as attempts were resisted by park operators until July 4th, 2022 when the FCTA, through the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC), decided to kick off implementation.
Ikharo Attah, the special assistant to the FCT minister on project monitoring and enforcement, while restating the matching order by the Minister said, “I have received calls from some of them that people want to enjoy after closing from work till deep in the night, but I said no. Go early enough so that by 7 pm, when the park is closing, those in charge of the park can clean it and prepare for another day’s business. The city would have to adjust to the fact that parks close by 7 pm when it’s dark, and everybody can adjust to it.”
The decision came at a time when Abuja witnessed a surge in attacks and threats of attacks by terrorists. The release of hundreds of inmates in the city sparked fear among residents. Again, terrorists issued threats of more attacks in the Nation’s capital. Few days after, presidential guards were attacked and several soldiers killed. This further heightened tension among residents in the city.
According to Umar Shaibu, coordinator, AMCC, the policy is to restore peace and serenity in the FCT and protect the rights of residents against excessive noise as well. “The authority will earnestly commence the enforcement of the stipulated closing time for Park operations at 7.00 pm,” he had said.
The FCT minister Muhammed Bello, argued that the whole concept of the park policy is to make sure that the green areas within Abuja as a city, and to some extent parts of the territory, are left green to be able to meet the 40 percent threshold of green areas. The minister stated that almost 95 percent of those who took parks under concession converted them into structures thereby abusing them and the environment.
“Because it became something else, you go there and your handbag is snatched because people are under the influence of drugs. Families cannot even venture into parks even in the afternoon because many people have made it their abode. Some of them will go under valleys and erect shanties,” he said, while arguing that the policy is in line with global best practice.
When BusinessDay visited the Emab Garden in Utako, where the enforcement of the policy has commenced, the park operators lamented how their businesses have been negatively impacted in terms of patronage they hugely enjoyed till recently. They said the policy was simply unfavourable and bad for business.
In fact, a lady, Roselyn, who owns a side noodle shop within the park, said the 7pm compulsory closing time has taken a significant chunk of her revenue. “The new closing time has not been favourable. Parks see more traffic at night because, this is the time people close from work.”
She further explained that after a hectic day, a lot of people just want to relax and ease work pressures they must have had. “Personally I get more patronage from that time. So government needs to review this policy and find a meeting ground with the operators, and not to just push policies without understanding how it will affect Nigerians,” she added.
Q: This recent policy of the FCTA is plainly an admission of irresponsibility on the part of the government to provide security
Another business owner who manages a restaurant at the Eden garden said revenue and sales dropped significantly when government kicked off implementation of the policy. He feared that if not halted, it will lead to loss of jobs and even further worsen insecurity, since according to him, “less revenue may force these operators to lay off staff in a bid to adjust to the new normal.”
Silas Ibru, who regularly visits the Surich Park in Wuse zone one, especially after a hectic day at work expressed his displeasure over the new closing time for operators. “This park is like a second home to me. I always come here to unburden, especially with this harsh economy. So this closing time is completely unacceptable both for we the customers, and even worse for those who earn a living here,” he said.
Despite wide resistance, the FCTA insists on enforcement. Few weeks after the order, FCTA enforcers comprising of Abuja Environmental Protection Board, Directorate of Road Traffic Services, DRTS, Departmens of Parks & Recreation, Development Control amongst others, accompanied by a joint team of armed policemen and other paramilitary personnel at about 8 PM stormed and ordered immediate closure and vacation of Parks caught violating the new directive. As enforcers ransacked the Parks, fun seekers left in their hundreds.
The FCT enforcement team also dislodged recreational parks, operators and fun seekers in Wuse and Maitama Districts for allegedly contravening the 7-pm closing time. Owners and operators of recreational facilities in Abuja while lamenting loss in revenue protested the implementation of this policy, and the implementation of the ban on sale of alcohol.
In a letter to the FCT minister, the operators argued that Nigeria is a democratic society, and “such draconian rules should not exist.” But, their call for reversal fell on deaf ears. However, Riskinatu Abdullazeek director, Park and recreation, FCT, in an interview with BusinessDay insisted that enforcement will be tightened to ensure compliance and protect lives and property in the FCT.
Public experts have kicked against the policy and tackled government for allowing citizens pay the price over its failure to provide security. Commenting on the development, Frank Tietie, a human rights lawyer, public affairs commentator and executive director of Citizens Advocacy for Social Economic Rights (CASER) said, “This recent policy of the FCTA is plainly an admission of irresponsibility on the part of the government to provide security.
“The latest policy of the FCTA would literally kill these small businesses which generate both employment for citizens and huge tax revenues for the government. For a government that has failed to provide many incentives for employment creation or significantly raised its revenue base, such a policy is not only counterproductive but also highly unprogressive.”
As government policy bites, the security situation in the nation’s capital is also keeping people away from night life and consequently patronising parks and recreational centres. Within a month, the FCT saw a surge in attacks. The Kuje prison was attacked by terrorists and hundreds of criminals set free; terrorists also attacked military bases around and within the city. In addition, there are threats of more attacks by terrorists group. As a result, residents worry over their safety and are cautious of their movements.
“Even before the FCT announced that closing time, customers don’t come here as much as they used to. The patronage has slowed down. People no longer want to stay for too long in an open place. So this security problem is really affecting our businesses”, Chigozie Harry, a bar attendant at Eden Park said.
Like many, Susan Godwin, another FCT resident said she had to restrict her visit to public and busy places including malls. “I only go when it is absolutely necessary. We are in times where we all have to be vigilant because nobody knows the next target of these terrorists.”