President Bola Tinubu recently appointed Nyesom Wike to superintend over the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Wike, who spent eight years as governor of Rivers State, would have to work hard to restore the debilitating city back to the original vision of its founders.
The FCT, popularly known to as Abuja, has steadily depreciated in structure and character over the years, but more so in the last eight years of the Buhari administration. Residents of the city incessantly lament the absence of government action; the dearth of infrastructure, the deterioration of existing facilities, the growing traffic congestion, environmental degradation including unrelenting erosion, poor sanitation, insecurity, defiant open cattle grazing by herdsmen, return of street urchins, poor transport system and the ineptitude and corruption of the FCT authorities and their agents.
When Abuja was summoned into existence by General Murtala Mohammed in 1976, it was generally believed to be a far-sighted idea, so applauded that it got immediate constitutional backing, having come into reality due to a need to find a replacement for the capital city of Lagos, which had become congested and had little space for expansion.
Theoretically, Abuja was designed to be a model and modern city, urbanised in the strictest sense, and disorder-deficient. It was supposed to be the antithesis of Lagos, the former national capital that had been dismissed as ultra-congested and no longer tenable to serve as the capital of a nation aspiring to gigantic socio-economic and political achievements. Thus, Abuja was deliberately created, and purposely planned to be fitted with uber drainage system, a network of inter-woven and inter-linked underground pathway, a road network that was contemporary and expansive in thought and scope and an electricity grid system that rejected the prevalent labyrinth of cables and poles that dotted the troposphere of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Enugu and other major cities in Nigeria.
Abuja was also designed to be an “ethnically agnostic” and “culturally sterile” 8000 square kilometres of land that would be centrally accessible from all parts of the country and draw federal public sector challenges away from Lagos.
The delicate thought and planning that went into the conceptualisation and implementation of the Abuja idea yielded only low-hanging fruits. Less than 20 years after, it had become clear that like most things Nigerian, the pious idea of Abuja had been indecorously handled.
The Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDC) had over time allotted massive acreage of prime lands as well as green areas meant for the preservation of the city’s environment to powerful personages and authorities in the country, with little attention given to the fledgling city’s aesthetics and ambience. In no time, Abuja had become unwieldy as structures were built and thrived on whims and caprices, with basic urban planning principles and designs no longer adhered to and the city’s growth and development inevitably subjected to the most ghoulish form of arrested development.
There is a consensus among many residents that the immediate past leadership of the FCT led by Mohammed Bello woefully failed to deliver even in little things.
Many Abuja residents readily assert that the city’s glorious era began and ended in the period when Nasir El-Rufai was the minister.
Wike has been tasked to revive the once charming city. A current member of the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party, he led an insurgency within his party against Atiku Abubakar, its presidential candidate in the February 25, 2023 presidential elections. The revolt contributed to Atiku’s defeat at the polls.
A swift scan of the FCT depicts a city crying for urgent attention. Abuja is littered with abandoned structures, uncompleted roads, unfinished bridges, blockaded access roads, vast areas with spaces overgrown with weeds, unkempt streets with no functioning street lights.
A first-time visitor into Abuja would be shocked by the ‘loud darkness’ that pervades most parts of the nation’s capital. From Abuja to Suleja, to Bwari, to Karu and the other suburban districts, street lights do not work and haven’t worked for years. Most of these dark spaces have become hiding spaces for criminal activities, especially “one-chance” assailants.
Many of the city’s streets are habitually flooded when it rains, with sewage wastes penetrating through open manhole vents. Most of the manhole covers have been stolen and remain unreplaced. A drive-by survey of the mostly open filthy utility holes across the city show that many of them have become refuge dumps, with several full to the brim with a salad of discarded plastic bottles, water sachets, paper, sand and sundry debris.
In June, no fewer than 116 buildings were submerged by flood in different parts of Abuja. In 2022, the Federal Capital Territory Emergency Management Agency said the flood affected about 24,713 inhabitants in three of the six area councils of the FCT. This development forced the government to demolish houses on waterways as part of an effort to mitigate the flood. In 2019, heavy floods in Abuja killed Tony Okecheme, the then director of finance and accounts at the Federal High Court, when his car was swept away during heavy rains around Galadimawa roundabout in Abuja.
Around the city, hurriedly assembled car wash stands dot the city’s side-walks, forcing residents off the pavements and eroding the wellbeing of the roads as huge amounts of water used by the car washmen deluge the paved roads, slowly but veraciously denuding their strength and producing cracks, and road unevenness. The pavements around Apo and other parts of the city have been turned into open air markets where building materials, including bags of cement, iron rods and paints are publicly sold on the walkways, to the chagrin of the residents.
Those who spoke to this paper said they had an under-the-table financial arrangement with operatives of Development Control, the agency of the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory responsible for infrastructural and physical development of the FCT.
“When they come, we give them between N1,000 and N1,500 every day and they will not disturb us,” a car washman alleged.
The Development Control department of the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council performed at their best between 2003 and 2007 when Nasir El-Rufai drove them into exemplary performance. As El-Rufai left, the agency fell into its default position of bureaucratic lethargy, supplemented by field-based corruption, extortion and racketeering. Staff of the agency are well known for extorting monies from itinerant and street traders who are forced to part with a tidy part of their daily sales in order to be allowed to trade by roving bands of Development Control operatives.
Just as Abuja has become deplorable and neglected under the immediate past FCT administration, the satellite areas which are buffers for the city of Abuja are equally abandoned. In the second largest estate built by the federal government which is in Lugbe, the area has taken a form far from what it was conceived and structured to be. The estate is in dire need of a functional road network, as practically every part of its thoroughfare has become a system of bumps and holes. The same gloomy situation characterises all the satellite towns surrounding the city from where the critical mass that make and grace Abuja come from.
Residents are waiting to see if Wike’s time in Abuja would turn around its fortunes.