Again, they forgot Abuja’s birthday @ 25

They have forgotten again the most important birthday of the nation’s capital, Abuja. The military powers that created Abuja are in office and in power but they too forgot their most important achievement while in unconstitutional power between 1966 and 1999.

The civilian principalities that have been nurturing democracy from Abuja since 1999 too forgot that today is Abuja’s birthday. The governor and deputy governor of Abuja (the president and vice president) according to the 1999 constitution as amended too forgot that their original 37th state and capital of the federation is 25 years old today. Former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida who physically moved Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja exactly 25 years ago (today) may have forgotten too how the then FCT Minister, Major-General Gado Nasko gave him the key to the capital in an early morning impressive ceremony at the city gate on Thursday, December 12, 1991. Mr. Bisi Olatinlo, then of the FRCN (who speaks Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba fluently) was the main Master of Ceremony. Painfully enough, all the presidents and FCT ministers except former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, always forget to mark Abuja’s birthdays. Abuja has two distinctive birthdays they always forget: February 3, 1976 when the then Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed proclaimed Abuja as Nigeria’s new capital and legalised it (with a decree, Decree. No. 6, 1976) and December 12, 1991 when the then Head of State, General IBB moved the capital from Lagos to Abuja.

Only Obasanjo and Malam el-Rufai marked the birthday when Abuja clocked 30 in 2006 with a month-long programme that was rounded off with awards to deserved contributors to the growth and development of the nation’s capital since its birth. And again when the capital was to mark its 40th birthday on 3rd February, this year, no one remembered except yours sincerely who lamented in a back page article titled, “Forty hearty cheers! But who is saluting Abuja @ 40?”which appeared on Wednesday, February 3 when Dare Babarinsa lent his column for the landmark article. Yes, no one cared about the nation’s capital even when states that were created 40 years ago too were marking their birthdays. Abuja has been an orphan of some sort perhaps because of total absence of democracy in its governance processes.

All the 36 states’ governors are elected but the ‘militicians’ who gave us this constitution made Abuja just a part of the office of the president, no thanks to Section 299-302 of the 1999 constitution as amended. Even the original inhabitants who have been agonising without organising well about unfulfilled promises since 1976, did not remember Abuja @ 40 and I said so in February. Then I had noted: It should be 40 happy cheers to the people and government of Nigeria today (3rd February, 2016). Curiously, again as I read from the book of lamentation about this tragic amnesia last year, all the authorities in Abuja from the presidency through the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) headed by a minister, seem unaware of the landmark and events that should have been organized to mark the historic birthday of Nigeria’s capital.

It is inscrutable that the two birthdays of Nigeria’s political capital, generally believed to be one of the few monumental achievements of Nigeria’s ‘militicians’ (military & political leaders) have always been forgotten by the rulers of the capital city. Even the association of the original inhabitants has failed or forgotten to mark the unfortunate grabbing of their native land 40 years ago. There have been rumblings that the original inhabitants are ready to protest the alleged land grab to the United Nations. They have again missed a historic opportunity to draw attention to the resettlement and settlement the Murtala-Obasanjo administration promised them about 40 years ago. Alas, it was only the Obasanjo Administration (1999-2007) that celebrated the 30th anniversary in 2006 when the fiery Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai was the FCT minister. Then many of those identified as part of the builders of the capital including yours sincerely were honoured in a grand ceremony by the then President.

It has always been a mystery of some sort that both the Presidency and the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) have always forgotten these dates with history (every year). Even when the big men in Abuja celebrated the Centenary in 2014, nobody remembered Abuja as one of the monuments the government of Nigeria had created within the context of the centenary.

As I have always pointed out, the 1999 Constitution as amended unequivocally makes the President the Governor of the nation’s capital (Section 301). Section 302, however, authorises the President to delegate his gubernatorial powers over Abuja to a minister if he so wishes. So, there is a sense in which the Office of the President can celebrate Abuja’s birthday. In the same vein, he (the President) can delegate the power to celebrate Abuja to any minister that seems to be sleeping on duty whenever the bell tolls on 12th December and 3rd February every year. But since 2006, neither the Presidency nor the FCTA has remembered to mark Abuja’s birthdays in a befitting manner. They all always forget that there was a leader that had a dream that they can’t run with at the moment! They always forget that it is important to mark such dates with seminars and even international summits on how to cope with contemporary issues such as urban renewal and livable cities.
And Murtala’s unfulfilled promises to Lagos…

As I always remind all of us, of all the failings exhibited about Nigeria’s capital, the most telling are unfulfilled promises made to Lagos, which was proposed by General Murtala in 1976 as “Economic Capital of the Federation.”

In his broadcast to the nation on 3rd February, 1976, Murtala had promised that Lagos would not only be designated a “special area,” it would be Nigeria’s commercial capital and the deal would be incorporated into the 1979 Constitution then in the works. His words:
…Lagos will, in the foreseeable future, remain the nation’s commercial capital and one of its nerve centres. But in terms of servicing the present infrastructure alone, the committed amount of money and effort required will be such that Lagos State will not be ready to cope. It will even be unfair to expect the state to bear this heavy burden on its own. It is, therefore, necessary for the Federal Government to continue to sustain the substantial investment in the area. The port facilities and other economic activities in the Lagos area have to be expanded. There is need in the circumstance for the Federal Government to maintain a special defence and security arrangement in Lagos, which will henceforth be designated a SPECIAL AREA. These arrangements will be carefully worked out and written into the constitution. Kaduna and Port-Harcourt are to be accorded similar status and designated special areas under the constitution…

This is one remarkable promise to Lagos that no government since 14th February 1976 has fulfilled. The General made the promise on 3rd February and he was assassinated on 13th February 1976.

So, Abuja, is a city founded by the Generals and General Buhari should be proud of that heritage. That is why he should join the bandwagon of builders by fulfilling the Murtala’s promise to Lagos 40 years ago. After all, it was permissible to blame the PDP for neglecting the APC-controlled Lagos for 16 years. But now Lagos and Abuja will no longer hate each other as they are both controlled by the same political party, the APC. So, President Buhari should let the general turn well in his grave today by fulfilling the covenant he (Murtala) had with the people of Nigeria on Lagos 40 years ago.

• Oloja, former Editor of The Guardian, wrote in from the Editorial Board of The Guardian.

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