Before Abuja becomes another mega slum 

Abuja. Photo: BRITANNICA

A comprehensive report the other day that Abuja, Nigeria’s once attractive capital city is not receiving deserved official attention and it is fast turning into a mega slum should be alarming.

According to the report, the rate of infrastructural and social services decay in the city has become a matter of serious concern, especially, against the backdrop that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), unlike Lagos, was planned to be sustainable. Capital relocation from Lagos to Abuja took place barely 28 years ago. It is therefore too early to be reading about early warning signals that the nation’s capital is again going the way of most cities in the country. 

The expectation of having an efficient and functional city should therefore not be dashed so soon. That reproachful lack of maintenance culture that has been ruining our critical infrastructure across the country is said to be taking its toll on the city. We should not waste time in telling the many authorities in the 43 years old nation’s capital to wake up to their responsibilities before it is too late. It will indeed be a big national embarrassment if Abuja curiously becomes a mega slum while the presidency, the FCT authorities, and even the National Assembly, which has legislative responsibility for the territory look on. 

We have been writing about Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital for a long time and little or nothing has been done to remedy the rubble of the ruins in the mega city. Are we going to face the same problems in Abuja, the seat of government, which was originally designed to be a model capital city?

Evidently, all the problems that blighted Lagos and forced the Federal Government to move the capital to Abuja have resurfaced in the new capital city, which is again without a modern mass transit system, the bane of most cities in the country.

A teeming population swarming the slums and ghettos mushrooming all around the city: shrinking social amenities due to overuse; fast-evolving uncompleted dilapidated roads with potholes; lack of effective inter and intra-city mass transit system; very poor environmental sanitation coupled with absence of effective public waste disposal system; emergence of handcart refuse collectors that try to fill the gap. 

Unfortunately, all these are happening at the same time in the full glare of all the top government officials living there and nothing is being done about it.  They appear overwhelmed and clueless on how to tackle the problems in the modern city, which is still the best in the country.  

There are six Area Councils in FCT and sadly the Municipal one, Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), which is the richest local council in the country, is reported to be interested only in revenue collection that is largely not accounted for. It is shameful that the AMAC and several other urban planning authorities in the city controlled by both the FCT government and the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), which has been supervising the building of the territory from inception have become docile and inefficient in maintaining and regulating standards in the territory. 

A visit to the satellite towns such as Kuje, Nyanya, Zuba, Dei-Dei, Gwagwalada, and Bwari shows that the FCT is groaning under the weight of infrastructural deficit, poor management and gross dereliction of duty, particularly, by the area councils. 

There are a growing number of unplanned settlements springing up, which is a major source of concern for the residents. Many communities have reportedly sprung up and are largely populated by unregistered businessmen, hangers-on, artisans and petty traders who cannot afford to rent largely expensive accommodation in the city’s neighbourhoods. These are mostly people living in the brink of destitution with no social safety nets from the government. There are some mass housing schemes too without adequate infrastructure by the sundry developers. Even the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) has its estates that it is not maintaining and regulating. The Gwarimpa Housing Estate and others too are deteriorating on the watch of the FHA authorities. This is a curiosity that should not be allowed to fester. 

The growing number of urban poor in Abuja is fueled by rising rural-urban migration from the neighbouring states of Plateau, Nasarawa, Kogi, Niger, Kwara, and even Kaduna. Before now, living in Abuja estates was a pleasure. Residents enjoyed a smooth and wide road network, a clean environment and a good drainage system. Well-trimmed trees lined the streets and waste disposal trucks did not miss out on their daily rounds of evacuating refuse from homes. Sadly, today, all that has changed. The estates are a mere shadow of themselves. The roads are generally in bad shape with potholes exposing eroded surfaces here and there. 

What is worse, traffic gridlock that was not seen in the early years is now rife. Moving from one part of the city to the other is no longer easy, as driving through the city is now problematic, especially, amidst the preponderance of petty thieves and even daylight abductors. Constant robberies are commonplace. 

The Federal Roads Safety Corps authorities hinted the other day that Abuja was fast overtaking Lagos in vehicle registration, meaning that the issue of traffic in the city could only worsen as the infrastructure deteriorates with inefficient city management authorities. The drains are degraded and clogged with refuse dumped indiscriminately by the residents. Refuse trucks are disappearing as garbage dumps now liter the streets. Water supply to the estates is now a luxury, as the power supply is becoming more epileptic in most places and settlements. 

Despite the massive demolition of “identified” illegal structures undertaken by the now Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, under the Obasanjo administration, the Abuja Master Plan is still being distorted in some places.

In Gwarimpa suburb, for instance, checks show that the master plan of the estate has been distorted, with almost all the residential houses being converted to shopping malls, hotels, eateries, and clubs, among others. The once pristine environment has been polluted with unbridled loud music and all sorts of pollutants. 

What is obvious in many parts of Abuja is growing disorder, distortions, and infrastructural failure. There are no functional streetlights in many strategic areas of the city. What happened to the once admired streetlights in the city? Amidst this emerging chaos, there are noticeable hundreds of uncompleted buildings that litter the city and provide hideouts to criminals and hoodlums.

In the main, this newspaper would like to note that the story of the deterioration of Nigeria’s most significant project in its history is a direct query to the minister the President posted there since 2015. The minister should wake up today to do the job. Meanwhile, the President should remember too that at the end of the day he will be held responsible for any rot in Abuja. Reason: the Constitution makes the President the governor of the nation’s capital and the Vice President is the deputy governor. The President, therefore, has a responsibility to post the right person to administer the territory, lest history will blame him as the leader whose tenure ruined the country’s unity capital. The National Assembly too has a constitutional responsibility to legislate on FCT that has no assembly of its own. There are too many committees on FCT in both chambers of the bicameral legislature. What have they been doing too to improve the city beyond approving often-late budgets for the FCTA and FCDA? Where are the senator and House of Representative members representing Abuja at the National Assembly in this story of dereliction of duty to the FCT?  

Meanwhile, political leaders and civil society organisations and networks should note that the trouble with Abuja is absence of democracy and democratic institutions that can be held accountable, in this regard. The chief executive of Abuja, the capital of the federation should not be an appointee of the President. He should be a popularly elected mayor or governor as we have in most parts of the democratic world. That is the only way he can serve the interest of the residents and the people of the federation that own the capital. That is the only way the chief executive can be held to account. Those who are calling for constitutional amendment should bear this Abuja political project in mind when the legwork begins soon.

 

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