I didn’t give FCT money to FCT First Lady, Patience Jonathan as mischief-makers allege – Bala Mohammed, Former FCT Minister. Yes, I want to be PDP Chairman.
What was the beginning of the doctrine of necessity, which you benefitted from as you were appointed Minister of FCT from the Senate?
THE Doctrine of Necessity was borne out of bad legislative practice, out of responsibility of statesmanship to look at the problems and challenges of a nation like Nigeria and constituency responsibilities as Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to make sure we bring solution. There was a political gridlock in terms of where to go because of the sickness of late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and his incapacitation by the sickness and his inability to perform the duties of the presidency and, of course, the hijacking of the presidency by some cabals, who believed then that they could do it by proxy and we felt it was not what the constitution envisaged since the constitution envisages every situation to the effect that there must be transmission of power whenever a president is traveling for a long time or he is incapacitated by any reason. We rose to the occasion to tell the president to transmit the power in acting capacity to his deputy and that was all. I never came to the Senate to become a Minister. I least expected to be a Minister. I wasn’t even in PDP at the time. I was in ANPP. I was not even a chairman of any committees in the Senate. I was merely exercising my responsibilities as a lawmaker, knowing fully well that I was not doing it for Jonathan. I was doing it for the constituency where I come from, the impoverished North Eastern part of Nigeria called Bauchi South, where if there is any war or problem, we are going to be hard hit in addition to the poverty we have and I didn’t want some people to take advantage of that because the Niger Delta was so overheated and they have the resources or monopoly of coercion and I felt also that the Niger Deltans had contributed positively to the successful leadership of northern extraction and it is only fair that we also reciprocate by making sure that we allow them to do it, especially when they did not cause the sickness of our brother.
Can you give us some details of the FCT that you met about six years ago?
I met an FCT that was seen from a long distance. I never expected to become the FCT Minister. I was a journalist, a civil servant and a legislator. I had never had anything to do with FCT other than to live in the FCT for the past 15 years before I became a Minister. I knew FCT as a seat of power and I knew it had challenges. As a resident, I saw people like el-Rufai, Abba Gana and a few others trying to enforce the basic laws of metropolitan management and I knew the struggle they went through. I saw FCT growing from a point where people were begged to come and develop it to when it became the Mecca to all Nigerians and land were being sold at 5000 per cent above the premium. Suddenly, FCT now became a place where everybody came to for greener pastures. Suddenly, I became the Minister to face the issue of encroachment, demolition, parks and recreation, infrastructure and services, lack of streetlights and water. And I saw FCT as an enclosure where the civil servants are special people and very corrupt because they live a lifestyle over and above their own means.
When I became the Minister, I had to study these challenges and to my pleasant surprise, FCT is a place where we have the human capital that can move the vision of the person supervising it forward. We had to hit the ground running. When I started, there were so many infrastructure gaps and service gaps where the residents were becoming very restive in terms of inadequacies and limitations in basic social amenities. I met an FCT with huge capital gaps arising from contracts that were awarded but were not paid for. I met an FCT where land was being speculated so much upon and there was a lot of money round-tripping by the officials in collusion with banks. I met an FCT where everything that is being generated is expended at the secretariat. It was overblown to the extent that what we generate internally and what we get from the federation account was barely adequate to pay our overheads talk-less of paying salaries. I inherited an FCT where there was no too much enthusiasm on capital investment, there was no incentive for private development initiatives. I met an FCT where the accelerated mass housing project that was initiated by el-Rufai had collapsed. I met an FCT where the public transportation system was dead because the urban mass transit system was so much impugned with a lot of debts in terms of paying back for vehicles that were purchased; there was a lot of chaos on the road. There was also a lot of arrogance and excesses by staff of the secretariat. So, we had to sit down and reprioritize. We came up with a roadmap, which highlighted where we were and where we wanted to be. Today, we have been able to do a lot of reforms in land infrastructure.
Despite the challenges what can you say about your testimony and reforms you have implemented that your predecessor would meet?
In a metropolitan city like FCT, land is the key. We had to ensure we arrest the spate of theft of leakage of our internally generated revenue from land premium through the enforcement of e-payment. We no longer use bank draft, all transactions are conducted through e-payment in such a manner that there is little personal contact to cause the slippage of the money. This increased our IGR by 40 per cent, which enabled us to embark on our capital development. The processes and turnaround time for land registration has been addressed. People come in to get plots of land through the ministerial approval and pay for the land and immediately get their Certificates of Occupancy without having to go through the corrupt system. I ensured I signed all the Certificates of Incorporation and Occupancy that have not been signed, which were over 100,000 that I inherited. I have signed over 500,000 C-of-Os after all due processes have been followed. All the land related departments were brought under the executive control in streamlining of our activities and to ensure all documents we gave out are genuine. Again, we have been able to look at Development Control Department. Why should somebody get C-of-O, submit drawing and it takes so long before he gets approval to start building? We made sure we synchronized the timelines where people would come and apply. Now, we have begun granting e-approval. There is a portal we have established in Development Control, where officers can interact with the people online without necessarily coming into contact with officials, so that all the challenges that consultants, builders and designers are facing are removed. We removed all the bottlenecks to make sure within three months, people can get their designs submitted and approved. Again, there was the problem of double and multiple allocations. In the C-of-Os, you are supposed to develop your land within two years after allocation. One of my predecessors rightly revoked all those who could not develop their land within two years and reallocated them and it caused a lot of problems running into thousands of double allocations because they went to court and the court reinstated them. And, of course, the May 27 2007 allocations that were reversed by the Senate and upheld by the Federal Executive Council, which was about 7,000, I was able to convince Mr. President that it was not the fault of el-Rufai.
He was a Minister and he did it as a Minister who had been given constitutional powers and the people that are suffering are not el-Rufai. From the parliamentary perspective, it was even el-Rufai or the people that were suffering, it was the implementation of the Abuja programme because if they are not built and there are countless litigations, of course there won’t be development. When we were able to resolve the issue of double allocations, you can see how everything has thawed. Everywhere became a construction site, that is in land reform. In transportation, we removed the problem of transportation brought by the incapacity of the Abuja mass transit company to even buy and maintain their vehicles and get their ticketing right. The BRT cannot be done because although we are well structured, we could not take advantage of the situation. We had minibuses everywhere causing congestion on the roads. Urban and mass transit people were not able to pay off about N2 billion debt they took from Aso Loans and savings Bank. We sat down to look at what we could do internally. We convinced our bankers to take the land which was the guarantee for the loan as a form of payment and they agreed and with the balance of about N100 million, we restructured the system. When SUPE-P came, we were able to buy beautiful buses; first were 200 buses bought by the Federal Government, then another 100 that were air-conditioned and with some subsidy injected to the system. We got the ticketing right so Nigerians can afford it. FCT is heavily subsiding to make sure that the system works. That is on public transportation.
Also, we have accelerated the provision of mass transit through the Abuja light rail. We were able to get counterpart funding to resuscitate the project, which was stuck due to paucity of funds. There was no consultancy provision for the project we inherited: the Chinese were working based on the advance payment they got, which got exhausted. The financial plan was that we would get money from the Chinese government as loan, but that also got stuck. We had to rescue the project from locally sourced loans and SURE-P fund which was to the tune of N40 billion. Even when we got the loan of $500 million from the Chinese Nexim Bank, it was contingent for us to secure the counterpart funding and plan well for the project that will be paying concurrently with the drawdown that the contractors will be doing in China because the money is not given to us. It is just based on certification. Thankfully, we would be finishing the project in 2015, the president has just inspected it. It is a project that will attract a lot of development because of the stations and it will reduce the cost of transportation from the satellite towns to the city, since Abuja is built on the concept of the city surrounded by the satellite towns. We have also licensed so many service providers to provide taxis with our guidelines to replace those Maraba buses that we banned. We have a system in place for private individual to own taxis and operate. Today, the rate of default by the Abuja Taxi, which we introduced through the SUPE-P funds is about one per cent. We have used the repayment of the loans to add more fleet to the system. Our goal is to have 10,000 new taxis in Abuja. It has become a bankable project. Gradually, we will have brand new taxi-cabs all over FCT without much friction. I only hope my successor will continue with the project. In terms of the bureaucracy, we have been able to create the human capital that will drive the vision of Mr President that is hinged on transformation hinged on infrastructure. At the time I came on board, to come from Kubwa to Abuja, it could take you two to three hours because the road is narrow but all that is history. We tried our best in opening up FCT by creating alternative access routes. Like going to Kaduna, we opened a brand new road from Bwari to Kaduna and from Niger to Gwagalaga. In water supply, we have reached a situation where we generate 10 million gallons of water per hour. It is as a result of the new water treatment plant we have built, which will in addition supply 20 million litres of water per hour. What is remaining is the reticulation and distribution to all nooks and crannies. You can hardly see water vendors pushing their carts within the city because we have surmounted our water problems. Sooner too, we will score this point in the satellite towns and communities when we get our distribution right.
The most important reform we have brought is we have looked at the institution of legislation, which has given us the leverage to make Abuja economically independent, blocking all the leakages in finance, driving our tax collecting system, including revenue opportunities from outdoor advertising. We tried to procure a law, which the president has graciously accepted through the cooperation of the National Assembly to establish the FCT Revenue Board. And through this instrument we will be able to generate funds to provide development through the board since we can’t take loans or bond without applying through the Federal Government. To be modest, we can generate through the board about N300 billion per annum. We need to run a system where we will tax the main city to provide facilities for the satellite towns. You can see big houses everywhere in the FCT. The annual income on them alone is enough to provide sufficient infrastructure in the FCT if properly managed. We will certainly not go to Nyanya and start taxing people’s property. From Maitama alone, we can generate a lot, talk less of Wuse, Asokoro and the rest. We will have to understudy the law establishing property tax. It was first introduced in Lagos and the constitution gives the power to the Area Councils because they are supposed to collect tenement rate. And since they are collecting tenement rate, we cannot begin to collect property tax because that would amount to double taxation. That is why we are collapsing the functions to avoid arbitrary collection of tax. We have done all the necessary work for whoever is coming to increase the revenue base of the FCT board. All he will need to do is to make sure he sits down and pushes the reforms that we have done.
Why did you embark on the controversial land swap project that critics and natives said was not transparent enough?
In terms of decentralisation, we have been able to break down FCT into 78 districts and satellite towns. We inherited only 11 districts and no money to provide the primary infrastructure. We decided to borrow from global best practices, where they take the land if it has value to constitute a form of payment for critical infrastructure like water, electricity, and road. And people agreed. We were in discussion with top Nigerians, who bought into the idea to invest in the project. We have done the groundbreaking ceremony, we have signed the concession agreement and we have agreed on the percentage ranging from 20 to 30 percent that will come to FCT while the rest will go to them. This is also to ensure that we don’t build a city for the rich alone. Our own equity will be given to ordinary Nigerians. In that way, FCT lands will not be exploited by speculators. For example, land in Maitama is going for N12 million, but the speculators would go and sell it for N300 million. Who gains, only the speculators, not the state government or Federal Government. At the same time, we reserve some percentage for government institution, social services and affordable housing schemes. On health, we looked at our demography, everybody is gravitating to Abuja either because of insecurity or collapse of the economic system in the states. Most states don’t have projects and programmes, particularly at the local government level. So, Abuja becomes the attraction because of the seat of central government, where you have the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the ministers, the presidency, etc. Everybody comes here.
So, the GDP is very high. It is now a big problem to enforce our laws. We needed to act fast to make sure the vision for Abuja is not destroyed as administrative and political capital of Nigeria. That is why we brought the land swap and other incentives to increase economic activities and investment. We are building the Abuja township centre with $3.5 billion because that is part of the masterplan. You can see what we are doing by the Jabi Lake, where you have big shopping mall and housing estates. The World Trade Centre is coming up and several other Convention Centres because this should be the Convention Centre of Africa. In addition, there is the mother of all investments, which is the Centenary City to cost about $18 billion. The whole thing is to create a gamut of economic activities that will create employment and, therefore, raise the GDP of the FCT. In most of these developments, especially the Abuja Township Centre, we refuse to collect the Development and Control charges. Instead, we try to own the project, no matter how small our equity is. We have made FCT the investors’ delight because we have partnered with the security apparatus to make Abuja safe. We provide up to N150 million every month for security, surveillance and equipment. We have done a lot to make FCT self-sustaining.
The natives of Abuja are becoming more agitated, what has happened to resettlement and compensation arrangement? They are even threatening to go to the United Nations because they have been marginalized. Besides, in the new draft constitution amendment report, what is in it for FCT because there is no place for democracy in FCTwith the present arrangement.
There is no governor in the center of democracy in Nigeria, the president is the Governor general. They have councilors but they don’t have even a Senator because of the experience of Lagos when it was still a federal capital. Managing the conflict of interest between the federal and state government has been a lesson. That is why the drafters of the constitution decided to run away from replicating the problems of Lagos in Abuja. There must be a free zone. The concept is to make sure that all the original settlements are resettled somewhere. That is why you have Sabo Wuse when you are going to Kaduna. When I discussed with those who managed the Shagari administration, including Shagari himself, they believed they had paid all the natives, but the natives didn’t get it and in terms of demographics, human life is not static. I wrote an estimate of how much we will require to resettle all the people in the existing districts of Jabi, Airport, Gape and others amounting to over N45 billion. Where are we going to get such funds because of the contending needs of the Federal Government? Government must take a decision in the implementation of the Abuja project that began 39 years ago. I mean to take care of the rights and privileges of the original natives. Otherwise, we are going to have problems in the future. I have been managing them because of our deepened community relations. Though 80 per cent of the people have bought into the idea, you cannot remove the fact that there will be some recalcitrant elements among them and without exercising discretion with them, the sustained peace could break. They are also citizens of Nigeria and it is their right to be resettled somewhere because of their hold to the land. Someone was asking me recently why we relocated people from Ebele Farms. I said all the villages and people were susceptible and agreed to the settlement because of the development that reached that place. If there is a development anywhere in the city, people will move to a place where the master plan provides for it.
The only thing we have not been able to do is to do what we have done in Lansua. In Lansua, 11 districts were affected by the development there and we said before any investor is allowed into the area, we have to factor in the resettlement cost and we have set aside N45 billion collectively and a district where we are going to settle them after persuading them that we will take care of them first. That is what is being done all over the world. But I cannot manufacture money. By the time we start implementing our property tax fully, FCT will not have to rely on the Federal Government. The FCT will rely on its own resources to provide for resettlement and compensation. In South Africa, it is there, same for India and the United States. We do so much demolition, but it must be based on persuasion because if you abandon your responsibility of enforcing encroachment, then Abuja will become Maroko in Lagos and nobody will like it, not when the encroachment has gotten to a stage of no return and you arrogantly roll out the bulldozers, causing pain and waste. It should be stopped at the formative stage.
There have been too many town-talks out there about the relationship between you and the outgoing First Lady and it is no longer news that the First Lady always calls you ‘my first son’. People say outside that you don’t have money to develop the FCT because you settle the First Lady a lot. Is that the reason the First Lady calls you her First Son?
There is a lot of mischief out there and Abuja is the capital of mischief. If the First Lady finds it convenient to like me like her son, she can also do the same to you as a person. It is an issue of loyalty of what you have done to her husband during the doctrine of necessity that has grown up to this point. And let me say this to all Nigerians, even after leaving office, the family of Goodluck Jonathan remains my family. There is no rumour, slander or mischief that has not been taken to the villa to remove me. They know the truth, they are the recipient of security report. People say all sorts of things about my family: that I have stolen so and so billions; I have given plots of lands to the First Lady. They often wonder why despite all are tangible. People are always insinuating that the First Lady has so much in FCT and they are all lies. Most people talk this way because they want to see a situation to cause friction, an example is what happened with our support of the First Lady Mission. It is an African Union initiative. It is not personal to the First Lady, it is a global initiative, but some highly-placed Nigerians were insinuating that we were taking FCT resources to service the First Lady. It is not so. We are responsible for provision of offices and accommodation to all the United Nations agencies, African Union and other global bodies. It is not under the purview of the Ministry of Works. Even the United Nations building, the FCT built it. I want to seize the opportunity to tell Nigerians there is nothing like the First Lady exercising any executive powers in the FCT. She is the wife of the president, who is the Governor General of the FCT and I am exercising that responsibility on behalf of the President to the best of my ability as enshrined in the Constitution.
Is it true that you are nursing the ambition to become the next PDP chairman? If so, why do you want to be the next chairman since your state, Bauchi didn’t do well in the last election for the party even as the last Chairman is from the state?
Everything is about service. I must be grateful to PDP. I was in ANPP and I was a Minister for six months as an ANPP Senator and PDP gave me a platform and opportunity to actualize my aspiration. If it is the wish of the PDP stakeholders for me to be the party chairman, definitely I will go there and discharge my responsibility with all I have got in such a manner that will reposition the party and rebrand PDP into an opposition party. My leadership is not going to be anchored on abuses, caricature and lampooning other people. We will rebuild the party to become attractive to all Nigerians ahead of 2019 elections. I have got the experience in public service for the past six years as an active political and human resource manager. If I am given the opportunity, I will do this in a way that will restore glory to the Party.