Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Muhammed Musa Bello, featured at a special congress of the FCT Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), where he spoke on key issues, including the challenges of administering the federal capital and his vision. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, brings excerpts:
The Abuja I inherited
There is no doubt Abuja, that is the federal capital city itself of 250 square kilometers and also the entire territory itself of 8,000 square kilometers, is a unique territory. It is a unique city in the sense that it is the only city in the entire country that is a creation of law; a city that was created when the founding fathers, some 40 years ago, decided to create a place that is going to be the centre of unity for all of us. We met a city that has been well conceived, well planned and a city that has first class infrastructure. But we also met a city that has grown rapidly over the last 30 years, growing at a rate of 20 per cent per annum; more than any other city in Africa. We met a city where facilities are grossly overstretched because they were meant to cater for a very much lower population than what we have now.
Then, of course, we met a city where the planning and the concept initially envisaged by the founding fathers was gradually being eroded and being bypassed. So, we met a city that was developing towards some level of chaos; chaos in service delivery, chaos in traffic management and some level of chaotic development in terms of buildings, infrastructure and social facilities. We also met a city where a number of the contractors had stopped work, laid off staff and abandoned projects. Of course, we also met a city that was grappling with the general insecurity that was ravaging some parts of the country.
Immediate steps to tackle the problems
First and foremost, we tried to encourage the contractors to come back to site. From the record, throughout 2015, there were no capital releases to the Ministry of the FCT until in December. So, basically, for 11 months, no payments were made. So, what we did was to first and foremost request for the extension of the budget by additional three months, so that we would be able to mobilise all available resources to pay the contractors. That’s why you will notice during the last few months, some semblance of construction activities have returned to the city. Construction of the roads is now being continued. The essential part of the liability, especially for the small-sized companies, were paid and they were encouraged to continue to provide the services that they were providing.
We noticed also some improvements in the sanitation in the city. While, of course, I will acknowledge that we are not there yet, but definitely, there have been some improvements and I think it is to the credit of my colleagues in the various departments that have done their work and also our ability to have paid the service contractors to be able to do as required. So, these are some of the things we did. Basically, the whole idea was to try and wake up the city to go back to what it used to be. Of course, we had to do that against the backdrop of serious funding challenges, which is a reality we are all facing as a nation, but which also will make us stronger as a people, make us prioritise our objectives and obligations and, above all, appreciate the need to be prudent managers of resources.
So, this is the Abuja that we have seen and of course we spend most of the time in the city because when you go to battle, you have to choose your battle line. If you say you have to go in all fronts, you can’t do anything and that’s why we decided to concentrate on the city centre itself and gradually expand to reach out to the area councils and the satellite towns. I am happy this is now very visible because we have a crop of very dedicated young men and women manning the area councils, including Abaji, Kwali, Gwagwalada, Kuje, AMAC and Bwari.
Of course, we have also been working hard to rid the city of nuisances such as street trading, street begging and some of the things that we all agree are not supposed to be seen in a city of our standard and our pride like Abuja. We have tried also to enforce a lot of regulation with respect to building. Particularly, you would have noticed on Ahmadu Bello Way, as you drive close to Apo, that road is now much freer because all those institutions that decided to change the entrances of their properties and premises against what was originally planned were compelled to reverse to what it was because that is a very important artery into the city that is meant to be free at all times.
Promotion of institution above personalities
What we have done and which, in my view will not manifest immediately, are some of the invisible actions that the administration has taken and will continue to take. For instance, we have tried to instill the rule of law in all what is done in all the offices and all the agencies of the FCT. This is something you cannot feel or see physically, but it’s very fundamental if we want to run an efficient city and an efficient community and society-rule of law.
As I mentioned to you, Abuja is the only city in the entire federation that is a creation of law. So, for every activity, there is a law guiding it. But where we got it wrong, over the years, was when we jettisoned these things and then we weakened the institutions. So, what we have been trying to revive and we will continue to do is to strengthen these institutions to give the technocrats and the specialists in these institutions the confidence to be able to say no to any political appointee when things are being done wrongly or else, year-in, year-out, ministers will come and go and at the end of the day, we always cry and fall back and reflect on the fact that things are being done wrongly. So, I think this is very fundamental and is something that as time goes on, it will come to light.
My Vision for FCT
My vision is to have a day when the Minister or the Permanent Secretary will tell the Director, ‘give me a piece of land in that beautiful valley; give me 6,000 square metres in that valley’ and I will like to see when the Director of Regional and Urban Planning will say, ‘no sir, that area that you want is a green area; it is a waterway; it is part of the beauty of this city and it is meant to be kept for generations yet unborn to come and see it and enjoy the site’. That’s what we need to do, not only in the FCT but in the entire country. We need to strengthen institutions. This is something that, by the grace of God, by the time I’m done, these institutions are going to be strong and then we will not go back to the days where mountains that are meant to be part of the beauty of our city are allocated to people, either to break them down to create gravels to sell or to build mansions to be looking at us the people or where people will go and build and block waterways, simply because people want to create Garden of Eden on earth.
On abandoned and ongoing projects
The focus of our administration really is for us to make the city more efficient. And how do we make the city more efficient? It’s to make sure that all ongoing projects are completed. For instance, for those, who drive on the Umaru Yar’Adua Expressway as you go towards the airport and then beyond to Gwagwalada, you will notice the uncompleted bridge at the intersection of the Bill Clinton Avenue and the Expressway. That should be completed and, of course, you will notice within the next few months that the entire stretch of road from the airport, right through to the military barracks, will all be completed so that as you complete projects, you move on. That is the whole essence and that’s why we want to complete major projects within the city and, of course, the area councils also for those that are ongoing.
Another important project that we would like to complete will be the Abuja Light Rail project which is 70 per cent done. But we have very critical components that include the rolling stocks, that is, the locomotives, the signaling system and the entire management structure that will run the system. There is also the all-important Apo-Karshi Road which we are working on and which, if completed, will bring relief to motorists coming into the city from the Nyanya-Mararaba axis. These are all in progress and we do hope to complete all.
Abuja has enormous water reservoir. The water treatment plant at the Lower Usuma Dam has been projected to meet the needs of this city, even at the rate of 20 per cent growth for the next 10 years. The water is there, but as it is now, from our analysis, less than 60 per cent of the city gets water. We are working to complete the critical infrastructure linking the various tanks constructed and under construction in the network of the city. So, for us, that’s a very important project that, of course was commenced many years ago and has been ongoing, but we intend to complete that.
On running FCT like a sole administrator
Of course, a number of people have been very worried and greatly concerned that the Minister of FCTA has been operating as a sole administrator. I think this is a very good opportunity for me to tell you that it’s not so. The reality is that the world over, governments have always been run by the civil servants. All the mandate secretariats in the FCTA are headed by people and they are working day in day out. If these offices have no officials, the city would have been grounded to a halt. It is very paramount for us to develop and strengthen institutions. The entire secretaries are six, but each of the secretariats has professionals from Level 17 down to Level 7. This is government and that’s how government is run. That’s why a few weeks ago after the referendum in Britain, a new Prime Minister came in through the front door and the old Prime Minister went out through the backdoor. But the British government was working.
So, let us not go back to this idea of everything tied to individuals. For instance, the running of this city, quite frankly is not done by the minister; the minister just gives guidance, based on the policy of the party, the policy of the president and the objective of the government. But institutions are the ones that run and if you personalise government, based on individuals, then you see individuals come in with their retinue of aides, political appointees and the civil servants just fold their arms and watch and at the end of the day, the minister’s tenure ends, he packs his aides, the political appointees and moves on. There is no institutional in memory. That’s why at the end of the day, each government comes trying to solve the same problems.
We are in the regime of change and I want the general public to appreciate that a lot of things we have used in the past in running public institutions, the policies, the paraphernalia and all related issues have never worked. When I arrive for public engagements or appointments on time, people applaud me. But for me, it is not an issue and that’s why, if you check my public outings, I always go there in time.
So, the point I’m making is, please, let us strengthen institutions and what you will see in this administration is, as much as possible, we are not going to personalise individuals. But we are going to strengthen the institutions. For instance, the lady handling our education secretariat is one of the most experienced public servants in the FCT. She is from Jikwoyi and she has run the education secretariat very well. Under her purview, we have been able to identify over 500 substandard schools that are not meant to be there; 72 teachers were trained last week; 30 teachers will be going to Korea this summer for additional training.
All these will translate into better school services and, at the end of the day, also better scores during WAEC and NECO. Then somebody writes and points to you that the minister has not appointed an education secretary. Quite frankly, what secretary do we need again? This is the reality. This is why we have to change our psyche; we have to change the way we focus, the way we look at governance.
Another area of concern is the duplicating of activities by a lot of the institutions in the FCT are. So, in the next couple of months, you will see what the new structure will be. But for us, one key institution is the FCT Internal Revenue Service. It’s an organisation that is going to commence shortly.
By law, the leadership of that institution has to be approved by the National Assembly and, God willing by the time they resume in the next couple of weeks, the new team will be passed to them and once they approve, we will be up and doing.
They are several. This is one area that we have to really partner together because running a city and a territory of the size of Abuja and trying to maintain a standard that we all aspire to will require a lot of collaborated efforts. I think the most important area of concern to me is that as citizens, most of us have left the protection of the people in the hands of government only but that shouldn’t be. Every citizen of Abuja should have a passion for this city. I’m saying so because the rate of vandalisation of public assets and properties in this city is amazing and certain criminal activities, quite frankly, are just unique to us Nigerians (I’m sorry to use the word.) For instance, traffic lights are being vandalised; streetlights are being vandalized; electric cables are being vandalized. You will be surprised also to know that the new Abuja Light Rail system under construction has been faced with vandalisation. Two weeks ago, vandals dug out cables and cut them off. This is something that government alone cannot do. We have deployed members of the Civil Defence Corps along the tracks; we’ve deployed them in the city.
But citizens also have to be conscious of that. We, as journalists, have to be very much aware of this; you have to be the eyes and the ears of the society. Also, in your writings and in your advocacy, in your communication, it’s very important for us to understand that these happen because generally, we don’t value life. If we value life, I don’t think a taxi driver or a motorcyclist will drive against the traffic. If we value life, I don’t think somebody will jump a red sign at the traffic intersection. If we value life, I don’t think we will dig out cables that are meant to power the signal system of a train because without the signal, the train will just go and crash.
These are all fundamental issues that a Minister of the FCT cannot handle alone for the society. If we value life, we will not sweep our shops and dump the refuse in the waterways in front of the shop. These are all issues that require a lot of support from our brothers and sisters of the Fourth Estate of the Realm. I want you to understand that assignments of this nature, being a minister of a ministry like the FCT that really to be fair to the occupant, judgment should be after the tenure and not during the tenure because really its work in progress. But I want to tell you that I’m going to put my best in this job. I have been doing so and I will continue to do so. Jointly, I think we will be able to reach the Promised Land.