Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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Again, the natives of Abuja gave us notice in the past two weeks of an impending major national crisis. As a country that relies very much on fire brigade approach to issues, we are likely to ignore them. But I dare say that we do so at our collective national disadvantage.
First was their warning after an attack on the National Assembly on July 3 by the followers of El-Zakzaky leading to a number of deaths and unprecendented havoc. The Natives of the Federal Capital Territory gave the Federal Government 48 hours to end the unwarranted series of protests by the Shi’ites sect in Abuja.
Under the aegis of Coalition of Abuja Indigenous Association (CAIA), led by Comrade Yunusa Yusuf, they told the media in Abuja that the protest by the Shiites constituted a nuisance in the society more so because it led to injuries of seven indigenous women.
“We are disturbed by the recent protest by Shi’ites movement to the National Assembly which turned violent and left many residents with various degrees of injuries and destruction of property. We are sad because the Shi’ites group is not the only aggrieved group in this country. We the indigenous people of Abuja are equally aggrieved over so many issues ranging from ministerial slot and deliberate marginalisation of our people.
“We did not take the laws into our hands, but we have conducted ourselves peacefully even in the face of provocation by security agents. Therefore, we do not see any reason why certain group will disrupt the peace of our land.
The warning by the Abuja Natives was not heeded. Exactly 13 days after the National Assembly clash, the Shiites clashed with the police in Abuja killing a deputy commissioner of police (DCP) Usman Umar and six other persons. One of the victims was a journalist, Precious Owolabi, serving with Channels Television.
A few days after this bloody clash, President Muhammadu Buhari submitted a list of 43 Ministerial nominees to the Senate for confirmation. The list attracted an angry reaction from Abuja natives. The Original Inhabitants Development Association (OIDA) said in a statement signed by the President of OIDA, Pastor Danladi Jeji, that:
“We find the non-inclusion of any FCT native on the 43-man ministerial list released by President Buhari as provocative. Are we not citizens of Nigeria? Why have we been continuously left out of having a representative in the federal executive council?
“We will no longer take lightly the continued marginalization of FCT natives in a territory hosting the capital city of Nigeria. Our lands have been taken forcefully from us without the federal government following proper constitutional provisions or the Land Use Act and now our dignity is being taken away from us as Nigerian citizens. We condemn this attitude by the Nigerian government and urge the international community to intervene in our current statelessness,” the FCT group said.
These recent developments negate the dreams of General Murtala Mohammed who moved Nigeria’s capital from Lagos to Abuja. In his broadcast of February 3 1976 announcing the movement he argued that:
“The area is not within the control of any of the major ethnic groups in the country. We believe that the new capital created on such virgin lands as suggested will be for all Nigerians a symbol of their oneness and unity. The Federal Territory will belong to all Nigerians.
“The few local inhabitants in the area who need to be moved out of the territory for planning purposes will be resettled outside the area in places of their choice at government expense.
In order to avoid land speculation in the area, a decree is being promulgated immediately to vest all land in the Federal Territory in the Federal Government.”
This dream was soon to be shattered by General Obasanjo who took over from Murtala after his assassination on Feb 13th. He ordered his Chief of Army staff Gen TY Danjuma to issue a classified proclamation on 13th July 1978 (a copy of which I have) which contradicted the pronouncements of his predecessor. By this new law, compensation to those whose lands were taken over by military diktat was stopped.
Obasanjo left office in 1979 and many things went wrong with the new Federal Capital before he came back as an elected President in 1999. Shehu Shagari who took over from him was enthusiastic about the movement to Abuja. Even then he tried to follow the laid out plan of providing infrastructure such as roads, electricity, telephones, water etc before moving. On 1st October, 1982, he held the first Independence Anniversary parade in Abuja, an event I covered for the New Nigerian Newspapers. The Presidential Villa he was building then was almost completed and he gave a sumptuous State lunch at the place with Awolowo, Zik and all the heavy weights of Nigerian politics in attendance.
In 1983, the Military struck. First Muhammadu Buhari took over from Shagari; but it was Babangida who took over from Buhari that made history as the first President to move to Abuja. Given his military background and the near encounter with death in Lagos during Major Orkars coup attempt, Babangida abandoned the State House built by Shagari and settled for the heavily fortified Aso Rock Villa of today.
Abacha who came after Babangida had his own ideas of what he wanted to do with Nigeria. He wanted to be a perpetual President and his friend and collaborator General Jeremiah Useni wanted to be a perpetual Mayor of Abuja. You could therefore see the hands of “Jerry Boy”, who now preferred to be called, the “Sardauna of Plateau and environs” in the sudden elevation of tribal traditional rulers in the territory, complete with pompous new titles and palatial palaces. Was this the new Federal Capital that Murtala dreamed of as belonging to all Nigerians?
Obasanjo on his return in 1999 ordered his Minister of the territory, Nasir el Rufai to restore Abuja’s master plan. He forgot that the decision he took to stop compensation in 1978 had completely distorted the Abuja master plan as envisioned by Murtala Mohammed.
Those who lost their lands refused to relocate out of the territory. They remained with their customs and traditions, therefore contradicting the dream that Abuja would as a no-man’s land symbolize Nigerian’s oneness.
Obasnjo’s distortion of Abuja’s master plan has put Nigeria in grave danger. At the time he stopped compensation in 1978, the level of enlightenment of the indigenous people of Abuja was very low. Today they are wiser.
They have called on the Federal Government to accord a state status to the capital territory to enable them elect their own governor.
“The failure of the Federal Government to resettle, relocate and compensate our people at the initial cost of N2.8 billion in 1978 has led to several policies summersaults.
“In spite of all the challenges, we are still here, and we are not prepared to go anywhere, because we have nowhere to go.”
According to Jeji, “All we want is to also be represented in the Federal Executive Council.
“We no longer want the present military contraption, where a minister is appointed to run the Federal Capital Territory like a cantonment. We must change the constitution to reflect our wishes for a modern and cosmopolitan capital city.’’
In other words, if we thought the natives of Abuja had disappeared into thin air, they have now returned.
As a man of God, I believe Pastor Jeji will lead a peaceful protest through dialogue. But I fear that one day the natives will be led by a violent and dangerous demagogue. Holy hell will then be let loose on Abuja and Nigeria.