By Stanley Onyekwere
There is no gainsaying that the seemingly elusive quest to make Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) a liveable city is now glaringly becoming a reality since Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, took over the reins of power as Minister of the FCT Administration, two years ago.
Precisely, on the November 11, 2015, Bello came into office with the mandate to serve as the vanguard for President Muhammadu Buhari’s Change Administration in the FCT. And like never before , he unfolded the main thrust of his Administration to include; completion of on-going or abandoned critical infrastructural projects that would have positive impact on the life and economy of the city, zero tolerance to corruption, security of life and property, respect for extant rules and general improvement in services.
He succinctly observed that Abuja was fast acquiring the image of a huge camp of abandoned projects and the gridlocks at strategic nodes of FCT highways and byways as a result of incomplete works, or absence of finishing touches to major roads and utility projects. Many connecting arterials were incomplete, including ramps, pedestrian bridges, tangent roads, loops, interchanges and critical arterials. These often made navigating the city a nightmare.
As it stands, most of these roads, bridges and interchanges have been completed. Pedestrian bridges have been serviced with walkways making them usable by members of the public. , FCT is moving again. The number of projects completed and their positive impact on the lives of residents and the city landscape have proved the Minister right. The beauty and magnificence of the city are unfolding.
As expected, huge emphasis is being placed on environmental sanitation. This began with a change in the management of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and improved funding of the Board’s activities.
The FCT Minister led the way by launching the FCT Household and Community Sanitation Exercise Scheme in the Area Councils and Satellite Towns. This was with a view to effectively mobilize the communities to keep their surroundings clean.
The Administration also undertook drastic measures aimed at the recovery of the huge debt owed the Board and to ensure they carried out their statutory duties in a more proactive manner. Presently, out of the nearly N9billion owed the agency, the Administration has been able to recover more than N2billion from a recovery rate that was less than N100million before the inception of the current Administration.
Notably, a panoramic view of lush greenery as well as a boulevard of flowers and ornamental trees describes the future of the Umaru Musa Yar’adua (Airport), Expressway when the plan of the FCT Administration comes into fruition. Consequently, the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC) received marching orders from the FCT Minister to transform the highway into a modern driveway that would serve as a beautiful, refreshing and welcoming gateway to the FCT, in line with what obtains in other great cities of the world.
To this end, AEPB is mounting an intensive clean-up exercise on the road, which has resulted in the road wearing a new look. It has also embraced a new way of evacuating refuse through the deployment of Mobile Truck on strategic refuse flashpoints on the highway as well as the city.
And having achieved enormous success in these areas, the Administration is shifting focus to the satellite towns and Area Councils. Many rural infrastructure development as well as urban renewal projects are on the drawing board.
Checks revealed that notwithstanding the challenges of insufficient funds, the FCT Administration has so far paid the sum of N57.6 billion to contractors handling various projects in the Federal Capital Territory in the areas of infrastructure, water provision, and railway construction as well as health, education and environmental sanitation services.
Also, 627 indigenous contractors owed N100 million and below, with matured bills and for which provisions were made in the statutory budget were paid the sum of N6.9b in the last quarter of 2016. Another N3.3b billion has been paid to 403 other contractors with similar bills in the first quarter of 2017. On the same line, the sum of N7.009 billion was released to contractors handling the Abuja Light Rail project and presently the first phase of the project would be completed and ready for use by January 2018.
Equally, from the last quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of 2017, the number of liabilities has come down, to less than 50 per cent. And pensioners’ outstanding arrears have been paid up-to-date with the release of N2.3 billion for this purpose; this includes all forms of entitlements to retirees under the FCT Administration.
Again, the Administration has also paid out the sum of N2.4 billion which form part of its obligation to on-going counterpart projects, while the school feeding programme has been re-invigorated with the sum of N980M. Interestingly, funding for these payments was mobilized through transparent, diligent and judicious management of funds without leakages in the system.
Furthermore, the Inner Southern Express Way Bridge has been opened for public use. The completed portion begins from AYA interchange and cuts off extended distances between AYA and Apo Roundabout, the Murtala Muhammed way and Aso drive making it easy for motorists to drive straight on to most part of Abuja’s main business district.
The FCT Minster also awarded the contract and completed the Villa Roundabout Bridge project, which was a major component of the Outer Northern Expressway (ONEX), namely the Murtala Mohammed Expressway.
Similarly, one of the priorities of the Administration has been to complete the B6 and B12 Roads otherwise known as Constitution and Independence Avenues respectively. The roads which traverse the World Trade Centre and the Diplomatic Zones are major infrastructures that hold the key to the economic and social vibrancy of the City. And it is hoped that completion of the roads will enable land owners develop their plots and bring out the skyline of the city centre.
Though, there has been some partial opening of some segments of the Constitution Avenue, already it has brought some relief to the traffic coming from Airport Road into the heart of the city. And motorists coming from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport can now travel in dual mode straight through the Churchgate building without the detour, which hitherto made driving clumsy.
Moreover, only recently the Administration cleared a backlog of payments owed the company handling the project. This has resulted in a massive push to complete the projects. Already completed segments include the bridges near the World Trade Centre, the National Stadium and Magic Land along with their complementary ramps, loops, arterials, tangent roads and underpass. The scope was to complete the outer carriageways and their bridges as the inner ones have been completed earlier. some major arterials were added to the scope of work, in order to make the road more functional, in view of the major Central Train Station by the World Trade Centre and the anticipated completion of the Rail Mass Transit project by the end of December this year.
Today, Abuja is getting ready for its train ride this December, as work on the project has reached 98 percent completion. This is hoped would bring relief to the challenge of public transportation in the city.
Airport travellers would now have a choice, either to board cabs on arrival or departure; or ride on trains from the airport train station to the Central Business District Central Station or vice versa.
The Administration had met the project packages of Abuja light rail at below 70 and 50 percent respectively, but drove the projects to 98 percent completion.
More so, the Federal Executive Council has also given approval of the contract for award of Phase 2 of Abuja Rail Mass Transit (Lot 1B), provision of engineering infrastructure to Jahi District, award for the construction of the Right-Hand Service Carriageway of Outer Northern Expressway, among others.
Even though the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) has responsibility to distribute light to Kogi, Niger and the FCT, Bello’s-led FCTA has had to make a strong case for increase in the power allocated to the FCT which the Company at occasions have bent over backward to accede to. But this has proved precious little in the midst of the huge increase in FCT demography. Combined to this is the case of hoodlums who are bent on vandalizing electricity cables, poles and other installations.
And to stem the incidence of dark streets in the in the city, the Administration has procured over 25 standby generating sets as backup power source against power outages. Added to this is the arrangement being made to detail security guards to these installations to avert their being vandalized by hoodlums.
Against the backdrop of the recent approval by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of the sum of N2.6bn, the FCTA is poised to begin massive construction of road infrastructure within its satellite town of Karu Phase 2, Abuja. The project, which is expected to be completed within 15 months, will among other benefits, open up the area for the development of affordable housing for low income earners, boost economic activities, create jobs, and ensure slum upgrade.
Obviously, not oblivious of the economic importance of good road network, the government has shown commitment to speedily complete the ongoing16.5Km Kuje-Gwagwalada road, traversing major agricultural firms and farmlands. Underscoring its strategic significance as an alternative route, the FCTA hoped it would help to break gridlocks in and out of Abuja as well as possibility to provide reliefs during emergencies.
Available information revealed of the N700 Million total contract sum, nearly N400 Million has been paid to contractors thus far, including recent payments which enabled the contractor for the Gwagwalada segment to mobilize to site.
Unsurprisingly, there has been so much hues and cry by people waiting on the wings for another round of bubble of land allocation in the Territory. Such people gloss over the fact that Abuja is a mature city now and that land is a finite object. Certainly, like all mature cities, the idea of empty plots has become a far cry. Indeed, Phases I to III of the City have been fully allocated while what remains of Phases IV and V currently.
Consequently, the FCT Administration is emphasizing allocations to groups and institutions as well as high-rise developments to achieve more for the residents within the little space available.
It is lamentable that this Administration met a near chaos in land administration at its inception. The FCT Act and relevant regulations were violated with impunity. There were several cases of abuse of the master-plan, proliferation of illegal survey documents, double allocations, land-use mismatches, forgeries and land racketeering; which at a time was estimated at over N10 billion.
In addition, statutory institutions that were established to ensure transparency in land administration, like the Land Use and Allocation Committee (LUAC), were either disregarded or deliberately allowed to go dormant. Currently, the Administration has cleared over 1000 copies of Certificates of Occupancy (Cs of O). Similarly, the operations of all FCTA departments central to the land administration have been reorganized and harmonized while the FCT Land Use and Allocation Committee has been reconstituted in line with the provision of the Land Use Act. Clearly, it has streamlined various cases of multiple layouts, revoked titles on wrongfully allocated Green Areas while machinery has been set in motion to calm the anxieties of beneficiaries of approved mass housing projects by giving them bankable personal titles.
In what seemed as a subtle demonstration o its preparedness to make good on promises to tackle the FCT housing deficit, the FCTA commissioned 300 housing units in Capital Estate, in Kaba District on Kubwa Express Road. The project was executed by Abuja Property Development Company Ltd. (APDC). For 6, 12 or 16 Million Naira, young, middle or higher level officers could subscribe to houses that fit their income and after an initial modest down-payment, could space out the remaining part according to terms corresponding to their mortgage arrangements.
Beyond the commissioning of the already completed houses, the Administration also broke new grounds for the second and third phases of this estate development initiative. The APDC has by these projects created jobs for a considerable number of skilled and unskilled workers as over 700 construction professionals and artisans were engaged in executing the project.
On the other hand, the Administration is revving up a subsisting urban renewal partnership project for selected rural settlements. This is with a view to opening up the grassroots of the Territory to make them places where people could live, work and play. The indigenous settlements include Jikwoyi, Dutse Alhaji, Gwagwalada and some Kuje communities. It submitted proposals which were acceptable to African Development (ADB) and UN-Habitat. As a result, a substantial part of the pre-qualification conditions have been met- these include project identification, detailing of scope of work and identification of major problems.
Under the arrangement, FCT is shopping for a $300 million syndicated loan by both institutions at an interest rate of between 1 to 1.5 percent. The facility would be channelled to address the dearth of modern infrastructure among the rural communities. Over one million people are projected to benefit from the life improvement projects. Facilities to be provided include water pipelines, electricity, roads, sewage and other basic utilities.
Also, the Administration is on course to ensure adequate water supply for FCT residents. Consequently, FCT Administration is looking to the Chinese NEXIM Bank for a $450Million loan for the extension of water supply to hitherto unreached loops in the Federal Capital Territory. Areas to benefit from the project include Lugbe and contiguous communities.
It was learnt that the project will involve over 8000 kilometres of pipeline network and will add over 50 percent volume to the present water supply. The loan, which has been included as part of the Federal Government borrowing plan for the year is awaiting the necessary consideration by the National Assembly.
In particular, contractors handling various projects for FCT Water Board have returned to work following recent payments of outstanding liabilities owed them by the former FCT Administrations. The Board realized over N1.5 Billion in Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in 2016 alone. Other achievements of the Board include; introduction of payment metering system which has stemmed revenue leakage and the completion of 1.2MW solar power project in collaboration with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Another fruit of the solar power project is that it has reduced the cost of energy needed to power the water treatments plants.
Meanwhile, the Minister, it would be recalled, recently sworn in his Mandate Secretaries, equivalent to State Commissioners. According to him, the appointment of the new Mandate Secretaries and political aides is a signal for the commencement of the next phase of the Administration’s developmental initiative. This, he said would be marked by massive investments in infrastructure in the satellite towns and rural areas.
Clearly, other areas of priority in this phase of his administration would include education, health and making Abuja a smart city. Hence, his unambiguous charge to all his appointees to get fully acquainted with, the direction and priorities of the Administration as well as the public service rules and, government procurement guidelines in line with its zero tolerance to corruption.