By Rogers Edor Ochela
Anniversaries are usually a time for sober reflections; a time to interrogate the past, reflect on the present and plan adequately for the future. That is why, as Nigerians roll out the drums, cymbals and flutes to celebrate the nation’s Democracy Day today, it is necessary to appraise the stewardship of one of the key figures of the Jonathan administration—the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed.
When he was appointed three years ago by President Goodluck Jonathan, not a few skeptics gave him the chance to succeed. And the basis of their unyielding skepticism then was understandable; several of his predecessors in office, even with the ministry’s huge budgetary allocations at their disposal, failed woefully to make any serious positive difference in the deplorable fortunes of the nation’s capital city. All these years, the minister has exhibited an exemplary conduct in governance, rooted in transparency and admirable husbandry of both human and financial resources. This became immediately noticeable when he took over the driver’s seat at the FCTA in 2010. To the surprise of his critics, Bala courageously unchained the ministry as it were and put it on the accelerated path of development, warts and all.
The first thing Bala did on assumption of office was to break the vicious cartel of land racketeering by placing embargo on land sales, which he followed up by sacking the directors of Lands and Deeds Registrar and instituted a probe into the activities of AGIS, a development that helped restore sanity to the hitherto corruption-ridden AGIS. These measures have made it possible for several cases of double and multiple land allocation to be resolved. Out of court settlement of land disputes and cases through various alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms have also been adopted to reduce number of litigations and save money and time for the administration.
Similarly, the administration at its onset, embarked on railway projects including the Abuja light-rail and the Abuja – Kaduna railway projects. The first phase of Abuja light rail project (Lots 1A and 3) is scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2015 by which period a total of 700,000 passengers are expected to be transported daily via railway transport in the city, while over a hundred thousand new job and business opportunities would be created. In the same way, plans for a mono–rail project have reached an advanced stage.
And that is not all as work has reached over 90% completion at the reconstruction and expansion of the country’s most modern 10-lane multiple carriage super highways: the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (Airport Road) Expressway, and the Outer Northern (MurtalaMuhammed) Expressway otherwise known as the Zuba/Kubwa/City Centre highway, as well as the dualization of the Nyanya-Abuja Expressway. These projects have continued to provide employment opportunities to many people, thus reducing poverty in the FCT. Several aging roads in Garki 1 and Wuse 1, the oldest districts in Abuja have been resurfaced and expanded by the current administration in 2013. More aging roads are being resurfaced this year, just as the administration has completed and commissioned major interchanges (overhead bridges) at AYA, Asokoro, Banex Junction-Jahi/Mabushi link, Karimo/Utako and Gwarinpa II – Kado/Life Camp Junction.
Satellite roads have been given a facelift. They are Kuje-Gwagwalada road Expansion Project; the Gitata bypass; Karshi–Apo bypass; Sunrise–Guzape bypass; the Gwagwalada-Dobi connection and the Bwari Township roads projects. Other projects on card include the nearly 100 percent completed Gurara-Lower Usman Dam road that connects the FCT with Kaduna State at Jere.
In the area of water supply, the Administration has also completed work on Tanks 1 and 6, with 40, 000 cubic centimeters storage capacity. FCT residents at Maitama and Asokoro, as well as other adjoining areas will surely have enough water as soon as the reticulation works are completed.
To restore sanity and due process to the housing sector that had previously been bastardized, the present administration has produced a comprehensive Guideline for mass housing development which has been approved by the Federal Executive Council. From 2010 to date, a total of 163 mass housing plots have been allocated, while 136 plots have been allocated for affordable housing.
The administration has also succeeded greatly in attracting foreign and local investments totaling over $20 billion. In a drive to make Abuja Africa’s preferred investment destination, a 37-storey World Trade Centre is being built at the former Bakassi Market, under a Public-Private-Partnership arrangement with the Churchgate Group. The project, which has already offered jobs to over 500 Nigerians is estimated to cost about $1.2 billion (approximately N180 Billion) and will rank as the tallest building in Nigeria.
Again, the Abuja Town Centre project is also on the card with the Chikason Group expected to bequeath to the nation’s capital a world-class 24-hour business district comparable to Manhattan in New York, Oxford Street in London, or the Champ D’Elysee in Paris. The project is valued at the sum of$2.7billion.
Similarly, the single biggest single private sector investment, the Abuja Millennium City Project covering a total of 1,200 hectares of land is being handled by a consortium under the incorporated name, Nigeria Centenary City, Plc. The total value of investment under this project is $18 billion. Designed to commemorate 100 years of Nigeria’s amalgamation, the Centenary City was envisioned as a business, leisure and tourism destination. The FCTA has sealed a PPP initiative with COHART Group worth $150million to develop Abuja Film Village International (AFVI). The project occupying vast acres of land is located at Kuje Area Council and is destined to transform the Nigerian film industry as a veritable sector upon completion.
The most audacious achievement of the minister to date is the introduction of land swap policy premised on ceding lands to private investors in lieu of provision of infrastructure. This is a model for accelerated development of FCT through opening of more districts. The advantages of the model include the discouragement of land speculation and land freezing; freeing of public funds for critical sectors of development and social services like health, transportation, security etc; promotion of sound mortgage system for sustainable housing development, leveraging on private sector finance and expertise.
Rogers Ochela, a media consultant based in Abuja is reachable via email@example.com