By Goke Omolade
For a keen observer of Africa’s most populous nation’s capital city, what readily comes to the fore are the glamour, neatness, compactness boisterousness and dexterity of Abuja. Itself, on the one hand and coupled with these are the fierce individualism and personalised mindedness, easily-felt for purpose-achievement of the city’s residents, sojourners and carpetbaggers.
Unlike its immediate predecessor, Lagos, Abuja does not suffer any fool or pretender gladly because it is a place essentially for the rich and mighty, powerful and highly connected. Operating here, quite decidedly, you have to be equipped for all seasonal occurrences and any sheer carelessness might be costly in deeds or needs. As a matter of fact, the real politik of the city, along with its shakers and movers who are so schooled and skilled in the manipulative art of its spoils system, is so dynamic and spontaneous that hardly can any serious-minded fellow sleep with both eyes!
A brief recourse to its genesis of existence might suffice. Dating back to the then good intentions of the 1976 declaration of Murtala Muhammed, Abuja was created with the expectation of ushering a national capital where there would be no domineering ethnic or clannish group. Linked to this was another basic reason of combating the Lagos perennially snarling growth-population and traffic. Nevertheless, over 20 years after its stampeded relocation, has Abuja lived up to its advertised billing(s)?
2 Initially, the city’s planners had a central focus of some 75 Districts- scope where the scenic valley of its rolling grasslands atmosphere would be jealously maintained. As at the moment, just 18 of the said districts are already/currently being developed. What is more, one of the bogey problems, the war-like induced traffic jams, is beginning to make the Abuja relocation a defeatist gesture.
Abuja, in its original innocence, was not slated for any industrial, combative hurriedness as it is being subjected to. Rather, it was intended to be a sort of an ivory tower for clearly sighted, well-cultured and unbiased cosmopolitan policy makers; guardedly backed by a corps of nation-building civil servants.
Alas, the December 1991 and 1993-’98 ultimata of the then parochially-minded military junta(s) forcefully disconnected the Nigerian psyche from Abuja’s original lofty dream and unless deliberate actions are painstakingly taken, it might be a question of time before Abuja loses its value.
Serendipitously, Nigeria has been reorganised along a six-geo-political grouping and on sincere promptings, each of these has its own area of strength with the attendant comparative advantages. For instance, why site the headquarters of say the Petroleum, Agriculture, Railways, Aviation, Economy and Sports ministries in Abuja? With the relocation of such pivotal ministries and parastatals outside Abuja, just imagine the consequential effects such would have on their new areas that are yearning for development as well as the needed reliefs these would have on the already-choking Abuja in all ramifications.
In form and content, the operational dynamics of Abuja call to question the practice of federalism in the Nigerian settings. Indeed, a federation is supposedly functioning where there is a-two/three tier of government with no dominating power.
Clearly stated, ab initio, are the ethos and principles regulating the affairs of the coordinating components: federal, state/provincial as well as local units.
Without any doubt, there exists the exclusive, concurrent and residual power listings of such a functional federation and, inherently, certain ministries such as Foreign and Internal Affairs, Defence, Economy etc. are exclusively the reserve functions of the Federal Government. These typical core ministries have to operate from the capital city while others can strategically/deliberately be relocated where their impact can be harnessed for the desirous nation building process.
For instance, why summon chief executives of ministries, departments, agencies, parastatals or commissioners of states’ ministries like school pupils for assemblage purposes in this age of super-highway information, vis-à-vis teleconferencing? Why waste so much for little?
On an annoying note, the overbearing influences and somewhat self-assigned omnipotence of Abuja has needlessly negated the fundamentals, principles and ethos of autonomy that are central to the operation and virility of a healthy and functional federation. Rather, what is on ground is a quasi-federalism where collaborative cronyism, institutionalised corruption, moral bankruptcies and societal inequities are, avoidably, the rule and order of the day.
In a way, certain measures need to be taken so as to stop Abuja from its gradual slide to the oblivious state that made Lagos outlive its usefulness/preference as the nation’s capital city. Prior to the December 1991 mad rush relocation, there was an original plan of the Abuja Dream, which took some 15 years of careful planning and construction to be put in place and there is the utmost need to revert to its tenets and provisions without bias, let or hindrance.
Similarly, Abuja has to operate as a haven where purpose/character- driven nation builders, in the mould of the Greek Philosopher-Kings of yore, can be nurtured and made to administer on the prism of justice, equity, fair-mindedness and sincerity of purpose. In their rank, rather than the vain glory of kleptocracy, meritocracy and innovative ideas for generational excellence would hold sway.
Among the fundamental changes that would be so noticed are the instructive cues that the rest of the nation would draw from the new lease of governance once Abuja gets its appropriate bearings. In fact, ranging from the headquarters of Nigeria’s 36 respective states, 774 local government areas to the African continent of 53 nations, vis-à-vis the world of 202 nation- states, Abuja, by extension, Nigeria’s reoriented leadership, would not only attract respect but command global acceptability.
In this new dispensation, as universally expected, there would be demonstrable adherence to the rules and laws of the land by all and herein, the fundamentals and dynamics for representative, accountable governance would be held sacrosanct. Without any doubt, none would be able to operate as a sacred cow (above the law) nor as a sacrificial goat (beneath the law). Among the predominant features of such a new era is the genuine fear for codified ethics and ethos of behavior, which have steadily distinguished mankind from the beast, sanity from insanity, altruism from anomie and integrity/character from debased corruption.
For the tribe of the myopic and ephemeral ones, this may sound too distant and unachievable. Even then, for Nigeria to get out of the woods, Abuja, in its entirety, thinking, goals-settings, vision and leadership dynamics, has to be set on the right course so as to strategically position Nigeria in the comity of nations.
So then, reigniting Abuja for its pivotal, inevitable role is a task that has to be done if Nigeria is to keep its date with history and not suffer any further from its self¬-inflicted agonies of avoidable poverty, ethnic strife, intra-and inter-religious wars of attrition.
Goke Omolade is a Public Affairs Analyst.