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FCT: ANOTHER NIGER DELTA IN THE MAKING

By NBF News

FCT: Another Niger Delta in the making
From DENNIS MERNYI, Abuja
Tuesday, March 02 , 2010
Indigenes of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are not particularly happy with the Federal Government for its alleged refusal to integrate them into the development of the territory after over 30 years.

They feel oppressed, neglected, abandoned and in fact cheated by government as they expressed displeasure with the manner government, particularly the FCT administration, has over time shown no concern about their plight since they relinquished their ancestral land for the development of the territory.

Their plight according to some of their sons and rulers is caused by the frustration they go through in the land which once belonged to their fore fathers as they have been accorded the status of not even second class citizens but the least among their 'visitors' in the scheme of things. They cite cases with appointment into the public service, boards, elective political offices, distribution of national wealth, adjudication of land use act, provision of infrastructural development, education, health and other social amenities.

Professor Paul S. Marley is the first professor of Gbagyi extraction. Gbagyi are the locals found in the FCT from creation. He is a professor of Anthropology at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. According to him, his kinsmen may not carry arms against the Federal Government in protest like the youths in the Niger Delta today but there is no guarantee that the coming generation may bear the situation if it is not promptly addressed. Excerpts:

The fears
'Maybe we, the older generation, can hold our patience for more time. But you know the younger generation wants to see result, if they don't see result they will push us away and begin to do things in their own way. That is the scenario you see in the Niger Delta today. The older generation could not achieve what they were set out to do and the younger generation felt they have to take to arms because it is the best way to achieve it. That is why we keep saying that the government of the day should listen to us, the earlier the better so that things are put in their right perspective. If things are put in their correct perspective within a short time, I'm sure this issue will not repeat itself in the federal capital. But if government continues not to bother, I'm praying, I don't wish it, I hope it will not happen, but I cannot tell. The earlier they do something about it the better.

'Compensation cannot continue to move to other places without compensation. This is akin to what the Niger Delta people are asking for, adequate compensation. We have sacrificed our land for development of FCT. We are non-violent people, we are not ready to take up arms like the Niger Delta people, but certainly we will not give up. We are same human beings as militants in the Nigeria Delta, so we can not hold our patience forever.

'First of all, you will recall that by 1976, this area of the country was not yet exposed to high level modernity in terms of infrastructure. The level of infrastructural development in this area was minimal. The roads were not tarred, and there was no airport, except for few schools (primary and secondary). So the coming of the FCT has in one sense, opened up this area. We have modern infrastructure today, we have roads, we have schools, we have almost all that can be compared with other part of the country. Basically I do believe that these are some of the gains we have gotten. The other aspect of gains has been that many of our people have had access to one point to the other in terms of political, economic and social opportunities. Some of the people have benefited in several aspects by the coming of the FCT. Basically, the gains are in these two aspects, infrastructural wise and access to education, economic and political empowerment.

'The pains are very numerous. You may understand the major characteristic of FCT indigenes is agrarian in nature. By the decree establishing the FCT all land belonging to the FCT were taken over by the Federal Government. Basically we were dispossessed of the only major economic tool that we had at our disposal. All land was taken from us; we cannot claim any land, we cannot claim any right to it. Being agrarian in nature, our people have lost out one of the most valuable things that they have in life. I have enumerated the gains in the area of political, economic and education, but these are very minimal. I want to take you back to one thing which has led to a serious pain.

By the fact the FCT has become a no man's land, there are certain political positions that the 1999 Constitution did not give to us which is creating a lot of problem for us.

'Today we cannot vote for a governor as our compatriots in other states. We do not have a state, and we cannot go to any of these states and claim that we belong to them. This simply means that we are a second tier people. We do not have 100% rights like other Nigerians. We cannot vote for a governor who will represent us. What we have is a Minister, who is the representative of the President and the President has the right to choose whosoever he wants. We do not have a say on whosoever he chooses as the Minister of the FCT. So that alienates our democratic rights. That is the major pain that we have.

'We were not compensated. It is not exactly true for one to say our people were adequately paid compensation. I want to possibly give you some figures. You will find out that by 1980 when Federal Government decided that it was going to compensate everybody in the territory and move everybody out of the territory, it made some compensatory moves and gave money to three states that constitute what is FCT today. These states are Niger , Plateau and Kwara states .

You know the Federal Capital Territory was carved from these three states. When the FG commenced the process of compensation by the end of 1980, the sum of N53.4m was given to Niger state as compensation, N25m to Plateau state and N800,1,474 only to Kwara State for resettlement of FCT. You can see that this is a very paltry sum for 200,000 people within the Federal Capital Territory.

Who are you going to compensate? That was why the FG on realising that the number of people in FCT was more than what it was initially adjudged to be, it was decided that those who wanted to go out of the territory can go out, those who want to remain can remain. For those who chose to stay, when their land or area is required for development then the person would be properly compensated and moved to a new location within the territory. That was what was agreed upon.

'Between 1980 to when the former President Ibrahim Babangida moved the capital from Lagos to Abuja, it was adjudged that all structures had already been enumerated and any new thing you put on ground will not be paid for. You can see that level of stagnation, how many years? Meanwhile families were growing in size. Families were giving birth to more children, children marrying. Yet you could not put any infrastructure in place and this gap gave us a lot of problems. That was one of the reasons that gave rise to the slow compensation race that we have today.

Even when government says that it wants to pay compensation, if you stop people from putting down infrastructure for 10 years and you want to pay them on what it was 10 or 20 years ago, you definitely know that whatever you pay them will be peanuts. With this scenario, is it not right for somebody to say that compensation has been paid compensation? Compensation has not been adequately provided, I have given you figures to that regard. Even as of today, if you go to the bulk of the city, you will find out that some of the villages are still standing, because compensation has not adequately been done.

We cannot continue to move to other places without compensation. This is akin to what the Niger Delta people are asking for adequate compensation. We have sacrificed our land for the development of FCT. We are non-violent people, we are not ready to take up arms like the Niger Delta people, but certainly we will not give up.

We shall continue to seek for proper redress. We shall continue to shout without taking guns. I'm sure there are Nigerians out there who will listen to us and say that these people have been dispossessed and therefore need to be compensated.'

How long the struggle would last? 'As long as it takes. There is no time limit. We will continue as long as the problem persists, until the issues are properly redressed. It is not violent and it shall never be violent.

We don't have adequate representation in the House of Representatives, which is part of the problems that we are having. Well, let me put it like this. The 1999 Constitution gives the FCT two members of the House of Representatives, one senatorial seat, six area councils. You will agree with me that based on the population of the FCT, this is grossly inadequate. Look at the size of Abuja Municipal Council for examples. It is more than three to four local governments in some states. You find a situation where in some states, one local government will have at least one member of the House of Representatives. Yet AMAC did not have a member of House of Representatives. It is joined with Bwari area council. You find out that this provision in the 1999 Constitution is inadequate.

'That is one of the areas that the Federal Government and the National Assembly currently considering the review of the constitution should address, it is not fair on us. That is one aspect. The second aspect is talking about how many of these positions we hold. I will tell you that for the senate seat, since the creation of the senate seat the first two senators were indigenes of FCT, then the current one is also an indigene of the FCT. The current two members of the House of Representatives are members of the FCT and then all the chairmen of the area councils are indigenes. But like I have said, this is grossly inadequate. These are some of the issues that we raise in our claim of marginalisation.

So if you look at the public service generally, since the coming of democracy in 1991, no FCT indigene has become a minister. Meanwhile the 1999 constitution says that FCT should be treated like a state. But when it comes to the issue of ministerial appointments, we don't get. We have capable people for such positions. We have people in the academia, public and private services who are capable for those jobs but they don't give us. We had one or two ambassadors, the current ambassador to Gambia and the previous one. You go to other offices there is no chief executive of federal parastatal today that is from the FCT. There is no chairman of a board of any ministry or parastatal is occupied by any FCT indigenes. I'm talking about the real indigenes, not those who claim, because that it is the other aspect. You find out that there are some people who come here because FCT is for everybody, they claim positions on behalf of the FCT. We are not saying that people should not come, at least, no community develops without people coming to settle there, but at least we should be accorded our due.

'That excuse is just given for political expediency. There are many people, but because of political party considerations and other factors, you find out that they have to satisfy those who have contributed in funding their political aspirations or compensate those who play key roles in realising their political goals. I'm not saying that shouldn't be done, because it is done is the states, but justifiably we should see that there is an effort on ground that there is true representation. That is what we are talking about.

The other excuse they give is that indigenes cannot meet up the standard which some of the jobs require, that is why they are given to those from other states who claim FCT. In its stead they allocate low profile positions like messengers, cleaners and other menial jobs Are we supposed to be only hewers of wood and fetchers of water? No! Tell me. It is not suppose to be like that.

'A situation whereby you have taken something from somebody, you must be seen to make efforts in order to give something back to that person so that he will have the benefit of what you have taken from him. You cannot continue to use that argument. When did FCT come into being? 1976. Are you saying that over 30 years, FCT indigenes have not been able to build themselves to a certain degree that you have a minister come from FCT or one or two ambassadors from FCT? That you will have executives of federal parastatals from FCT? That you have directors of ministries and agencies from FCT? That is not correct. I don't believe that that excuse is tenable in 2009. It might have been tenable 10, 20 or 30 years ago, but not today.

I won't let the cat out of the bag, but I would want to say that we are making headway. The people who are supposed to attend to our demands are listening. We are getting there. Even if we are crawling, we are getting there.

Demands
'Our demands come to one point; adequate political, economic and social compensation. For political compensation, we want the right to vote for the person that will govern us. We have always said that we want a mayor in FCT, which is tenable in other parts of the world. There should be a mayor in Abuja who will govern such areas that are not directly in the city, so that we can exercise our political rights to vote for him and he will be directly responsible to us. That is one. The other aspect of political compensation is adequate representation in the House of Representatives. We need more members of House of Representatives. By the population today, you know that we need a break-up of AMAC and Bwari.

Definitely, AMAC needs more than one, we need about two. We need more area councils, particularly in AMAC. AMAC needs to be broken up in two or three area councils. So those are the political aspects. I talked about the economic. We need a reform in the land issue. We are already thinking that there should be an FCT land compensation and reparation commission. Just like Niger Delta Commission, or HYPAEDEC, so that we can put adequate value to lands in FCT and pay adequate compensation not using the Land use Act that is obsolete. That will help us economically, because as I've said our people are agrarian in nature.

'Socio-cultural and educational, yes, I told you that we have more schools now than in the past, but we need more schools. Go to any FCT schools and see the population in the class. We are talking about the range of 100 and 150 students in a class. Go to Government Secondary School here in Karu, you will weep. We also remember the news item where the minister went to Lugbe Secondary School , he was shocked. He could not believe it is FCT.

'These are some of the problems, if they are more schools just like I've said are poor, they cannot afford private schools, so our younger ones can go to school, be more educated and more equipped to face life. That is one aspect, when we talk of social economic. In the aspect of socio-cultural, I thank the administration to a very great extend because culturally, most of our traditional institutions were recognised.

'We do believe that we have reached a stage where the FCT administration has to look into these institutions with the view to either modernising these institutions or upgrading them. There is need to upgrade them because they have been there for the past 10 to 15 years and this does not augur well.

'We also feel there is need for FCT administration to establish more tertiary institutions. Our people cannot graduate from secondary school here and look out for other states for their tertiary institutions. There is a College of Education in Zuba, but that is not enough. There should be a polytechnic and why not a university of technology. These are the areas that the FCT administration should be looking into.

'May be we the older generation can hold our patience for more time. But you know the younger generation wants to see result. If they don't see result they will push us away and begin to do things in their own way. That is the scenario you see in the Niger Delta today. The older generation could not achieve what they are set out to do and the younger generation felt they have to take out arms because it is the best way to achieve it. That is why we keep saying that the government of the day should listen to us, the earlier the better so that things are put in their right perspective. If things are put in their correct perspective within a short time, I'm sure this issue will not repeat itself in the federal capital. But if government continues not to bother, I'm praying, I don't wish it, I hope it will not happen, but I cannot tell. The earlier they do something about it the better.'