THE ABUJA LAND MESS
Land of rocks. Land of beauty. Land of exotic cars and limos. And well-paved roads. Land of breath-taking mansions. And skyscrapers. Land of GMG (you must know what that means if you are a Nigerian living in Nigeria). Land of cash-grabbing legislators and fat-bellied contractors.
Land of law and lawlessness. Land of power and the powerful, and of course, powerless citizens. Land of abundance, filled with the hungry. Bustling city, yet a city without soul. No man's land. No brother's keeper. A city where it's a sin to be broke or poor. Cold and lonely city. City of the super-rich and super-poor. Land of a thousand tales. This is Abuja!
Abuja, city to love and to hate. Abuja, city of contrasts and contradictions. Abuja, city of bureaucrats and bureaucracy. Abuja, city of chop chop politicians garbed in flowing robes; City of scarlet sisters from north, east and west, searching for gold on the laps of the big guys who make things happen in the dead of the night.
Abuja, city of the well-honed and the hustler. Abuja, city where most Nigerians storm with the dream of having their own slice of the national cake. And the dream turning in no time to pipe-dream. Abuja, city like no other. Abuja, city more fictional than fiction. Abuja is the place for the writer or novelist who will find the city serene for the literary business and enough materials to craft a story that may look like fiction but in actual fact, a real life story. Sleaze city, where the major language spoken is cash!
Abuja, city that presents the so-called giant of Africa in all its stark contradictions. Rich nation, poor citizens. Glittering city, shanty towns. Well-fed few, majority gaunt-looking and destitute. Long, exotic cars, and ramshackle cabs and buses for the poor. Well-paved roads and boulevards, and no-roads in the creeks from where the black gold flows. A city evoking the unjust nature of man to his fellow man; the majority's injustice to the minority ethnic groups of the Niger-Delta. Pause and ponder: How come the land of black gold is not paved with gold like Abuja? How come those glittering edifices and cars are not found in the creeks of the Niger-Delta? How come only pollution and environmental degradation are the reward of God's abundance for the oppressed people of the Delta region?
Abuja, Nigeria's city of illusion. A city that deceives the world that we are living well, that we are the happiest people on earth, when in actual fact, we are some of the saddest. No thanks to our leaders, sorry, eaters, who ensure that majority of the citizens take no supper to bed and have neither breakfast nor lunch.
Abuja, a city that epitomizes our squandered opportunities as a nation. Fractured hope. Lost Eden. If Abuja can look this way, this beautiful, even with the billions brazenly stolen by our leaders, you can then imagine what the whole country would have been if our national resources had been judiciously used.
Yet, Abuja also represents the way we ought to be living as a nation if only we can do the right things: traffic lights generally work. Motorists try to be less crazy than their Lagos counterparts. Citizens fear to be caught on the wrong side of the law. There is a certain degree of orderliness in this city, which can be replicated in other cities and towns across the nation, if and when we decide to do our home work properly. But the big question: are we ready to do the right things?
I am writing about our nation's capital in today's column because of the sad news emanating from here. The sad, ugly news of rape by a man charged with developing this city. A man who was charged with ensuring that all Nigerians have a sense of belonging in our 'centre of unity' turned round, like others before him, to favour his own people and thought it was his golden opportunity to empower himself and his people, from his own state, as well as, his army of friends and hangers-on
Oh no, I weep for Abuja, the city serially raped by successive ministers who have had the privilege to serve as helmsmen of the territory. Grabbing the land and dashing same to their friends, relations and cronies, and turning them into instant multi-millionaires as land dealers and speculators. Apart from a couple of them, there has been few ministers of the FCT who did not profiteer from land racketeering.
And the latest news shows how the recently fired minister of FCT, Alhaji Adamu Aliero, an ex-Customs big wig and ex-governor of Kebbi State, reportedly turned Abuja land into his own oil well and allegedly parceled out several hectares to his Kebbi kinsmen and other cronies to the detriment of other deserving Nigerians. In a detailed expose by Abuja-based DAILY TRUST newspapers, Aliero in under a year and a half, allegedly allocated a total of 2, 778 residential plots of land. 'Of this number,' said the newspaper, 'his home state of Kebbi received the highest number of plots,' while some other states got a paltry 20. Apart from this glaring display of nepotism, Aliero was also said to have breached due process in the frenzy he went about his business. 'Aliero assumed duties on December 17, 2008, six months after his predecessor established an 11-member FCT land Use and Allocation Committee. But throughout the period of his reign as minister, the lands committee did not meet and did not recommend any plot allocation in the FCT.'
Aliero's method, investigations revealed, was to: 'send a list of his approvals for plot allocation to the AGIS[the land department] through two of his Special Assistants…These aides, throughout Aliero's tenure, were responsible for all the plot allocations in the FCTA.' The Daily Trust newspaper in its Friday, April 16, 2010, edition also went into details of alleged abuse of office by the Aliero administration. You may wish to read that edition, and you will be quite saddened by the gross abuse of power by a supposed leader. You will be disappointed at the resort to primitivism of a man who was thought competent to occupy that high national office.
I am happy that the new FCT helmsman, Senator Bala Mohammed, has ordered a probe into all land allocations between 2007 till date, to ascertain the degree of abuse by those who presided over land allocation. But in so doing, I hope he will ensure there's no witch-hunting or resort to blackmail in order to deal with perceived enemies of the current henchmen in power . I also hope he too will not fall into the trap of his predecessors. That he too will not turn into a land merchant, dispensing undue favours to his family and friends. We have seen ministers in the Territory who started off decrying the land allocation abuse by his predecessor and promising to sanitize the system, but ended up perpetuating worse criminality.
Aliero, who is today being pilloried, for alleged abuse of office, also once lampooned his predecessors for not doing the right thing. But in a matter of time, he himself metamorphosed into a land mogul. That is the hypocrisy of the Nigerian ruling class. That remains the tragedy of leadership. I hope by the time Senator Bala leaves, he himself will not be under probe for doing what Aliero is being accused of.
As for Aliero, he ought to ask himself some questions: was he just and fair to all Nigerians in the way he ruled the FCT? Is he proud of his stewardship? Would his parents be proud of him? And finally, will God be happy with how he utilized his opportunity to serve Nigerians at the ministerial level? If his answers are not yes, then he owes all of us an explanation, because FCT doesn't have the same spelling and meaning as Aliero. Will the EFCC and ICPC dig in and do what's right?