ABUJA: THEIR OWN ABUJA!
In 1975, the late Nigerian hero, General Murtala Mohammed appointed a committee on the new location of the Federal Capital of Nigeria. A seven-man committee was appointed, namely:
Dr Tai Solarin, South; Professor O.O. Ogan, South; Alhaji Mohammed Musa, North; Justice Akinola Aguda, South; Professor Ajato Gandonu, South; Chief Owen Fiebai, South; Col Monsignor Pedro Martins, South.
The terms of reference of the committee were:
• To examine the dual role of Lagos as a Federal and State Capital, and advise on the desirability or otherwise of Lagos retaining that role;
• In the event of the committee finding that the Federal Capital should move out of Lagos, to recommend suitable alternative locations.
I learnt that the committee toiled day and night for four months on the terms of reference and made this recommendation:
'For yet another reason, we would recommend that the Federal Government rather than Lagos State Government should remove its capital from Lagos. There is no doubt that Nigeria is a federation consisting of a large number of ethnic and language groups with different cultures and traditions. Now, Lagos is within an area traditionally belonging to one of the major ethnic groups, namely: the Yoruba. Of course, this is not to say that people from other ethnic groups have not settled in Lagos either temporary or permanently.
The point is clearly indisputable that the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of Lagos, we are told 75 and 80 percent, are Yoruba, that Lagos is essentially a Yoruba city with an Oba and traditional chiefs, and also that it is a city with predominantly Yoruba culture. In our view, the circumstances of Nigeria demand that the capital be not situated within a city of the type of Lagos with a strong connection with one of the major ethnic groups. If we were to recommend that Lagos should continue as capital for the Federal Government, while the Lagos State moves its capital elsewhere, this will not in our view, augur well for the unity of the country.'
The seven wise men cleverly avoided siting of the Federal Capital within one of the three major ethnic groups. The seven wise men were able to conclude that 'A new capital which will belong to every Nigerian, where every Nigerian will rest assured that he has an opportunity to live in parity with every other Nigerian, and where no Nigerian will be regarded either in law or on the facts as a 'native foreigner' and that such a capital created on a virgin land would be for the vast majority of Nigerians a symbol of their unity and of the nation's greatness.'
In selecting the new location, (now Abuja), the great men avoided a densely populated area and settled for a sparsely populated area where there would be few inhabitants to resettle.
Some of those inhabitants were resettled. When Murtala Mohammed died in 1976, the names suggested by Nigerians were abandoned and it was named Abuja - a name in an existing Northern emirate capital. The bottom line is that the successors of the Murtala-Obasanjo regime aborted the great dream of a Federal Capital of Nigeria which will be a home for all Nigerians conceived by a hero, General Murtala Mohammed. In the words of Justice Akinola Aguda, the chairman of the committee: 'the whole concept of a new Federal Capital Territory as a symbol of our unity and nationhood has been completely assassinated and buried'. Abuja is now being regarded as one of the States in the North. So the dream died and Nigeria lost (this is extracted from my book: HEROES OF DEMOCRACY).
At the peak of the June 12, 1993 presidential election debacle, the powers that be arraigned the winner of that election, the late Chief MKO Abiola in an Abuja High Court for declaring himself president. Thousands of Nigerians from all walks of life, men and women were travelling to Abuja to show solidarity with the President they elected with 14 million votes. On their way to Abuja, they were stopped by security agents who beat them up like common criminals.
On Wednesday September 20, 2011, the Action Congress of Nigeria sympathisers travelling to Abuja to witness the trial of their national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, at the Code of Conduct Bureau Tribunal were meted with the same ill treatment. They were as usual maltreated at Lokoja, detained and frustrated from moving into Abuja to express themselves. Now, if you think the clueless shenanigans will pay attention and listen to the wise counsel of eminent Nigerians to respect the rights of citizens, then you may be wrong. Again, on Tuesday October 25, 2011, 23 citizens of Osun State, travelling to Abuja in a branded Osun State Government vehicle were again stopped at Lokoja by security operatives led by the Kogi State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Amamama Ababakasanga and subjected to all manner of disgrace and humiliation.
Since 1993, those who have found themselves in the seat of power whether Military or Civilian have continued to do violence to the recommendations of the late Chief Akinola Aguda 7-man committee that were the brains behind the creation of Abuja. I do not know whether any of them is still alive today and if they are not, the justice we can do to them is to respect their dreams and make Abuja the home for all Nigerians. May these incessant ugly incidents we see in Lokoja every other day not be a reccurring decimal in the history of this country.
Igbokwe writes from Lagos.