45 years after: Abuja still home for all?

Forty-five years after the establishment of Abuja as the nation’s capital, the slogan: Home For All and Centre of Unity has been called to question in several quarters over several issues, however, authorities insist it’s serving the purpose, ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is 45 years old. It dates back to 1976 when the late Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed-led military regime set the machineries in motion for the relocation of the nation’s capital from Lagos to Abuja. The move was reportedly followed congestion and over population it the Lagos, which till date remains the nation’s commercial capital.

The idea was to relocate to a well planned modern city on virgin lands with provisions for facilities and infrastructure for modern development.

Beside this, it was envisaged that Abuja would serve the dual purpose of being Nigeria’s capital and a home for all Nigerians irrespective of state of origin. This was a feature lacking in Lagos which is located in exclusively a Yoruba speaking community.

The original inhabitants of the FCT, who were predominantly of Gbagyi ethnic group, were to be relocated and resettled.

Abuja came alive under the administration of former President Shehu Shagari but it was stalled between 1984 and August 1985 before General Ibrahim Babangida’s regime began the implementation of the capital city master plan.

Many years after, a lot has happened including the relocation of all federal government offices from Lagos to the FCT; the construction of massive housing schemes and development of six areas council under the territory; besides road networks and other infrastructure that adorn the city.

It is, however, unclear if the dream of founding fathers of making Abuja a true home for all Nigerians has been achieved.

FCT as a model city

According to Jamila Musa in ‘Celebrating Abuja at 45’, “Abuja’s imminent celebration of its 45 years of creation which, indeed, is a milestone worth celebrating, is not just a celebration but a rekindling of our hope in the future of the capital city.

“It is good a thing that this celebration is happening under the leadership of a man who has not only demonstrated his commitment to the execution of the plans behind the creation of the city, but also attaches special importance to the values of integrity, kindness, selflessness and service without which Abuja nay, Nigeria cannot prosper.”

She further stated that, “As a first-time visitor, the first thing that strikes you is Abuja’s marvellous ability to hold you utterly enchanted and leaves you that way for several months as you remain in it. And even if you did go away, it still leaves a very lucid picture of its amazing coolness and serenity in your mind, such that you ever long to return to the city.

“The reason for this feeling is not far-fetched; you do not expect to see such a sprawl, such exquisiteness and strange blend of multiple cultures, ethnicities, languages, social characterisations and creed in this part of the world.”

According to her, the development of infrastructure is contributing immensely to the growth of Abuja with roads being resurfaced, parks and green spaces cleaned up and the city’s numerous tourists attractions, including its famed gardens receiving good rating among the populace.

Aesthetics without cultural reorientation

While Musa may be right in her perception, a social anthropologist, Otumba Agbaya Jolayemi, told Blueprint Weekend that aesthetics without cultural reorientation in Abuja as a way of uniting everyone means nothing and therefore antithetical to home growth.

Raising several rhetorical questions, he asked: “What has happened to the much-celebrated Abuja Carnival that was becoming a toast to the city dwellers and an attraction to outsiders in the days of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo?

What has happened to the coordinated effort towards projecting a cultural heritage from the nation’s capital aimed at writing the history in a hall of fame?

According to Jolayemi, “Many of our children do not know our tradition anymore because almost all of them born and brought up in Abuja are already suffering from cultural alienation.

“They now see and adopt foreign cultures as against our indigenous cultures which would have obviously united everyone more just like football does. You can imagine the beauty of showcasing one’s culture in a diverse society like we have in Abuja.

“For me, as long as we cannot lash on our different cultural heritages in order to bond together in Abuja, we are just living on borrowed time.”

FCT built on foundation of unity, tolerance Ministers insists.

The minister of the FCT, Musa Bello, while addressing some guests who paid him a courtesy visit in the wake of the #EndSARS protests, reminded residents that the territory was built on a solid foundation of unity and tolerance for one another.

He enjoined residents to reflect on the challenges confronting the nation in order to imbibe the essence of piety, tolerance, and fellowship in dealing with other residents.

According to him, “Let’s embrace dialogue to settle our differences and reject all attempts by unpatriotic individuals or groups to incite violence which in the end is unrewarding.”

Also speaking in the same vein, the Minister of State, Mrs Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, reminded the guests that they were indeed brothers and sisters regardless of ethnic or religious affiliations.

According to the minister of state, damages that result from uprising affects every sector, section, and economy of the country.

The guests had earlier noted that the FCT had always been a home to all Nigerians where residents can practice their faith and professions without hindrance.

The #EndSARS protests, however, exposed the fragile nature of the territory and the need for residents to heed the minister’s advice in order to live in harmony.

It’s failed as Centre of Unity

On his part, a social commentator, Wake Adebanwi, insists that many things were still wrong with Abuja as the Centre of Unity.

“Abuja as the political capital seems to have followed the same principle of gigantic consumption without production that feeds and sustains the core of the Nigerian national elite.

“Indeed, despite the idyllic conception of Abuja as a model city, the contradictions in the Nigerian society are already there.

“Apart from the rabid corruption that surrounded Abuja’s construction and continued expansion, the violations of the master plan and countless other problems, given that the main function of Abuja is political administration, the type of federal administration that the country has experienced in Abuja cannot be said to make the cost of its construction worthwhile.

“Indeed, as a symbolic Centre of Unity, Abuja has not been a success and as a practical centre of unity, it has largely failed.

“As the construction of the new political capital progressed, controversies and debate over the ‘northernisation’ of Abuja in symbolic and material terms were raised as evidence of the fact that Abuja was far from being a centre of unity.

“First, for a capital that was designed to be a ‘neutral’ ground for all Nigerians, critics in the south have raised many objections not only to the way in which Abuja has been ‘northernised’ and treated as part of the North of Nigeria, but also to the concomitant ‘Islamisation’ of the capital city.”

He further stated that, “For a Centre of Unity the traditional rulers of the original inhabitants have either continued their reign in the capital city or constructed newer centres of power. And given that the original settlers were predominantly Muslims, these traditional rulers are Muslim rulers too, as in the Hausa-Fulani North of Nigeria.

“The Abuja Emirate that existed before the FCT was created was sustained and expanded; such places as Sarkin Garki (in the Garki District) and Ona of Abaji are occupied by Muslim northerners.

“The administrators of the FCT seem to have turned a blind eye to this headship of districts by Muslim traditional rulers, thus affirming their traditional claim over the areas that are supposed to be no-man’s-land.”

“Indeed, by the time General Babangida moved to Abuja in 1991, Sharia Courts were already springing up in the territory alongside traditional institutions.

“Indeed, often in matters related to the North and Islam, there are constant references in the media to the 19 states of the North and FCT, Abuja.

“Again, the fact that only Muslim northerners have been made ministers of the FCT has also raised concerns. Apart from the democratic issues raised over the refusal to allow for the election of a mayor of the city, questions have asked why only a section of the country has monopolised the headship of the Ministry of the FCT, with wide-ranging implications for the character of the city and for land distribution.

“In relation to this, it is clear that given the dominance of Muslim northerners in the highest decision-making organs of governments over the years, little thought was originally given to the multicultural and multi-faith status of Abuja.”

‘Creative ideals of founding fathers thriving’

All these challenges notwithstanding, however, Jamila Musa is of the view that the pride of Abuja as it is today lies in its dynamic style and passion of many ministers that have administered the city over the years.

“It is also a likeable city for reasons of its cool, breathable air, sprawling trees and its green, open landscapes which have been made possible by the commitment of the administration and the demonstrated doggedness and passion of the current minister to the dreams and creative ideals of the founding fathers of our capital city.

“The discipline of its people and continuous growth in infrastructure as well as environmental culture has ensured the city’s ascent into becoming a healthy and prosperous one.”

This, she said, has reinforced the belief in the reality of transformation into one of the leading global economies in years to come.

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