Displaced original Abuja inhabitants and ceaseless lamentations

Abuja City gate

Over the years, alleged neglect and a myriad of challenges have continued to plague the indigenous people of Abuja, otherwise known as the Original Inhabitants of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). In this report, KEHINDE OSASONA gives more insight.

UN standpoint and the law

Globally, there are an estimated 476 million indigenous peoples living in over 90 countries. According to the United Nations, indigenous Peoples make up only six percent (6%) of the global population but account for about nineteen percent (19%) of the poorest people on the planet.

The Indigenous Peoples often lack formal recognition over their lands, territories and natural resources, are often last to receive public investments in basic services and infrastructures or participate fully in the formal economy, enjoy access to justice, or even participate in political processes and decision making in their vicinity.

In Nigeria, the OIA comprises the various tribes, settlements and communities that were living in and around Abuja before the Federal Government of Nigeria declared it as the Federal Capital Territory.

As of the last count, there are nine indigenous tribes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) which includes the Gbagyi(also called Gwari), Gbari, Bassa, Amwamwa, Egbira, Gade, Ganagana, Gwandara, Koro and Hausa settlers (Hausa, Herders, etc.) who were to be properly resettled in adjoining areas of the FCT as part of compensations for their dislocation.

The Territory’s area councils, Abaji, Abuja Municipal (AMAC), Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kuje and Kwali had over three million people living there as of 2020. The city (FCC, Abuja) is divided into five districts namely: Central District, Garki District, Wuse District, Maitama District and Asokoro District.

The master plan

Under the Abuja master plan, the OIs were to be resettled within the FCT or outside the FCT. While some of the OIs were already resettled, the government later prioritized developing infrastructure over completing the resettlement. Resettlement wasn’t the only compensation listed in the master plan. It also includes equal access to citizenship and opportunities.

Today, some of the OIs have relocated to neighbouring states, while others move further inwards to enable them to live their simple life of farming and send their families away from the city. In spite of these, it can be seen that the OIs have been highly marginalised and economically deprived which should not have been the case.

Since the loss of their ancestral land and displacement of the people from their original habitats, the indigenous people now coexist with other tribes who have migrated to Abuja for various reasons.

For decades, there have been agitations by FCT Original Inhabitants over previous promises made by the late Gen. Murtala Mohammed, in 1976, after the acquisition of their lands. It was agreed that the original inhabitants would be resettled outside the territory by the then government. However, decades after, the promises are yet to be fulfilled; this is an experience that has now led to disappointments and endless agony.

As a way of assuaging the first known settlers on land and what they have lost to higher powers, the United Nations under the auspices of the global non-governmental organisation chooses the 9th of August to celebrate International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples around the world.

“Indigenous” people are citizens whose forebears and children were raised on land that they assumed to be their ancestral homes and birthright until by dint of law or sheer power; they lose that land to new owners who claim it as theirs in the public interest.

As it were, stakeholders and concerned Nigerians are worried about the continuous neglect and their apparent push towards the hinterland.

Marking the day recently at the 2022 National Dialogue on Rights of Original Inhabitants in the FCT with the theme: “Building Resilience, Fostering Recovery: FCT Original Inhabitants and the Struggle for Social Justice,” the executive director, Centre for Transparency Advocacy, CTA, Faith Nwadisihi, called for concerted efforts to advance the plights of FCT original inhabitants to the Federal Government, in order to push the government into action.

As the dialogue persists, one of the major documents which purportedly led to the alleged age-long injustices and marginalisation suffered by FCT Original Inhabitants is the 1999 Constitution.

The law

Section 297(2) of the constitution states that the “ownership of all lands in the Federal Capital Territory shall vest in the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” but the same constitution is silent about the people who were existing on the land before the coming of the capital.

Many rights activists and advocates have berated successive governments on their prolonged silence on the issue, interpreting it to mean that there were no pre-existing indigenous populations in the area before the acquisition of the lands in the territory by the government.

It reads, “Provisions of this Constitution shall apply to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as if it were one of the States of the Federation; and accordingly (a) all the legislative powers, the executive powers and the judicial powers vested in the House of Assembly, the Governor of a State and in the courts of a State shall, respectively vest in the National Assembly, the President of the Federation and the courts which by virtue of the foregoing provisions are courts established for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”

Although the Supreme Court has declared Abuja as a state, the National Assembly is yet to put the necessary process in place to effect the recognition.

A public commentator, Hafeez Ayedun, wondered why the rights of the native settlers are not being respected by the Nigerian government.

“Apart from political appointments, I also think the indigenes deserved some other attention other than just mayoralty or even ministerial position as advanced by concerned groups.

Concerns

Recently, the Human Rights and Civil Education (CHRICED) foundation urged the government to give the original inhabitants a listening ear and revamp their cultural heritage through women and youth empowerment and cultural preservation.

Urbanisation occasioned by the acquisition of land for the development of the nation’s capital, according to the CHRICED, has rendered the original inhabitants of the FCT stateless without adequate compensations.

The communiqué issued at the end of the National Stakeholders reads, “Preamble: Indigenous peoples are distinguished by their ancestral land, their distinct language, culture and time honoured values which are treasured and have been preserved for centuries;

“In Nigeria, the rights of indigenous peoples are a major challenge in the search for sustainable development, peace and stability; Aware that the Original Peoples of the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) are indigenous to their territories, their ancestral land which they have lived for centuries.

“That they own the land; the land is their livelihood, their dignity and pride; they have cultivated the land which is their greatest material and spiritual assets; That the indigenous peoples in the FCT are about nine with their own culture and civilisations that continue to face existential threats from various dimensions;

“That the conference was convened to keep stakeholders abreast of the socio-economic and cultural issues affecting the Original Peoples of the FCT.

“That indigenous peoples in FCT are recognised by their own history and values backed by international instruments including but not limited to International Convention in Indigenous Peoples, the ILO Convention 168 all of which emphasise the protection of indigenous peoples including their intellectual and cultural property; Recognise that on December 23, 1994, the UN General Assembly resolution 49/214 adopted the International Day of Indigenous Peoples;

“Aware that The United Nations (UN) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples was established on July 28 to address the challenges of indigenous peoples all over the world.”

At another briefing, the president, Helpline Foundation, Dr. Jumai Ahmadu, noted that over 81 aboriginal inhabitants of the FCT had been trained on cultural skills and were ready to continue to preserve their culture in the place where their land is fast becoming a no man’s land.

Speaking on the sacrifice made by the indigenes recently, the Etsu of Kwali, Alhaji Shaban Audu, said what they needed was after all they had done was equal opportunity.

“We have sacrificed a lot. Though we remain grateful to the government because certain things have been done, more needs to be done for the socio-political advancement of the people,” he said.

While calling for more engagements, the secretary, Garki Traditional Council, Chief Lazarus Nyaholo, said: “We don’t want resettlement; we want to be integrated in governance.”

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