The agitation by the indigenous people of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for compensation and full indigene status in the territory has been going on for a very long time. ELEOJO IDACHABA examines the agitation and the government’s position.
In the recent past, several groups laying claims to the indigeneship status of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have been in the news calling on the government to accord the territory its pride of place among other states of the federation.
Though this agitation has been going on for a while, the resurgence intensified recently following the rejection by the Senate of a bill seeking to recognise the mayoral status for the territory. By this, the aspiration of the natives to assume the position of mayor in which they can have a strong bargaining power in the country was jettisoned.
One of such groups is Abuja Grassroots Advocacy Project (AGAP. Its chief advocate, Comrade Yunusa Yusuf, at a recent press briefing in Abuja with stakeholders in attendance threatened a mass protest that would paralyse the territory if the National Assembly failed to revisit the mayoral status and ministerial bill rejected by the Senate.
They consequently informed the government not to blame them for any civil unrest that would arise if the bill was not revisited and passed into law even as they vowed that they “can no longer tolerate” their alleged marginalisation by the government.
He said, “We want to warn clearly that since we are not considered as Nigerians like other citizens, the lawmakers should be visiting this FCT as if they are also foreigners coming to a foreign country. Since we are not Nigerians and we lack identity, the country has nothing to offer us.
“From now, we have decided that we are not going to wait for another four years. We are going to take our destiny by force. By this, we are calling on members of the National Assembly to be very careful, especially the northerners amongst them, who have newly been voting against the FCT mayoral status bill.”
Another group, Abuja Original Inhabitant Youths Empowerment Organisation (AOIYEO), also intensified its agitations for the identification of Abuja, the nation’s capital, with a mayoral status in order to ensure the sustenance of what they called equity and inclusive governance within the territory.
Its secretary general, Yahuza Abubakar, leading other members during a press briefing said, “Abuja deserves a leadership that would reflect the mind of the young and ambitious because of its nature and the growing electorate.
“There is lack of community participation in the decision-making processes by indigenes of the territory, a development that puts the indigenes at a disadvantaged position in the scheme of things.”
On his part, the general secretary, Coalition of FCT Indigenous Association, Barrister Christopher Dada, noted that the territory had been administered without any resistance while no one takes them seriously.
He decried the situation of crisis between indigenous tribes and residents who operate on different frequencies on Gbagyi land, saying “unfortunately no one seems to speak on the basis of compensation” for them.
According to him, “The people are fast becoming landless because they have tactically been disposed of their land by the government machinery or the privileged absentee landlords, but why is such a calamity taking place over our people with ease? What has gone wrong with the hitherto peaceful people?”
In his view, the national coordinator of Greater Gbagyi Development Initiative of Nigeria (GG-DIN), Prince Gbaiza, said the “right thing should be done because if the people are left with nothing, the heritage of the Gbagyi man would go extinct.”
“Gbagyi people have turned themselves enemies to one another. That is why Kwali and Bwari can have non-indigenes as their traditional rulers, yet nothing seems to happen; that is why our politicians can be killed and heavens have not fallen; that is why our houses are demolished, land seized without compensation and heavens cannot weep. Will these happen in the Niger Delta, South-east, South-west or any of the northern states?”
In what appears a solidarity with the demand of the natives, last week, nine civil society organisations (CSOs) stormed the National Assembly to protest the rejection of proposed mayoral status for the territory.
The CSOs are Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Abuja Original Inhabitants Youth Empowerment Organisation, Association of FCT Traditional Rulers Wives, Mairo Women Foundation, Helpline Foundation for the Needy, Abiodun Essiet Initiative for Girls, Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Development Awareness, Socio Economic Research and Development Centre, Centre for Transparency Advocacy and HipCity Innovation Centre.
Speaking during the protest, the executive director of CHRICED, Dr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, said the rejection of mayoral status for the territory “amounts to legitimising exploitation and marginalisation of the natives.”
Such an action, he said, “creates the wrong impression that people who pursue non-violent means of achieving self-determination would be ignored which does not augur well for the country.”
He said, “Unfortunately, as a result of the outcomes of the vote on the proposed amendment, some issues that are critical to the welfare and well-being of the original inhabitants did not pass.
“Three such pertinent issues are the creation of an Office of the Mayor of the FCT, the nomination of a minister from the FCT to the Federal Executive Council and the allocation of a specific number of seats in the National Assembly to women.
“So, if issues strongly advocated by people at the grassroots are unable to see the light of day in the constitution review process, what is the point of junketing and wasting scarce resources across the country in the name of constitution review hearings?”
While all the agitations were going on, Blueprint Weekend’s investigation revealed that in line with the laid down plan of the government, the original settlers of the territory who would be displaced by the siting of the government seat in Abuja were to be compensated. In as much as no one was willing to come out categorically on the extent of compensation packages so far, a female top civil servant in the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory Administration who does not want her name in print because she is not permitted to speak on the matter told this reporter that the hues and cries about monetary compensation to the original settlers of the territory are because government has not come out clean on the matter. According to the woman, “what the government considers compensation is the relocation of some indigenes to the hinterland where some houses were built for them.”
“Some of the people were asked to move to new settlements where houses were built for them, but what those people wanted were not houses. They wanted money and not houses, but over the years, no government has come out to claim categorically that A and B have been paid.
“There is no sincerity in the way the matter has been treated by every government since 1999. The military administration even tried by identifying and building new settlements along Dei Dei-Zuba expressway and what they now call Apo Resettlement, but my brother, do you think the natives are stupid?
“Even if some of them that were forcefully asked to leave their ancestral lands and move to those settlements had agreed, by now, they would have been asked to relocate again because of the pace of development going on. That is not what they want. They want to be paid for taking over their land so that they can do whatever they want with their money and that was the understanding.”
She said further that, “The government is not sincere with the truth, that is why no one can come out to say who and who was compensated. Till now, some settlements in Garki and parts of Jabi are still standing within the city centre because it’s difficult to ask them to leave now unlike what the military did to those displaced from Wuse, Asokoro, Maitama and parts of Garki.”
Also, speaking with this reporter, Julius Dangana, a Gbagyi native who resides in Kuje, but works in the city, lamented that everything about compensation for the original settlers of the FCT is a fluke. He said it was unfortunate that people only talk about displaced persons from Asokoro, Wuse, Maitama and the likes, but asked, “What about places like Kuje, Kwali, Bwari, communities displaced along the airport road now taken over by the military and parts of Gwagwalada that indigenes have been forced to vacate their ancestral lands in favour of developers and government agencies?”
He said, “As we speak, no one knows the extent of psychological damage that this has caused the indigenes and their children. This is like time bomb that would explode in the future. They think that they can deny the people their rights forever? Wait and see the outcome in the future. There is no peace in these whole arrangements if this anomaly is not redressed.”
‘Compensation not only monetary’
This reporter made frantic efforts to speak with an official in MFCT and the spokesperson of the minister on the issues, but no one was ready to volunteer information. However, a source very close to the FCT minister speaking on the status of compensation of the indigenous people of the territory, disclosed that compensation, especially in the FCT, is not something that is possible for the government to do outrightly. He said the process of compensation in Abuja is complex, more so that the money with which to do that at once is not readily available to the government.
“The FCT Administration and the Department of Compensation and Resettlement has focused on the Federal Capital City (FCC), when it comes to compensation and resettlement. Indigenous people like those in Jabi, Garki, Wuse and the likes were earlier compensated and duly resettled. Let me add that up till now the FCT is still in the process of compensation and resettlement. As I said earlier, that is not something that is easily done,” the source said.
Further investigations Blueprint Weekend revealed that compensations are also going on in terms of agricultural projects and water projects being piloted by the administration in Kwali and Gwagwalada Area Councils of the territory.
In 2015, hundreds of protesters under the aegis of Coalition of Indigenous Inhabitants drawn from the six area councils of the territory staged a protest over this same matter as they alleged marginalisation by the federal government.
The natives said they staged the protest to clamour for what they called second tier government in Abuja to bring government closer to the people, even as they also expressed dissatisfaction with the way Abuja indigenes were allegedly treated in the composition of departments and agencies under the Federal Capital Development Administration (FCDA).