My parents moved to Abuja in 1991, at a time when many Nigerians still believed that the new capital city would not succeed. The average Nigerian was skeptical and preferred to remain in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano or wherever else they called home at the time. I remember my siblings and I standing at the balcony of our home, screaming out to whoever passed by the street and asking them if they wanted to be our friend. My street averaged about 4 cars a day driving by. Abuja was that empty and boring. Places like Wuse 2, Utako, Wuye, Gwarimpa, and large parts of Maitama did not exist at the time. Everyone knew everyone and life was pretty simple.
I have watched the Abuja dream evolve over the years and it has been interesting to see how dramatic it has been sometimes. From Wuse 2 going from a mud filled construction site to a modern district today, as well as the never-ending resettlement of indigenes across the territory, Abuja has always had quite a story to tell. There have also been the dramatic Ministers. Before the very poplar Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, there was the original ‘Demolisher-In-Chief’ even though she was only a Minister of State; Prof. Miriam Ikejiani-Clark. She demolished illegal properties so often then that there was even a story once that she started driving the tractors by herself.
I was in Abuja for most of last week and it is tough to understand what is happening to my dear city. For many, especially first time visitors from crazy Lagos and other Nigerian cities, Abuja still feels like a mini paradise. But it is almost impossible not to notice the cracks that are starting to show up; cracks that could eventually lead to a full on collapse if care is not taken.
The most glaring issue in Abuja today for even the visually impaired is the fact that streetlights no longer work. I stated once that it is such an irony that Lagos has more functional streetlights than Abuja these days. Drive through major roads and inner streets in the city and you would be lucky to find more than 3 working bulbs per street. You would think that by now, people in authority should know that a well-lit city isn’t a luxury anymore. The effects it has on safer driving and a reduced crime rate cannot be over emphasized. One of the reasons why Oshodi in Lagos is not half as dangerous as it used to be anymore, is simply because lights were turned on there.
As sad as that sounds, it gets even worse. I can’t remember driving past any traffic light all through my stay in Abuja (except the ones beside the Federal Secretariat) and seeing it on. Abuja junctions or intersections are notorious for accidents. Some in particular like the one at Chicken House in Wuse 2 and the one by the ThisDay Dome in Central Area, have become constant accident zones simply because the red, amber and green lights, hang there and don’t work anymore. How hard can it be to fix something as basic and fundamental as traffic lights? Makes me wonder if I should even bother to go on and mention the lack of street markings and road signs in most parts of the city, since those are obviously not near priority right now.
One thing that should be priority though, is waste disposal. I was in Onitsha a few weeks ago and told a family friend that most other state governors need to visit the Lagos Waste Management Authority and find out how they have been able to keep Lagos relatively refuse free. It is tough to believe that Abuja might need that recommendation too. There is no reason why I should be driving through Maitama and seeing over flowing trash all over the place. Makes you wonder how bad other parts of the city are if such a highbrow area could be so neglected and trash filled.
Still wondering? Well, all you need to do is visit Utako. I could not believe what met my eyes around the Utako ‘Ultra Modern’ Market. The smell and piles of waste that lay right beside some of the most decent housing estates I’ve ever seen, were too shocking to comprehend. Are ultra modern markets meant to overflow into the streets? And if they are, is it against the law to keep them organized? The ever-popular Wuse Market is no better. Some sort of night market has now developed on the main road outside the market walls. Drive past there anytime after 6pm and you’d wonder if that’s what the Ghanaians saw in Accra before deciding to chase Nigerians out. Total madhouse and unbelievable chaos!
Did I forget the commercial buses and taxis? They have learnt well from their Lagos brothers. Everywhere is a bus stop. Sadly, the police aren’t interested in making sure that the drivers follow the law, as those ones are too busy blocking off streets to protect their stations from bomb attacks. Danfos drive on sidewalks, chasing pedestrians off when there’s the slightest hint of traffic, then they run over places where grass and trees used to be all in the name of picking up passengers. Tiny problems right now, but anyone who knows will tell you that this was how Lagos’ journey south started.
My biggest problem with Abuja is the lack of continuity in leadership. Between my arrival in Abuja and now (a span of 21 years), there have been 9 FCT Ministers. If not that Gen. Useni and Mallam El-Rufai both stayed for 5 years and almost 4 years resepctiverly, we would have had something close to 12 or 13 Ministers, seeing that the average life span of the other ministers is 2 years. There’s nobody who can properly formulate and implement policy to run a city within such a short time, which makes me wonder why the territory continues to be run like an agency. There is a continuous call for elective positions to be made available for the city and it couldn’t be more correct.
Since the first FCT Minister in 1979, John Jatau Kadiya, every single minister of the territory till date, has been a northerner. Many believe that the government has refused to make the city’s administration an elective one because northerners know they would lose control to the large southern population in the city. I am not one to dwell on tribal sentiments and thus, refuse to hold on that. What I want to dwell on is the fact that the FCT cannot continue to be run like this. It is time to create a Mayor’s position for the city; one that is electable by all residents for two 4-year renewable tenures. It is the way all major cities across the world are run. We all know that the Federal Government is already a mess as it is with all it has on its plate. The FCT distraction is one too many for them to continue to hold on to.