Dear FCT Minister, This Centre No Longer Holds!, By Gimba Kakanda
I was dissuaded from writing to you, from alerting you to things you are likely too busy to see. The main reason given for this was that writing to you is futile and, in some cases, there was the added collateral argument that you do not exist. My stubbornness is informed by my having seen your photographs hanging on the walls of several offices in this Abuja, enough to object to the mischief of They who shall remain nameless. I know it’s not easy serving as escort to a jet-setting president, accompanying him to the airport whenever he travels and receiving him there on his return. When I brought this up, They dismissed even that tasking role as a proof of your existence and love for us. They refused to see that you’re Agent Double O Seven, protecting the president with whom we are still in love. In fact, and forgive me for saying it, They said you’re a ghost worker. I have no interpretation of this other than your perception – by them, that is – of you as a ceremonial administrator.
I gather that the FCT Budget for the 2016 fiscal year has just been signed by the president. This has moved me to point out some of our problems you don’t seem to have acknowledged. I want you to see the things we see the way they are, this city’s gradual fall unto ruin under your watch. Over the years, we dealt with the horrors of the city’s urban slums, how such monstrous poverty managed to find an incubator in this city of limitless wealth and billionaire policymakers. Outside the city were even more dehumanising evidences of poverty fed fat by years of elitising public policies. Aside from Abuja Municipal, which was fixed to serve as a paradise for our criminally rich politicians, the other five Area Councils – Abaji, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Bwari and Kwali – have been eyesores.
As a man of piety, to which those who know you have testified, the de-elitisation of public policies and reforms is expected from you. Even though your background as former head of an organisation tasked with managing religious activities, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, was cited in your early days to question your capacity, I am indifferent to such an allegation. But it’s devastating now to see you not only seem to lack plans for the five neglected Area Councils but further seem incapable of keeping Abuja Municipal in shape. You have to prove us wrong, Sir.
The metaphor of the decay of this capital of Nigeria, once proclaimed “the fastest-growing city in Africa” by a drunkard I’m yet to identify, came to me around 5pm, on August 26. The epiphany happened in Maitama, arguably Abuja’s most beautiful district. In the course of the day’s rain, Nile Street attempted to become the river it was named after. The street was flooded from up to the Nile delta at Alvan Ikoku Street. And the message I got was a loud cry for intervention, for simply a working drainage system. I assure you it’s worse elsewhere. It should frighten you that rain causes flooding, damage and safety risks even in Maitama.
You may want to go for a lone tour of FCT. You don’t have to fear for paparazzi or kidnappers, since you’re really not known outside your office. Do this at once and see what this city looks like when it rains. Do so at night too, and see the dysfunctional streetlamps. My cousin assures me that half of the streetlights between Berger and Kubwa do not work. Go out for a walk in the afternoon and note that there are no signposts to alert your citizens to the death traps that are the missing manhole covers along our streets. Sewage runs across the street regularly in Garki and Utako. Sir, there’s far more to city management than taking over the role of Mr. President’s Head of Protocol.
A friend once observed that it’s the “dormant” chairmen of FCT Area Councils that made your own inactivity too obvious, and I’m wondering why there seems to be no communication of the reasons our five other Area Councils look like big villages of a country emerging from a decade-long recession.
Yet, you’re a lucky man. You seem to be under no pressure to deliver because your office isn’t elective, and is thus protected from the outrage of a disappointed electorate. But no matter what, there should be a channel for communicating your development plans and how you seek to take us by surprise by outperforming even your worst predecessors. You’re appointed to serve the people, and isn’t it weird that there are no explanations for these perpetual risks of flood, health hazards from open sewers and traffic mess as a result of malfunctioning streetlamps and stray herdsmen who, some have said, mistake the city for Federal Cattle Territory?
A friend once observed that it’s the “dormant” chairmen of FCT Area Councils that made your own inactivity too obvious, and I’m wondering why there seems to be no communication of the reasons our five other Area Councils look like big villages of a country emerging from a decade-long recession. These people are economically downtrodden, denied basic social amenities, and forsaken. I was once a part of an NGO that navigated places with no motorable roads, no healthcare centres and poorly equipped schools, in this Abuja. The pupils couldn’t even afford books and uniforms. Isn’t it disgraceful that small NGOs build boreholes and schools for communities just a thirty minute drive from your office?
If you’re ever allowed to join the president’s jet on one of his trips overseas, how would you respond to questions around the state of the nation’s capital by potential investors? Because it will be sheer fraud to deny, in Washington DC or London, that Abuja is neither dysfunctional nor even convenient for investment or habitation. An existence threatened by flood, traffic lawlessness, power outage, sanitation systems not maintained, disorganised and unreliable intra-city transportation, amongst others, is too much baggage for any serious investor seeking to migrate to Nigeria’s supposedly most organised modern city.
Mallam Mohammed Bello, Abuja residents don’t have to wake up and find themselves floating in water before you intervene. While you’re deciding what to do with the budget, respond to these collapsing features of the city. At least, embark on fixing the drainage system, restore the missing manhole covers, have streetlamps fixed at strategic places, stop the shit from getting on the streets and make the placing of signposts a priority of your administration. Be creative, court private partners. These things don’t cost a fortune. May God save us from us!