In 1976, Abuja was selected as Nigeria’s new Federal Capital, which was previously Lagos. Lagos had experienced rapid growth as the capital of the State as well as the country. It became overpopulated, congested, did not have enough land space, was highly commercial, costly to live in and a whole medley of other challenges. The Aguda panel, under the Murtala Mohammed administration made recommendations for the relocation of the Capital Territory. The decision to move the Federal Capital to Abuja was taken after varied and detailed consideration.
Abuja does not have an elected mayor or governor, only a minister who is appointed by the President. Abuja has had an array of ministers. Among them, General Mamman Kontagora who was minister from 1999, was notable for construction and infrastructural growth. Adamu Aliero, who was minister from 2008, was also notable for infrastructural development. The most notable, to this day, is arguably Nasiru El-Rufa’i, who is currently the Governor in Kaduna State. The era of El-Rufa’i in Abuja is most likely the most memorable due to the amount of work he did to restore the master plan and all the controversy it came along with. Quite a number of illegal structures were demolished and although some people were displaced, he made an effort to relocate those people. Abuja being a capital city, he understood it was no place for beggars and motorcycles. Even though some of them have found their way back in, it is clear that there is a considerable difference even to this day.
Under the Abuja Leasing Company, El-Rufai tried to develop a system for transportation in Abuja, which is necessary for any capital and so new buses and taxis were introduced. Today, the transport system in Abuja is still weak. Many people who work within or close to the central area either drive in with a car or get squashed into small green shared taxis with no real system to depend on or use to navigate. It’s even worse at night when there are fewer green taxis on the road, many street lights that do not work and sidewalks that are used for parking; traffic lights also aren’t dependable as they are often not functional and people are mostly dependent on traffic wardens. He also set up the computerisation of land records, to reduce the incidences of forgery and fraud as relating to land and that was one of his notable achievements as minister of the FCT, along with development of satellite towns in the wider areas of the FCT such as Jabi and Katampe Extension.
A few Ministers came after El-Rufa’i. Bala Mohammed was minister for a number of years but he now faces corruption charges and after arrest is now out on bail. The current minister, Mohammed Bello, who doesn’t have any corruption charges against him also doesn’t seem to have impressed a lot of residents. Some have used words such as ‘slow’ and ‘lacklustre’ to describe him because they have not seen a lot of evidence in his direction towards development in the FCT. Although he does the necessary, in keeping up with routines such as cleaning within the capital, there’s not much to be seen or said about innovation or a grand vision.
Abuja in central areas is a clean place, bursting with commercial activities in Wuse 2, quiet and residential in Maitama and Asokoro, bustling in areas such as Marrarraba and Nyanya. During the height of the Boko Haram insurgency, Abuja was hit with bombs in Nyanya, Kuje as well as Wuse 2 in 2014, these are significantly busy areas and so the loss was heavy on Abuja, which had before that time seemed far away from North Eastern Nigeria, where the insurgency was at its most deadly and terrifying. Today in the FCT, security check points can be found at night even though their effectiveness has not necessarily been measured. Daily Trust Newspaper has dubbed 2016 the year of rising kidnappings in the FCT. The national daily reported a high occurrence of kidnappings in different area councils and along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway. The spokesperson of Coalition of FCT Indigenous Association Yusuf Ahmadu Yunusa was quoted by Daily Trust Newspaper saying “We are very concerned about the increased rate of insecurity because we know that before now it was better and we feel the minister should do more”; this explains the feelings of insecurity felt across different areas in the FCT and it is an area where residents need assurance of measures taken to protect them and their property.
The Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria has a lot of potential in terms of tourism and culture, it’s a great location for convergence from all over the country and Africa, sports development, infrastructural growth and even innovation in various ways. It only requires direction and vision in someone who understands the potential and can develop a plan. After 25 years of Abuja being a capital, it still has not been finished to the full. There are empty spaces that can accommodate theme parks. It is central, progressive and cuts across different tribes, nationalities and religions- its diversity makes it the perfect space to build an innovative hub for Nigeria, West Africa (especially since ECOWAS HQ is in Abuja) and even Africa. The 8th All Africa Games took place in Abuja but it was not executed and leveraged appropriately. If the transportation is improved, movement to and from satellite towns will make a more conducive working environment for many. Perhaps the lack of an overall elected head allows for gaps of accountability between the people and the administration- that idea might be worth exploring.