What goes around comes around. It was in realisation of that truism that the inimitable Robert Mugabe shared his now viral quote: “Treat every part of your towel nicely because the part that wipes your buttocks today will wipe your face tomorrow.”
If the officials of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) had known that Nyesom Wike would one day call the shots as the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, they would have curtailed their greed and dealt him a fair hand when he was just a customer seeking to perfect the papers of his landed property. Granted that he was governor of Rivers State at the time, he was just another customer in Abuja as far as the FCTA lords were concerned.
They swindled him of N57 million under the pretext of processing his Certificates of Occupancy (C of O). When he received the so-called C of Os, he found that they were fake. He had paid N57 million to acquire three counterfeit documents!
In his testimony, the minister said, “The C of O was coming from FCTA as a government, not as an individual. The plots allocated or said to be allocated, we paid money. When I now sent the Liaison Officer, the people from FCTA took him to the land and later, we discovered that it was a fake land. Look at the money we had paid.
“The people disappeared. We could not find them again. Over N57 million that we paid. Why? Because that was how it was being done in the FCT. I have said that it will not work again.”
If that could happen to a state governor, as Wike then was, imagine what other ordinary Nigerians like this writer have been going through.
I have my own tales of woe regarding land matters in Abuja. I was allocated a 1,000 sq m plot of land in Gwagwalada in 2001 and granted a Right of Occupancy (Plot No. 3417, Old Kaida Village Expansion Layout, Cadastral Zone 04-07). For 22 years, the civil servants paid by the state to oversee the process have dribbled, extorted and frustrated me to such an extent that I decided that the situation was hopelessly irredeemable, until Nyesom Wike happened and gave hope that perhaps the soul of the federal capital territory had not been irretrievably donated to the devil. One doesn’t have to be a Wike fan to support his stated determination to wrestle down the land cabals in Abuja.
There are hordes of people whose sole occupation is land racketeering in Abuja. Many civil servants have become insanely rich from dubious land bargains. It is common knowledge within the city that many of the plazas, hotels and imposing structures in the city are owned by civil servants who have abused the trust reposed in them.
Perhaps for the first time in a long while, the FCTA staffers now have to contend with a minister who is street wise on account of having been a victim of their greed. In one of his meetings with representatives of estate residents and FCTA staff, the minister repeatedly dropped hints that he was aware of all the shenanigans going on and that if any official dared him, he as minister had the power and the will to ease them out of the system.
Wike has demonstrated that he has energy and determination. I hope, for our collective sakes, that he has a people-centric vision to go with it and the emotional intelligence to know when a handshake is transmogrifying to ju-jitsu. If he wants to make a success of his ministerial job, he should play less politics and concentrate on the challenges at hand. There is something called over-exposure in both photography and Public Relations.
There are many problems that will keep Wike busy in Abuja, not least of which is the total neglect of the suburbs. The absence of regular intra-city bus and train services has also made parts of Abuja look as if they had been transplanted from Lagos where traffic snarls are the normal fare.
One major primitive feature of Nigeria’s new capital is the sight of Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) converting major highways — especially at locations of traffic lights — to checkpoints for verifying vehicle particulars. The result is that it is difficult to have a smooth ride from one part of the city to another without burning more time and fuel to pass through VIO checkpoints.
In decent societies, a hand-held device can tell whether a vehicle is licensed or not. The man-hours wasted on VIO queues can be put into more productive use. And the ugly sight of underhand dealings that go on between the VIO staffers and motorists can be banished. Abuja is supposed to be Nigeria’s Washington for God’s sake. This insistence by elements such as the VIO and area council tax enforcers to block highways in search of both legitimate and illegitimate dough must be stamped out once and for all.
On the restoration of the masterplan, the minister himself is not under the illusion that he can restore all sections of Abuja to what was originally planned. That is simply not possible, otherwise the presidential villa will be one of the prime targets.
Estates And N5 Million Hurdle
But there are areas, especially in the mushrooming estates, where the minister ought to check how many times the masterplans have been revised and whether conservation means anything to the developers. It will be interesting to know how many large estates have two outlets as required by urban planning rules.
At the peak of the rainy season, some estates were drenched in stagnant water because the developers indiscriminately increased the number of housing units originally approved by the authorities, and some of the added units sat on waterways. It will be worth the minister’s while to examine the original approved masterplan of the estates, not the revised versions which are achieved by underhand dealings.
From inception, Abuja ought to have been developed with a tram or light rail service as an integral part of the city’s design. Now the city lacks even taxi parks. Bus stops, too, came as an afterthought. The result is that commercial vehicle operators have to create their own parks and arrange to ‘settle’ government officials who routinely stop by to collect ‘toll’.
Wike is hoping to generate enough money to fund his vision for the FCT. Yes, the math looks attractive. If only 50,000 housing units pay the N5million C of O fee announced by the minister, that would amount to N250 billion. But how many house-owners can afford to pay N5million within the four month deadline announced by the minister? In these harsh economic times, the minister has to be realistic. Maybe those in government can cough up N5 million at the snap of the fingers. Ordinary Nigerians can’t.
The minister has since reduced the fee to N3.5 million, but that, too, is little comfort. The more realistic thing is to stretch out the payment over a more elastic time frame.