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Wike’s ambitious Abuja overhaul: What is the big deal about the master plan?

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By Oludare Mayowa

 

President Bola Tinubu inaugurated his cabinet on Monday with the swearing-in of 45 ministers allocated to various portfolios and charged them to deliver on his promises to Nigerians.

Perhaps the presidential charge could have been the motivation for the minister of the federal capital territory, Nyesom Wike, who immediately after he was sworn in swiftly moved to the head office of his ministry to perform his first official duty.

The minister’s press conference shortly after he was inaugurated has since become the subject of controversy in both social and traditional media.

The key highlight of Wike’s conference is:

Promise to restore the master plan of the capital city and demolish all unplanned structures and those that have violated the original plans and purposes of government for the city.

He also promised to revoke all lands that were allocated and left undeveloped by the allotters because of their intention to make merchandise out of the allotments.

“I don’t care how you feel or where you come from. My task is to ensure that Abuja gets to where it should be. I am here to turn Abuja around. That is the work I have been sent here to do, and I am going to do just that,” he affirmed.

Wike said, “We will bring FCT back to where it ought to be. So many people have complained that this is not the FCT of the founding fathers. We must tackle the issue of security.

“Abuja has turned into a slum city. Sanitation is bad, with refuse everywhere. We cannot allow that. We will look at issues of waste disposal. If you know you built where you are not supposed to, it (the building) will go down. The days of land racketeering are over. Those who refuse to develop, turning to land speculators, will lose their lands.”

The city was the creation of former Nigerian military head of state, the late Murtala Mohammed in 1976 but was brought to fruition by the military’s self-styled president, Ibrahim Babangida, in the late 1980s.

The dream behind the city was to create a place that is easily accessible to all Nigerians from every part of the country and has enough land and space for further development, unlike Lagos, where there are restrictions on the level of expansion.

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It was normal for such a new city to have a master plan, which would spell out a specific development trajectory and how the city would avoid the mistake of Lagos chaos and lack of planning, which has turned the country’s commercial nerve into a jungle-like in some cases.

The importance of the master plan was emphasized during the ministerial reign of the immediate past governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, who ruthlessly enforced the restoration of the city master plan.

El-rufai received accolades and enjoyed much goodwill among the people as a result of his action, which brought hardship to many people but helped to bring back the beauty of the city and restored sanity, which was applauded by many.

Since the departure of El-Rufai, who enjoyed strong backing from then-President Olusegun Obasanjo, who himself is known for his no-nonsense approach to governance, the city has reverted back to chaos and disorder, compelling many people to ask for the return of the El-Rufai era in the city.

But more importantly, the chaos in the city was not completely a result of the distortion in the master plan of the FCT; rather, the problem was largely a result of indiscipline, corruption, and neglect by the responsible authority.

Apart from the suburbs of the city, which have been turned into squatter colonies, the main city has seen a drastic departure from the original plan, with places erected for green zones, recreation centers, and parks turned into shops, markets, and even shanties, to the dismay of many dwellers of the city.

Rather than strictly enforcing the master plan, officials of the FCT chose to make merchandise of development within the city and turn blind eye to what was going on in the FCT.

Politicians and highly placed people converted the city into a place to peddle influence and political patronage. Even the government itself is culpable for the distortion of the city plan, hawking allocation papers and building structures where they ought not to be.

In the presidential villa, Aso Rock, the seat of power, there are more residential apartments than initially envisaged because successive governments want to provide accommodation for their families, friends, stooges, and the retinue of hangers-on within the villa.

Notwithstanding, should the new minister make the restoration of the city master plan and pulling down of existing structures as priority rather than first taking a look at the issues around the distortion of the city plan and then marshaling holistic plans to remedy the situation?

Not a few people believed that Wike’s outburst at Monday’s press conference had the tone of a military junta, which is not acceptable in a democratic setting, and he ought to tread cautiously in his desire to right the wrong within the city.

Besides, a master plan drawn over 40 years ago may have been overtaken by developments and new vision, particularly in the areas of architectural design, technology, and newer opportunities, which could require that such a master plan be tinkered with for a better city.

Also, the minister ought to be more focused on repairing the decaying infrastructure in the city while also ensuring that places yet to be built experience the touch of his vision for the city.

If ex-governor Wike is truly interested in revamping the city, he should, first of all, restructure the bureaucratic system he inherited from his predecessor and ensure that those who conspired in the past to cause distortion and damage to the dream of the city are first expunged from the system before embarking on any major transformation in the FCT.

The minister should know that a huge number of officials in the FCT area are deeply involved in the corruption and racketeering that led to the present situation of the city, and he should brace up for resistance from their paymaster, who planted them in the capital city administration.

Though many people like the energy Wike is bringing to his work and his immediacy of action as a demonstration that he meant business and was ready to face the consequences of his action, he should, however, realize that FCT is a macrocosm of Nigeria, unlike Port Harcourt in the Rivers, where he was able to get away with some harsh decisions and actions.

He should also realize that the president was elected to protect all Nigerians, including those who voted for him and those who did not. Any action that seems to punish people for the failure of past governments would be seen as vengeance against the opposition and could have a backlash on the administration.

(Contact; omayowa@globalfinancialdigest.com; Newsroom: +234 8033 964 138)

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