By Owei Lakemfa
MINISTER Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, I join many Nigerians in welcoming you to the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, as its minister. You are no stranger to the country’s capital, having been a minister under the Jonathan administration.
You arrived at the FCT last Monday with a bang, and since then, the mass media have not stopped buzzing, with some predicting that with you as Minister, the FCT will be ‘hot’. Brother Wike, do not be a conventional Nollywood character whose notions and moves are predictable. Don’t be an archetypal Patience Ozokwor in Nollywood or Clint Eastwood in Hollywood. Rather, be a governor in the FCT whose primary duties are the well-being and security of all Nigerians.
Portfolios were not previously affixed to ministerial nominees, so nobody would accuse you of not having a plan for the FCT. Therefore, what I advise you to do is sit down with your aides and staff to write a programme, and most importantly, get the buy-in of the people.
A lot of things demand your quick attention. Many schools in the FCT, especially outside the inner city, are in need of rehabilitation with broken walls and fences. Homeless children in their hundreds of thousands roam the streets. Many out-of-school children populate the FCT. Your administration needs a quick programme for these, as it does for the internally displaced peoples, IDPs, camps dotting the FCT. Can some mass shelter suitable for human habitation be arranged for them?
Talking about shelter, Abuja is perhaps the most expensive city in the country in terms of accommodation. Can mass housing projects like those of Lateef Jakande and Shehu Shagari be executed? Please don’t forget that those leaders built for the lower class, not the upper class. Can every major community in the FCT have access to an affordable primary healthcare centre?
Before you dismiss my suggestions as wishful because there might be no funds to execute them, learn from Lateef Jakande in Lagos. He had a dream, followed it with a plan, and then sat down with his aides to work out creative ways in which this could be implemented.
As you might know, the FCT and its satellite towns harbour some of the most reckless drivers in the country, with no care for traffic lights and a strange sense of road ownership. A good electronic traffic system can catch many of these and rake in lots of money for the FCT. This will also eliminate the menace of the vehicle inspection officers who refuse to embrace technology but would prefer in their dozens, to erect roadblocks on the roads.
Your vow to remove illegal structures is good, but you need the political will to do it. On sidewalks, even in the inner city, lots of illegal structures litter the landscape. It is not uncommon to find homeless people building structures on walkways and street corners and calling them places of worship.
Government officials and security agencies are seizing parks and green areas and building on them. Minister Nyesom Wike, if you are to be taken seriously, let me throw a public challenge: the Nigeria Police Force has just seized the beautiful Berger Junction/Wuse Zone 6 public park and commenced massive construction. Can you check this rape of the environment by sending the violators packing? The frenzy with which this construction by the Police Property Development and Construction Company has gone on since President Tinubu was sworn in gives the impression that the builders want to present your office with a fait accompli. So, should Nigerians join you in this pointed fight, or are you backing down because the violator is the Nigeria Police?
About two decades ago, Abuja was like some haven; insecurity was so unknown that people left wares on the road unattended without fear of their being stolen. Today, even human beings are stolen! Abuja has fertile soil, and a lot of farming went on until about a decade ago, when a combination of bandits and unrestrained herders made farming meaningless. While the former freely harvested the crops, sometimes in broad daylight, the latter allowed their cows to freely rummage through people’s farms.
Talking about cows, you announced that open grazing will no longer be allowed inside Abuja City, which is good news. But you sadly added that “they can be outside the city”. Why should open grazing be bad for Maitama and Asokoro but be good for Bwari and Kubwa? Why would it be bad for the National Assembly but good for the University of Abuja?
Honourable Minister, can I whisper something into your ears? As governor of Rivers State, a main environmental challenge your administration faced was the black soot that darkened the skies due to the operations of illegal refineries. In Abuja, which as a consumption and national wealth-sharing centre virtually has no factories, the major pollution is noise. Noise is mainly blaring from loudspeakers hoisted by operators of the two main religions as they compete to wake up citizens at 4.00 a.m. There is also the noise, mainly at markets and motor parks, announcing unverified cures and medicines for all ailments, including those yet to surface on earth. Can your administration do something about this?
You proclaimed your admiration for the work of one of your predecessors in the FCT, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, and wished to walk in his stead. Certainly, his tenure would not be forgotten for his alleged zeal to restore the Abuja Master Plan. But you should learn and modify, not ape his style. El-Rufai took over the FCT Ministry with the mindset of a man going to war.
He, therefore, wielded a sword, cutting both ways. In the process, he cut both sides—the guilty and the innocent. He was like Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron, who, in a blind war after killing the enemies, also turned on those he was fighting to protect.
Rather than see the FCT as a war zone in which even the pronouncement of the courts will not matter, regard it as a large farm for which you have been hired as the farm manager. So you do not need a sword to tend it and clear the weeds, which are admittedly growing wild. What you need is a machete, which, even if it is very sharp, would do the work it is intended to do. As you know, we do not harvest cocoa the same cavalier way okra is harvested; don’t treat the populace the same way you would the people of your class, who have a sense of entitlement and impunity. I will also make a prayer for you: that after your tenure, you will not flee the country as Mallam el-Rufai did. Ameen!