Incoming Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr Nyesom Wike is already a victim of huge expectations even before he got sworn in as Minister of the Nigerian Capital Territory on Monday, August 21. This is because, for nearly sixteen years, evidence of good governance has been scanty in the nation’s capital. Right now, talks among residents of the Federal Capital have centred around one question: Will Wike turn around the fortunes of the capital city and bring to fruition the dreams of its founding fathers?
The sweltering expectations are borne out of two things. One, since the exit of Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai as Minister of FCT, governance had practically taken a back seat in the capital. You had Senator Adamu Aliero who took over in 2007 and was on the seat till 2010, when Senator Bala Muhammed took over. Mohammed was in office till 2015 and was succeeded by Alhaji Mohammed Musa Bello, whom many regarded as a reluctant Minister.
Surprisingly, Bello spent eight years on the seat and those eight years are now regarded as years of retrogression.
Abuja, the Nigerian Federal Capital Territory is a growing capital city that is supposed to remain a sort of construction site until much of the major arteries have been developed. Thus, the Minister should be an aggressive builder whose penchant for innovation should be unquestionable.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo showed such traces when he held sway as the head of the Nigerian Government. In his first term in office, the nation’s capital was more of a ghost town. It was a workstation that the workers practically flee at weekends. They endured life in the city during the week and fervently looked forward to the weekends. Fridays were bazaar days for airlines that ferry residents to Lagos and other Southern destinations. Some others went as far as Sokoto, while the Abuja/Kaduna expressway provided the exit for northern folks who, on a weekly basis escaped the drab and lifeless Abuja city for Zaria, Kaduna, as some others faced Markudi and Jos Plateau axes, just to observe the weekends.
Obasanjo brought el-Rufai as Minister in 2003. The immediate past Governor of Kaduna State had earlier served as the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). his assignment was to fix the city. It didn’t take long before flyovers emerged on busy spots such as the Apo Quarters link road, Area 1 Bus Stop, and Berger Bus Stop. Major roads were also dualised, just as the restoration of the Abuja Masterplan took centre stage. Many houses built on sewage lines and Green areas had to give way, just as houses built on lands illegally acquired from natives were also recovered. Okada riders, who had become a menace in the city centre had their operations pushed to the satellite towns. With the establishment of Green areas and Neighbourhood Parks, life started returning to Abuja, just as construction works never ceased.
But what was done under Obasanjo was more like a re-establishment of the main city, which the dualisation of internal roads as the key objective. By the time the government took its leave, attention had shifted to the major interchanges, the Ring Roads and the Boulevard. The government of Obasanjo had actually started work on the exterior roads by building the Abuja/Keffi Expressway, linking Nawarawa to the Federal Capital.
That was why Aliero’s first assignment was to award the contract for the ten-lane Umaru Yar’Adua Expressway, which dovetails into the Bill Clinton Drive that takes traffic to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. That contract was completed under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, who added the Outer Northern Expressway (ONEX), which takes traffic to the Abuja/Kaduna Expressway.
That perhaps appeared to be the only notable assignment one can attribute to the tenures of Senators Aliero and Bala Mohammed. After the award of that road, Aliero shifted his attention to attempts to strangulate the Parks and Neighbourhood Centres, which were already giving some semblance of life to Abuja city. He made the order that Parks must close at 7 pm and flooded the internal roads with speed bombs that were only noted for destroying cars’ shock absorbers. And with a preponderance of Honda cars on Abuja roads, it was commonplace to see such vehicles pack up just after climbing the speed breakers.
Though a number of major arteries got opened up during the administration of Senator Bala Mohammed, the slow pace of work ensured that none of the major roads was completed within his five years in office. To his credit, however, the Goodluck Jonathan Expressway, a part of the Inner Southern Expressway (ISEX), which solved the traffic snares at A.Y.A Junction was completed. But work never really started on Ring Road Three, which should complement the work done on ONEX and take traffic from the North West end of the City to the Airport.
Work was also slow and eventually terminated on Ring Road Two, while the continuation of ISEX through the Southern Parkway remained in limbo.
It was noticeable that while the designers of Abuja had created on paper, a city that would not experience traffic snares, one of the major issues in the old capital in Lagos, cluelessness by some Ministers has rendered the city prostrate as we speak.
From 2003, it became noticeable that more new faces join the city after each election circle. Many of the aides who join Senators and members of the House of Representatives from the hinterlands never really return with their principals after their tenure. They find accommodation for themselves within the city and life goes on. In the eight years of President Buhari, when Mohammed Bello superintended over Abuja, the cluelessness in an administration was unmistakable.
None of the major arteries opened up during Bala Mohammed’s five-year tenure was completed, thus making commuting within the city centre a nightmarish assignment. An aerial view of commuters leaving the city for Kubwa Road, Airport Road, and Abuja/Keffi Road after work hours would easily rival the excruciating traffic scenes of Lagos and that is because, in eight years, none of the major arteries were opened up. Those with ongoing construction works never got the desired attention and they remained practically abandoned. If the trend left behind by the Buhari administration is allowed to fester for another four years, the odd and even number era that reigned in Lagos would certainly be re-invented in the Nigerian capital.
Wike, the immediate past governor of Rivers State was reputed as Mr. Projects. It is possible his name has occupied the lips of Abuja residents partly because they think he can replicate some of the examples that earned him the sobriquet Mr. Projects. If he does that and opens up the already designed Ring Roads and the major arteries, and by so doing properly establish Abuja as a modern-day capital city, not a few will seek for him to be immortalised in the already troubled capital.