Abuja is basically a civil service territory unlike Lagos, Kano, Kaduna and other major cities. Apart from the civil service, small scale businesses sustain residents. In this piece, ELEOJO IDACHABA writes on how these businesses are groaning under the new parks policy.
Abuja residents woke up a fortnight ago to the disturbing news about the restriction of parks and recreation centres to 7:00pm as against what it used to be.
According to Comrade Ikharo Attah, the special assistant to the FCT minister on project monitoring and enforcement, “The minister of FCT, Malam Muhammad Bello, has given the marching order to implement the park policy and it is clear. From 7:00pm, all parks are to remain closed; that is what the park policy contains. Also with the kind approval of the minister, from tomorrow, Monday all parks should remain closed from 7:00pm.
“Parks that refuse to close from the stipulated time, the team would be going round to ensure that they comply with the policy. I have received calls from some of them that people want to enjoy after closing from work till deep in the night, but I said no. Anything someone wants to enjoy, go early enough so that by 7 pm when the park is closing, those in charge of the park can clean it and prepare for another day’s business. The city would have to adjust to the fact that parks close by 7 pm when it’s dark, and everybody can adjust to it,”
This news which had since attracted wider condemnations from residents and non- residents alike is said to be coming at a wrong time because of its implications for business growth in the territory.
However, in a chat with this reporter, a good number of persons and business owners said if the policy is allowed to fly, it would worsen the already-tensed security situation in the city because of its serious negative economic impact on businesses.
Business owners groan
Following the directive, there was wide apprehension both from parks operators and parks users. For instance, in a chat with Madam Linda, a Tiv lady and park operator around Sokale Garden located in the Dutse area of the city, this is not the right thing for the government to do.
“So, when do we open business before we close by 7:00pm? There was a time some officials came here to warn us not to open in the morning; that was in the days of the Covid. Since then, we stopped opening in the morning until 12pm. Even at that time of the day, there are no customers yet. Many of the customers return from work at 5:00pm.
“While some return to the garden after reaching home, some enter the garden from the office. Since five days now, the patronage has dropped, maybe because of the fear of being arrested. What do they want us to do? I have seven people working here both boys and girls. This law would affect all of us.”
Sadiya, a pepper soup/roasted fish (popularly called point and kill) seller is mostly affected by the restriction. In a sad mood, she told Blueprint Weekend at the popular Obasanjo road relaxation centre along Bwari expressway that since the announcement, she had not made any sale.
She said, “I have not been able to sell anything since last Tuesday when they said we should be closing by 7:00pm. Is this how the government wants us to survive?”
In his reaction, the chairman, editorial board of Premium Times, Jibrin Ibrahim, took a swipe at the policy wondering why, among all other challenges confronting the territory, the administration chose to descend on parks where hard working Abuja residents resort to in order to relax after a hard day job. According to him, “For me, this present battle is misguided. Some people might think there is no greater battle to fight in Abuja at this time, in spite of the rapid degradation of infrastructure and rising insecurity in the city.
“Those to whom these gardens were leased were required to landscape them, plant trees and flowers and make them beautiful to behold. That was the context in which Abuja’s fish garden culture developed for which residents and visitors frequently visit for relaxation in the form of fresh air, roasted fish, small chops and some drinks. I am a stakeholder and frequently take my international visitors to such gardens precisely because of the atmosphere; they have come to love Abuja.
“I think the FCT minister is too decent a person to seek to allocate the lands that parks are situated on, but it is clear he has been sold a dummy in terms of the moral argument that people should not be allowed to drink beer after 7:00pm. Abuja is a multi-cultural and, indeed, international city; hence it is a great disservice to Nigeria to seek to impose provincial values on a cosmopolitan city.”
Attempts to justify action
It is not certain what the FCT administration intends to achieve by the restriction guideline spelt out to parks operators. For instance, Comrade Attah while speaking on the matter was not validly categorical about the rationale behind the move.
He said, “What the administration is doing is in line with the laid down regulation regarding how parks in the territory are to operate. In other words, there is nothing new about what we are about to do, but in line with set standards.”
On his part, the FCT minister said, “The whole concept of the park policy is to make sure that these green areas within Abuja as a city, and to some extent parts of the territory, are left green to be able to meet the 40 per cent threshold of green areas.
“Abuja was way ahead of many cities in terms of climate consideration and the whole idea was that you develop these green areas to make them truly green with vegetation, with green land, flowers and trees. That was achieved to a large extent some years back but with population growth of the city and demand for housing and land, if we are not conscious about it, then we may derail ourselves and just make it a concrete city.”
A journalist’s concern
However, questions are being raised about whether or not this is not a case of misplaced priority because in the views of concerned residents, the minister’s claims are not cogent enough.
One of those who raised such a question is an Abuja-based journalist, Sola Olorunsola.
Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, he said categorically that the FCT administration is bereft of ideas, that is why, among all the teething problems confronting the territory, restriction on the use of parks would be their priority for now.
“Did they even consider the number of job losses and business premises that would result from it? My brother, we all have reported incidents around the territory regarding the number of persons these parks have taken from the streets. It would interest you to know that the bulk of revenue they generate is always at night. So, asking them to close shop early is tantamount to asking them to fold up. How do they make sales? I would have bought into their idea if the restriction was borne out of security concern, but that is not the case here. I think some people are either misadvising the FCT landlord or he simply wants to go solo, but in this lane, I doubt how far he can go because he is certainly alone here.”
There is no doubt that small businesses are the backbone of any economy. They are recognised by every government as a driver for economic growth and job creation, and small businesses have been growing steadily in the uninhabited territory uninhibited. What is however not certain is whether the authorities of the FCT would listen to the public outcry against the enforcement of the parks policy.
At the moment, it seems normalcy has returned to most parks, especially in the satellite towns, but as the saying goes, the atmosphere is akin to the quietness of a graveyard.