By Baba Yusuf
A former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd.), yesterday expressed regret he could not make Jos, the Plateau state capital, the nation’s capital city when Nigeria was under his watch.
“Those who were passionate about the ideas, such as the late General Murtala Mohammed, continued with the project after I left government.
“One of the places I saw that attracted me was somewhere in Plateau, those of you who know the place, especially close to Jos forest, will agree that the area is beautiful and I thought that place was beautiful for the capital city. But I did not make that choice because I would have been accused of parochialism and favoritism, because it was very close to the original place where I come from.
“I must look at other places, the search for a new capital took me round the North-west and in my state, I continued to look for other places. When I came to Abuja, I was attracted. I had powers to make Jos, and not Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, but refused to do so because I was not prepared to be clouded by sentiments and selfishness,” he said.
The nation’s capital city was practically moved from Lagos to Abuja by the Ibrahim Babangida administration in 1991.
But Gowon, who ruled Nigeria for nine years from 1966 to 1975, also wished his administration had moved the nation’s capital from Lagos, even as it originally conceived same as far back as 1974.
He spoke at the 26th anniversary exhibition and commemoration of the movement of the seat of government from Lagos to Abuja, titled “From Dodan Barracks to Aso Rock.”
Besides, the former military leader clarified he never used his office to appropriate land for personal use.
He told his audience that the decisions were premised on his conviction that personal interest should not in any way override the national interest.
Despite being the initiator of the idea that led to the creation of the present Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the former Head of State lamented that successive governments never honoured him until he officially complained to Babangida.
This development, he explained, was because some military officers close to the government, alleged he had a hand in the death of Mohammed, who was assassinated in a botched coup some six months after his (Gowon) was sacked.
“I had to officially complain to General Ibrahim Babangida, when he was the Military President, that I have been excluded from getting a street named after me in Abuja, while all other members of the military council who nurtured the idea had got streets named after them.”
And to actualise the movement to the new capital city, Gowon recalled directing his then Finance Minister, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, to make available funds from the excess funds to execute the project.
In a message to the event, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Muhammad Bello, described the exhibition’s theme as apt, saying it provided the platform for strategic evaluations of the giant steps after 26 years of the relocation.
Represented by the FCT Permanent Secretary, Christian Ohaa, the minister pointed out that the developmental strides in Abuja did not come by chance, but by “painstaking sacrifices of the founding leaders.”
He said: “It is important that we note that the current system of funding infrastructure through statutory allocation is, indeed, not sustainable, this is because the fund is no longer there. Government has done so much to drive development and brought the city to this point. The time has come for the private sector to drive the new process.”