Still on FCT natives, marginalisation and mayoral status

Abuja City gate

The last has not been heard about the agitation for a mayoral status for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the cry of marginalisation by the original settlers of the territory. ELEOJO IDACHABA takes a look at this.

Again, the Abuja Original Inhabitant Youths Empowerment Organisation (AOIYEO) has intensified its agitations for the identification of Abuja, the nation’s capital, with a mayoral status in order to ensure the sustenance of what they called equity and inclusive governance within the territory.

The secretary general of the organisation, Yahuza Abubakar, leading a pack of others made their position known in Abuja recently.

He said Abuja “deserves a leadership” that would reflect the mind of the young and ambitious because of its nature and the growing electorate.

According to the organisation, there is lack of community participation in the decision-making processes by indigenes of the territory, a development that puts the indigenes at a disadvantaged position in the scheme of things.

To that extent, the organisation said the indigenes had decided to change the narrative and rewrite history by organising what they called Community Mayoral Election to identify and elect a mayor who would act as the voice of the people in all areas of socio-cultural and economic development.

According to the Gbagyi socio-cultural group, the office of a mayor would be non-partisan where, despite individual party affiliation, candidates are not selected by any group or represented by any political party on the ballot paper.

Abubakar noted that Section 301 of the constitution made the president as governor of the FCT and the vice president, deputy governor and also empowers the president to appoint a minister who exercises powers delegated by the president since 1976, saying that successive presidents have utilised this power, notwithstanding its inherent flaws.

He said, “Abuja’s leaders have owed their mandate to the president, not to the people. We have witnessed celebrated Nigerian governors drawing support for policies, taking direction from their electorates except in the case of FCT.

“The minister owes her mandate to the president; the citizens of the state have little influence on policy concerning community security, socio-economic and political developments or evolution,” he said.

Abubakar said the FCT community mayor would be elected and recommended to the minister for appointment in order to enhance citizens – government relationship.

“The process of election into the office of mayor of FCT would be an indirect election and conducted by carefully selected 20 delegates by community chiefs and emirs representing the six area councils of Abaji, Kuje, Kwali, Gwagwalada, Bwari and AMAC.”

Investigations by this reporter revealed that in 2017, there was a similar agitation through a protest in Abuja as hundreds of Gbagyi people embarked on protest over alleged marginalisation and deprivation over what they called their land by agents of the federal government.

Marginalisation cries

The general secretary, Coalition of FCT Indigenous Association, Barrister Christopher Dada, noted that the territory has been overrun without any resistance while no one takes them seriously.

He said, “We hear of Ogoni people, MASSOP, and their land struggle, Odu’a Peoples Congress (OPC) and the South-west agitation, the Plateau, seeking an identity and emancipation.”

He lamented a situation of crisis between indigenous tribes and residents who operate on different frequencies on Gbagyi land, saying unfortunately no one seems to speak on the basis of compensation for Gbagyi people.

“The people are fast becoming landless because they have tactically been disposed of their land by the government machinery or the privileged absentee landlords, but why is such a calamity taking place over our people with ease? What has gone wrong with the, hitherto, peaceful people?”

Blueprint Weekend gathered that this particular protest was fuelled after the upper chamber (Senate) decided to alter Section 147 of the 199 Constitution that provides for the appointment of a minister from the territory in order to ensure that there is fair representation of all sections of the country in the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

Again, the particular protesters noted among other agitations that the mayoral status for the Gbagyi people has fallen on deaf ears.

They said the federal government should appoint a native of the territory as FCT minister and permanent secretary, respectively.

The national coordinator of Greater Gbagyi Development Initiative of Nigeria (GG-DIN), Prince Gbaiza, emphasised that the right thing should be done because if the people were left with nothing, the heritage of the Gbagyi man would go extinct.

He said, “Gbagyi people have turned themselves enemies to one another. That is why Kwali and Bwari can have non-indigenes as their traditional rulers, yet nothing seems to happen; that is why our politicians can be killed and heavens have not fallen; that is why our houses are demolished, land seized without compensation and heavens cannot weep. Will these happen in the Niger Delta, South-east, South-west or any of the northern states?

Gbaiza stressed that Gbagyi people are known to be hardworking and basically peasant farmers.

“This culture of hard work over the years has failed to deliver the people from poverty in spite of their labour. Education, which is the gateway to success in life, is a mirage among the Gbagyi people.

“Our children are learning under harsh economic conditions. The educational infrastructures are poor with limited space and where available, the Gbagyi man is unable to afford the cost. Our children, especially those in Abuja, are competing against global standards because of their environment. Our children are dropping out of school in droves because of lack of sponsorship, parents have failed due to obvious reasons and governments at all levels have failed us.”

Don adds his voice

Adding his voice to the marginalisation cries, the director, Institute of Governance and Development, Nassarawa State University, Prof. Andrew Zamani, called on the federal government to consider FCT indigenes for ministerial appointments and to recognise FCT as a state so as to ensure equality and development.

He was speaking at a summit on FCT with the theme: ’Indigenous People of FCT, Issues of Land Ownership and the Way Forward’.

He called on the federal government to give proper consideration to the ancestral owners of land in FCT with a view to making them have a sense of belonging and equal representation. According to him, an Abuja Court of Appeal had in 2018 ruled that indigenous people of the FCT were entitled to a ministerial representation in the Federal Executive Council as provided in several sections of the 1999 Constitution.

He said, “We need a state status to increase our franchise beyond local government elections to enable us to have an executive governance structure, independent governing body and to expand our representation at the National Assembly.

“The federal government should take a position on constitutional legitimacy of land administration in the Federal Capital Territory to stop the marginalisation of the people. We also plead with the government of Nigeria to honour the Appeal Court and ECOWAS Court judgements on the status of the FCT as an autonomous governance entity.”

According to Prof. Zamani, from the Gbagyi ethnic stock, based on the decision of the Court of Appeal and pursuant to the provisions of Section 299 and Section 147 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, the Senate should approve that indigenes of the territory should nominate one of theirs for appointment as a minister.

More agitations

In his remarks, the coordinator of the group, Nathaniel Gaza, said the summit was organised for the indigenous people of the FCT to discuss ways of addressing some challenges facing the natives and draw government’s attention to the need for FCT to be treated as a state.

Mr. Gaza also stressed the need for FCT indigenes to be given their right to land ownership and the creation of more tertiary institutions to enable indigenous youth to have easy access to quality education in the territory.

There was no doubt that Gbagyi, the ancestral residents of what constituted the present day Abuja, have been crying over alleged marginalisation ranging from the lack of basic amenities and infrastructure deficit in their communities, appointments and employment to reflect their quota in the federal character arrangement.

An analyst’s take

In his view, a public affairs analyst, Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, noted that as a territory, Abuja leaders owe their mandate to the president, and not to the people. “Celebrated Nigerian governors draw support for policies, take direction from their electorates. For instance, every state takes orders and pays their allegiance to their respective governors. On the assumption that the governorship changes hands at every election, between 1999 and 2015, the average state could have had a maximum of four governors, yet, Abuja is on its 7th minister. Two problems emerge from this.

“Firstly, a lack of coordinated policies that can be attributed to any one minister or official plan; excluding Nasir el-Rufai and Bala Mohammed, no minister has served for more than 18 months. Again, excluding el-Rufai, none of Abuja’s ministers is credited with a popular policy achievement.

“eEl-Rufai’s signature policy was to adhere to the Abuja master plan, however, subsequent ministers have limited policy-making to land allocation and day-to-day administration, demonstrating a lack of vision for the city. The city’s advantage has always been that it was one of the first and most successful purpose-built cities in Africa. The lack of clear political direction puts that in jeopardy.

“Secondly, because the minister owes her mandate to the president, the citizens of the state have little influence on policy. No Nigerian president has been from the FCT except Babangida and Abdulsalami who originated from a state that contributed to the present day capital territory. As such, none can claim to have an indigenous link to the state. This could be looked at from two viewpoints. The typical Nigerian perspective is that only indigenous citizens know what is needed in their regions. As such, leadership should be handled by ‘sons of the soil’.

“In the case of Abuja, this may be difficult to apply because of the peculiarity of its population. People born in Abuja in 1984 when it first opened up are now able to run for the House of Representatives. It means there is a growing generation that will identify themselves as being from Abuja and not their states of origin, but this is where the problem lies as Abuja is not a ‘state’ and does not have a mayoral status.”

Concerned indigene’s view

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, Abdul Gata, an indigene of the territory who practises law in the nation’s capital, said the idea of a mayor for Abuja is not a strange development because that is how major cities in the world are administered.

He said, “If you go to Britain, they have a mayor for the city of London. The same applies to New York in the U.S. In these two world major cities and others, elections are conducted to determine who occupies the position. In many instances, first choice preferences are given to residents of the area because they are assumed to uphold the values of those cities. Never would an outsider be given the chance to vie into such positions on any ground.

“What the indigenes of the Federal Capital Territory are asking for is a declaration that even though Abuja is now the capital city of Nigeria, for proper administrative purpose and in line with the spirit of fairness, a mayoral status be created for the city so that indigenes can vie for that position.

“It is not a position of competition with the minister who runs the entire territory, but the duty of the mayor is to help the minister to administer the city in line with the tenets of the constitution, just as it applies to other states. As long as this matter fails to receive the attention of government, we will continue to speak out.”

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