I have intermittently drawn the attention of the Nigerian authorities to the plight of the original inhabitants of the area known as the Federal Capital Territory and to the danger of having another violent group similar to the Niger Delta Avengers. And I wonder if anyone has been listening.
Abuja is clearly a microcosm of Nigeria – the evidence that government doesn’t work abounds in the capital city. Or why would a policy made 41 years ago be left unattended to? As a boy I listened to an address to the nation by then head of state Gen. Murtala Ramat Muhammed on February 3, 1976. In it, he announced Abuja’s creation after the completion of work by the Timothy Aguda panel.
To this day, 95% of the Abuja inhabitants have not been moved. Two more generations have been born, thus making the problem more complicated. I’ve written about a possible revolt of the natives, just as the people of the Niger Delta have revolted. What I didn’t realise is that it has already started! If you own an undeveloped plot of land in Abuja now, chances are that you may pay more for “economic crops” than the original price you paid for the plot. As FCT minister, Nasir el-Rufai was said to have alerted them to his decree that plot owners should pay for economic crops found on their plots even if they were one week old. As a result, the villagers have learnt to spread cashew seeds on every available land and then watch for the day the owner would come to develop his plot. They have so organised themselves that they always have their lawyers waiting to offer their services free to claimants.
It’s crazy to expect the Abuja natives to be happy to see magnificent buildings next door to them, or to lose their farmlands without getting adequate compensation. Who are those that have been embezzling funds budgeted for the relocation or welfare of the natives for the past 40 years?
As I did more than five years ago, I’m once more sending a warning to those laying landmines and time-bombs for current and future residents of Abuja through the obnoxious policy of “apartheid”. But I wish to remind the chairmen of the six area councils in the FCT (who are now almost always Abuja natives) that they too have been neglecting their own people living in slums without electricity, good roads, clean water and toilet facilities.
To understand how the natives feel, one should listen to Mr Clement S. Wasah, executive director of one of the NGOs run by the natives, who wrote a rejoinder to one of my earlier articles. An edited version is reproduced below:
There are several lies, half-truths and myths being bandied even by those who have the facts, since the February 3, 1976, radio announcement on the choice of the Federal Capital Territory by Gen. Murtala Muhammed. For instance, principal among the reasons given for the choice was that “the area was not within the control of any of the major ethnic groups in the country”, and was thus “virgin lands” to be raped (my words) and would “be for all Nigerians a symbol of their oneness and unity”. The broadcast stated further that “the few local inhabitants in the area who need to be moved out of the territory for planning purpose will be resettled outside the area in places of their choice at government expense”.
The truth is that at no time was the accurate population known to those responsible for the development of Abuja. The initial estimate in 1976 was 50,000 people in 265 settlements but a follow-up survey in 1979 by the University of Ibadan found between 150,000 and 250,000 people while that of Senator Ahmed Rufai Committee in 1980 had 300,000!
Even at the level of planning, there have not been “adequate arrangements for the comfort of the original inhabitants”. Adequate arrangements include admitting that involuntary resettlement constitutes a prima facie violation of a range of internationally recognized human rights. The global good practice for development-induced involuntary resettlement is to consult, involve, compensate for losses and assist the people who may be adversely affected to rebuild their homes and communities, as well as re-establish their enterprises, and develop their potential as productive members of society. This becomes most imperative and important when the people who may be adversely affected are poor and vulnerable, do not have the capacity to absorb such adverse impacts, and cannot remain productive without significant help.
In the case of the Gbagyi and others, in the first phase of the Abuja project – Usuma Dam, Wuse, Maitama, Central Business Area, the Three Arms Zone, Garki and Asokoro districts – these steps were not taken. The affected people were only given houses and some cash for transport. One of the lies being bandied by the resettlement officials, which you echoed, is that no sooner had the resettlement houses been allocated than they are sold “and then [the indigenes] relocated to another bush; and that whenever civilisation catches up with them, they ask to be resettled again”.
The truth is that because of lack of transparency and involvement of the affected persons, the list of beneficiaries is often padded, as you rightly stated, with names of “many from as far away as Zamfara and Katsina …[ who] got houses that they resold for N10million each”. It should be noted that, just like walls do not make a prison, so a house does not make a home! Therefore, those who have homes somewhere would naturally sell houses and go to their homes! For the indigenes that had no other homes after displacement, they managed to make Kubwa and Jigo homes. They never sold the houses and “relocated to another bush”. What is true is that they are sandwiched between other Nigerians who could not afford houses in the city centre.
The indigenes are not revolting. They are demanding that the Nigerian government and people should join the progressive nations who place people at the centre of development and ensure that development-induced displacement of people happen only when it is inevitable. You would agree with me that the displacement of the indigenes is no longer inevitable, particularly so as the land is not being acquired for “overriding public interest” but being given to private individuals and organizations that erect mansions or sell to others. Is it any wonder that Abuja boasts of breeding more millionaires than any city in the world from seizing and reselling the lands that belonged to the indigenous people while the hands of the latter are tied up by official policies, unconstitutionalities and unbridled corruption?
The indigenes are crying that they are Nigerians too and should not be evacuated like refuse into obscure and cramped corners for others to have places in choice locations. They are saying that their forceful eviction is akin to the anachronistic apartheid regime in South Africa, when most parts of Johannesburg, the capital city, were for “Whites Only” while the Black owners of the lands were barred from getting into them.
Is it not paradoxical that the Nigerian government which championed the war against apartheid in southern Africa is purposely engaged in the obnoxious practice against its own citizens? Aniebo, I agree with you that something should be done to “head off a cataclysm that may happen in the next decade or two”. In 1980, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria consultants predicted that, “If the land has been taken away and those who are not well-equipped with the skills and attitudes necessary for seizing these new employment and other opportunities see others coming in from other parts of the country and benefiting, they could become resentful and bitter, leading to higher potential for social and political tension in the area.” The capital city of the most populous Black nation and one poised to be one of the 20 major economies of the world can ill-afford such blight.
In addressing the Abuja indigene problem, it will do us all some good to adopt a conciliatory and empathetic rather than contemptuous and blame-the-victim approach. As they ask, “Other Nigerians have their homes, where are ours?”
–By ANIEBO NWAMU
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