We often hear of golden jubilee, golden crown, golden memories, golden opportunities, and so on. Derived from Greek mythology and legend, the term golden age, according to Wikipedia refers to the first in a sequence of four or five or even more Ages of Man in which the Golden Age came first, followed by Silver, Bronze, Heroic and then Iron. If in sequence the latter denotes decline, then in contrast, Golden Age symbolizes a period of peace, harmony, stability and posterity.
Does Abuja of the current era fit into this category? If not, when can one really describe as golden in Abuja’s 37 year history? Let us pause to take a quick cursory look. Is it the period of 1976, when the General Murtala Mohammed regime chose the city in place of Lagos, as the new capital of Nigeria? This was a time when the area was, “still wilderness and farmland and swamps,” according to President Barack Obama, in The Audacity of Hope; completely rural and inaccessible to other parts of the country. There was no single secondary school in the entire land space called the Federal Capital Territory. There were however, a few primary schools, created by the Local Education Authority (LEA), as part of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme.
Like in education, healthcare in the territory was another challenge, as there were only a few poorly equipped dispensaries in Garki, Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kwali and Karu. There was no general hospital. Anybody who was unfortunate to get the type of sickness that could not be handled by these dispensaries had to trek or look for a bicycle capable enough to travel the distance of 112 kilometres by road to Minna, or 94 kilometres to Keffi, or endure the trip of 156 kilometres to Bida, none of which was tarred.
Between the proclamation of Abuja as the Federal Capital in 1976 and later in the 1990s when development had begun in earnest, the name of Abuja sent jitters down the spine of many a civil servant who was so presumed ‘unlucky’ to be transferred to this land of punishment, otherwise called the Siberia of Nigeria then. Life in Abuja was very precarious that if you needed to visit a salon, or a mechanic or even to have a good meal, your best choice was Suleja, a distance of about 40 kilometres.
The fear of snakes and wild animals in Abuja soon gave way to the fear of men” in uniform as the civilian regime of President Shehu Shagari was toppled by General Muhammadu Buhari on December 31, 1983. It was a period of coups, counter coups and summary executions. If you exchanged greetings with a soldier who later became a coup suspect, fear gripped your heart because you might become an accessory to treason. I remember a friend who was offered a ride in the convoy of a senior General on the strength of his relationship with someone who was a friend to both of them. When the General was implicated in a coup plot, he could not sleep for the duration of the military tribunal that sentenced the General to death.
The development of Abuja which was based on the Master Plan designed by International Planning Associates of United States could not resist the arbitrariness of martial law of the era and soon gave way to squatter settlements in every nook and cranny of the city. All you needed to do to acquire a plot of land was to be first to build on any open space, whether it was on a sewage line, under high tension or in areas designated as open spaces, schools or hospitals.
The situation brought in its wake a surge of humanity in search of greener pastures into Abuja. The Federal Capital City that was supposed to accommodate a population of 3.1 million in 2003 was brimming over with about seven million people. Those who could not be accommodated in FCC disappeared into the satellite towns and villages at the close of business every day. Those familiar with traffic gridlock on Nyanya and Kubwa roads where commuters sometimes spent the night in transit, will testify that this period could not be described as golden. It is noteworthy that these day-time inhabitants apparently may have caused census officials to reduce the FCT population to 1.7 in 2006.
The population continued to swell, no thanks to insurgencies in Plateau, Kaduna and other flash points in the country, including South South and South East, which are hotbeds of militancy and kidnapping. The situation forced terrified residents to flee for dear life. This was the beginning of shortage of everything, ranging from accommodation, water, electricity, school spaces, hospital beds and the creation of markets in any available intersection where pedestrian flow could attract more sales. It is difficult to imagine how the Federal Capital Territory Administration manages to cope with the management of a dynamic city like Abuja, whose demographic index is always on the upsurge.
It was no wonder that the stage was set for massive demolitions of illegal structures and stop orders by the Department of Development Control. I remember one of the victims was a man who constructed his house with plywood, empty cartons and polythene wrappings. It is needless to say that some of those who lost their property developed health problems, died of shock or left Abuja as they could not endure the pain. This period cannot fall into the period of golden age of Abuja, not the least for the latter.
Today, Abuja is different. Those who visited the city between 1990s and 2003 may probably miss their way today. The city is glittering with modernity when viewed from the air and on ground. It is obviously attaining the golden age status, thanks to successive administrations, particularly President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who has given Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), all the support needed to create a city that has become the melting pot of our dreams, our struggles and our identity. Since assuming office, Senator Bala Mohammed has not only continued the good policies of his predecessors, he has also initiated his own to create more employment for the jobless, accommodation for the homeless and make life more meaningful for residents.
As a man who is determined to leave indelible footprints in the sands of time, Senator Bala Mohammed has introduced land swap policy which uses land as equity in promoting infrastructural development through partnership with private investors, and moving resources to other critical areas like education, health and social welfare.
Being a journalist, I cannot hide my sense of pride that Senator Bala Mohammed, another member of the fourth estate of the realm, is making such outstanding contributions to national development, at a time many of our colleagues are rarely appreciated for risking their lives in the service of their fatherland.
Commuters on Kubwa and Musa Yar’Adua airport roads will never cease thanking this administration for making life better for them. They can afford to go about their businesses without stress as they enjoy Nigeria’s prosperity. The roads have also given our country a good reputation because our visitors are heralded into the capital city whose road infrastructure is not only safe, but also a wonder to behold.
The unique nature of Abuja as the home of the president, senators, House of Representatives members, members of the Federal Executive Council, most federal ministries and agencies, has given Nigerians greater hope of a united and prosperous country. With new roads and buildings coming up in every part of Abuja, the aesthetic quality of Abuja’s landscape compares favourably with many other developed cities of the world.
This transformation is taking place in an atmosphere where residents can exercise their freedom in a manner that would have been inconceivable a few years back. The recent elections into the six Area Councils come to mind. It would have been impossible for any other party, other than the ruling party to win an election in FCT in the days of maximum rulers.
Life expectancy and literacy levels have automatically improved, with availability of essential services like water, electricity, good roads and a peaceful environment where we can live, work and raise our children. Night life in Abuja is pleasant with entertainment in rich supply in various parts of the FCT.
In the final analysis, Abuja can be said to be on the threshold of its destination as the present administration continue to post success after success in diverse sectors with massive infrastructure gains as the central denominator. For instance, maternal and infant mortality in FCT has improved by 60% within the last three years. I encourage our leaders to be steadfast and not be deterred by negative and unappreciative criticisms, because in the words of Obama in Audacity of Hope:
“In some ways, the longer you are in politics, the easier it is to muster courage, for there is a certain liberation that comes from realising that no matter what you do, people will be angry at you, that political attacks will come no matter how you cautiously vote, that judgment may be taken as cowardice and courage itself may be seen as calculation. I find comfort in the fact that the longer I’m in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for power and rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and I’m answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience.”
Senator Bala Mohammed seems to share Obama’s vision as he is relentlessly pursuing his dream of making Abuja one of the best 20 global capital cities in the year 2020, as a reflection of his “steady gaze of his own conscience.”
· Mr. Ezeako Odi, a public affairs analyst wrote from Wuse 2 District, Abuja.