Sleepless And Speechless In Abuja And Other Cities

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

I have just returned from Nigeria, and I also visited our capital city, Abuja. Abuja is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in sub-Saharan Africa. If we don’t want to go that far, then it is the only beautiful city in Nigeria. It has got much about everything that a modern city should have – imposing beautiful public and government buildings; private abodes with exquisite out-of-this-world architecture (most of these are actually castles or villas, and not just houses, as only the Nigerian rich can build); the roads are neat, wide and motorable; well-planned lay-outs; relatively good security; centre of Nigeria’s government, etc. But alas, somebody forgot to include an effective, cheap public transportation system for the common man – rail, buses or any other. As a Nigerian, I am always awed and proud of it, but with mixed feelings and reservations. I am always at a loss why no Nigerian government has ever considered replicating Abuja in other state capitals around the country. They would not, would they?

Abuja is a “planned city”, as it was mainly built in the 1980s and officially became Nigeria’s capital on 12 December 1991, replacing the role of the previous capital Lagos. As of the 2006 census, the Federal Capital Territory has a population of 778,567. Abuja is known for being the best purpose-built city in Africa as well as being one of the wealthiest and most expensive. The logic used for conceiving Abuja, by the Murtala Mohammed-Obasanjo military regime of the late 70s, was similar to Brazil building its capital Brasilia.

It is of course not my first or second time in this city built with the wealth Nigeria has gained from oil, and the sufferings of the people of the Niger Delta (Sorry to put a dampener on your sensitivities). Indeed the residents of the real Abuja are not ordinary Nigerians. Whenever I visit Abuja, I could not but help being overcome with mixed feelings. One, and the positive thing, is that Abuja is a testimony to Nigeria’s effort to be a modern state, and one that a Nigerian should be proud of. The second, and definitely negative of disheartening, is that Abuja represents man’s inhumanity to man, in all its ramifications. It is a testimony or evidence to the monstrous, contagious and murderous corruption of Nigeria. A testimony to the debilitating effect that corruption has had on us since the military took over governance of this country. It is the evidence of greed, insincerity, mismanagement and bad governance of our country. It embodies the desire and effort of the corrupt ruling class that have enslaved their people for decades. Look at it beyond the issue of beauty and modernity.

Every time I visit this city, and talk to people, it is always the same sense of futility and pessimism, and incidentally, these are expressed by both the ordinary Nigeria on the street as well as those in various levels of the society – civil servants, politicians, private and business people. All of them believe that the deliverance of this country is only by praying to God. They all believe, and these include those in Lagos, Ibadan, Ortukpo, Kano, Kaduna, Benin, Minna, Yola, Jalingo. Ogbomosho, Calabar, Sokoto, Ife, Ado-Ekiti, Warri, etc, that only God can save Nigeria.

Mind you, I am a fairly religious person. At least I believe in God, even if I don’t attend church regularly as my mother would have liked me to do, but I have a problem reconciling this “given-up” attitude of my countrymen that only God can deliver them from the evil cabal that is ruling them. They do not believe that they, as a people, can and have to do it themselves. And I am talking about even the people who should not be saying such things. I am talking about people, whose remit is to ensure the smooth running of Nigeria, either as civil servants, politician, military personnel, police, business people and the likes. One thing that comes to mind is that these same people are either being deliberately insincere with me and their countrymen and women, or they really do not know what to do. Either way, we all know it does not bode well for the country, and explains, almost graphically, why the country is in such a mess as we find ourselves in today, and in the future too.

On the other hand, such sentiments shows us to be pessimists and a people, at least those ordinary Nigerians, who have no other choice than to live and struggle it out in Nigeria, who have given up on the country itself and are convinced that Nigeria’s salvation can only come from God. Well, I agree that God can indeed save us, but I always ask them; have you heard of the saying that “heaven only helps those who help themselves”?

Abuja, being our capital city, is supposed to be an embodiment of Nigeria, and Nigeria, in all ramifications – culture, politics, socio-political development, a testimony to a country rousing itself out of the ashes of civil war, religious riots and ethnic rivalries, on its way to being a modern and developed country. But no, you cannot see all these and many features of political and democratic emancipation in Abuja. What we see is a vagrant display of stolen wealth, outright oppression, arrogance of power, unchecked political, governmental and moral corruption, neglect of fellow Nigerians and all the vices that have virtually destroyed our nation, and turned the majority of Nigerians into paupers and/or crooks.

Well. People tell me that the success of Abuja lays solely on ex-President Babangida, since it was him, more than any previous Head of State, who accelerated the building of Abuja and forced the civil service, the diplomatic corps, etc, to move into the partly-completed city in the 80s. I might begrudgingly accept that, but then it is no wonder that the city is decadent like its “accelerator”. What do we know? A lot of Nigerians made their money out of the building of Abuja, and are still making money, because the city is actually not complete and is still growing. All these to the grief of the Niger Delta people; no wonder they are aggrieved. Can you blame them?

However, it was for selfish reasons that IBB accelerated the building of Abuja. He made that decision shortly after the Orkah coup, in which he was nearly bushwhacked and killed. He surmised that Lagos, as the capital of Nigeria, was not safe for him, especially since he did not have plans to relinquish power for a long time, and made haste to retreat to the relative safety and proximity of Abuja to his Minna hometown as well as to the Nigerian Army facilities in the northern part of the country. Also he could exercise better control of the armed forces from Abuja, instead of the coup-hardened soldiers based in Lagos.

Abuja typifies some of the failings in our society which, according to Tunji Lardner, has enough for everybody’s need but not enough for everybody’s greed; a society where the greed (of the elite) most often surpasses the need (of the populace). You cannot be an ordinary citizen of Nigeria and live successfully in Abuja. The city is for rich, mostly corrupt Nigerians. All other people live on the outskirts of the city, called “satellite towns”, and come into the city to satisfy the whim and services of the rich. The ostentatiousness and pretentiousness of the city are overwhelming. The rotten smell and evil face of corruption are overpowering, nauseating and cannot be ignored, if you are not “one of them”. But Nigerians seem to love it that way.

Mind you, I am not against being rich. I would like, and work hard, to be rich too. Why not? I am just against corrupt enrichment. And that is what we have in Abuja. Babangida, and subsequent leaders of Nigeria to date, ensured that living in Abuja is beyond the reach of the majority of Nigerians; not that I want 140 million Nigerians to crowd into Abuja, but you know what I mean. If a plot of land costs between 30 and 40 million naira, what would you build on it, for example? You had better build a castle. The corrupt rich have cornered the real estate market. They have all the houses and the estates. Most of these are politicians and ex-military leaders and civil servants. Even the commercial properties are owned by them. In fact, anything that is not government property is probably owned by these individuals.

I cannot know or list them all, but here’s an example. There is a large expanse of building called Sigma Apartments (I forgot which street it lies) and I was told it is owned by an ex-Minister for Sports. See? That tells you why our football and other sports are spiraling downwards every day. Several high quality hotels, guest houses, shopping complexes and plazas are owned by ex-military officers and serving politicians. And these people do not own one, but several each. In most of the “big men’s” castles, you can count up to six exotic vehicles, while Abuja itself has no public transportation worth its name for the masses to travel in to and from work. Babangida forgot to include a mass transit or urban rail system in his master plan.

This rapacious land-grabbing and property-acquisition frenzy reminds me of Leo Tolstoy’s short story “How much land does a man need?” This was the story of a man, Pakhom who already had some land but went in search of more land, this time, freehold land, until he got to the land of the Bashkirs, where he was told he could take as much land as he could walk around in a day at the rate of a thousand roubles a day, but he must be back at his starting point everyday, by sunset. But Pakhom got greedy. He set out at dawn, grabbing long stretches of land, by the time he decided he had had enough land, and he embarked on the journey back, he had travelled so far and he was very exhausted, and ran back as fast as he could, but he couldn’t make it. He slumped and died. The Bashkirs were only sympathetic to his plight. Pakhom’s workman picked up a spade and dug a grave for his master – six feet from head to heel, which was exactly the right length – and buried him.

Tolstoy’s metaphor is a remarkable observation on the futility of human strivings, on the emptiness of avariciousness. In seeking to acquire more and more land, Pakhom ended up not having anything, including his life. (Obasanjo, you who are acquiring land left, right and centre, to expand Obasanjo Farms, take heed of this story, if you have not read it already)

Let the “owners and acquisitors” of Abuja grab as much of Abuja, and indeed, Nigeria, as they could. But what is the point? How many billions of naira do they need to steal? How many rooms can sleep all at once or how many cars can they ride at once. As the Holy Bible said, “what profits a man, who gains the entire world, but loses his life?”

It was while I was in Abuja that several Ministers were sacked from President Yar’Adua’s cabinet. One of them, the Federal Capital Territory Minister, Moddibo, who has done virtually nothing since he was appointed in 2007, was said to be crying upon hearing of his sack. He replaced El-Rufai, who was actually his mentor, but whom he (Moddibo) later turned around to stab in the back. In the meantime, several of the sacked Ministers are already rich beyond their own imagination, just for being in government for less than 2 years. Meanwhile, the lobby to become a Minister is already on, but you can bet that our very own “Mr. Go-Slow” will take another few months before replacing the ministers.

Ah! The best news I have heard in a long time happened on Friday 7th November, when a source called me and told me that the so-called invincible, most powerful man in Nigeria sport for the past 17 years has been unceremoniously removed as the Director General of the Nigerian Sports Commission. Yes, Dr Amos Adamu; that most corrupt of civil servants in Nigeria finally met his Waterloo. He over-climbed the tree when he and others in the Local Organizing Committee for the2009 FIFA U17 World Cup embarrassed the country by inflating the cost of the games from N9 billion to N37 Billion. Can you imagine that? Goddamn thieves! They should be shot. But anyway, Amos Adamu, that Ogbomosho man who pretends that he’s a Northerner to further his career, was told to report to the Head of Service, for re-deployment. This is effectively the end of his civil service career. He should be happy; he is a billionaire civil servant; he is still in FIFA, CAF and he’s currently the President of WAFU. A few months ago, he publicly stated that he was conducting an investigation into corruption in Nigerian sports, and gave the committee he inaugurated 28 days to carry out their investigation and submit it to him. After over 6 months, we are still waiting for that report. He said a few years ago, that when he retires, he will become a priest. I wonder what he will preach to his congregation about corruption. Good riddance.

And another Ogbomosho man (please I don’t have anything Ogbomosho people, my mother was born and bred in that noble town) is riding rough-shod over Oyo State, basking in the glory of being the state’s chief executive officer, but actually doing nothing. He’s hardly spent a year in office, after one of the most rigged elections in the history of the state, nay, Nigeria, and he’s already planning for a second term (God forbid bad thing). The man, who many people are wont to say, is charming and friendly and a good man personally, if you get to meet him, recently spent a hundred million Naira on his daughter’s wedding. Don’t ask me where the money came from; your guess is as good as mine. The rumour is that all the 33 local governments and all ministries and parastatals were asked or coerced into donating this money. And meanwhile, go to Ibadan, the state capital, and you will be sorry you ever entered the ancient city which should have been one of the foremost industrialized, progressive, beautiful and most developed cities in Nigeria today. I am from the city, and every time I go there, there is really nothing that shows that this was a city that was the capital of the old Western Region during the premiership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the old Western State of Fajuyi and Adeyinka Adebayo, the old Oyo State of Jemibewon, Bola Ige, etc, and now the capital of the new Oyo State. Every other state capital carved out of the old Western Region have moved on and are seeing some kind of development or the other; but not my city of Ibadan, that used to be the military backbone of the Oyo Empire.

Forget about that former school teacher of mine, Lamidi Adesina and the naïve Rasheed Ladoja. The two were major disappointments, and after those two, what do you expect? Adebayo Alao-Akala, sacked policeman, who never expected to be more than a local government chairman, but became first, the deputy governor, and backed by the late godfather, Lamidi Adedibu, became the “execu-thieve” Governor of Oyo State. Such is the state of Nigeria today. With ex-convicts like James Ibori as governor of Delta State for eight disastrous years, state governorship has become a free-for-all. But then what about governors who are well educated and well-read like Agagu of Ondo State and Odili of Rivers State? Any difference between these people? No!!

Nigeria was not all that of gloom. The news of Barack Obama’s victory in the US met me in Jos. I was glued to my hotel room’s television all night. I need not say anything further on this. All I wanted to say have been said, and more, by thousands of writers and commentators, but the frenzy in Nigeria was probably unsurpassed by even the Americans themselves. Even Nigerian politicians were ecstatic, and it makes one wonder whether there is hope for us in that part of the world. A comparison between Nigeria and America’s versions of politics and democracy is certainly food for thought for many years to come. The way Nigerians reacted to Obama’s victory is a vocal yearning for real democracy and progress in our country. We can only hope this will be replicated in 2011. Dare we hope?

In Lagos and Lagos State, only the blind will not see what Governor Babatunde Fashola is doing. The man has been a revelation, despite many people’s initial misgivings about the support he received from his predecessor, Ashiwaju Tinubu. People say Tinubu is still calling the shots, but the evidence is there that Fashola is showing the pace for all other states to follow. Again, I should not recount his achievements so far, but only to pray that God gives him the wisdom, the long life and good health to continue as he started.

All that said, I was in Benin City, Edo State to witness Governor Oshiomole’s inauguration and swearing-in. It was a victory for democracy and again a sign that our judiciary is not all that bad. Let’s leave it at that. In other states where elections results were put into question, such as Osun, Bayelsa, Cross River, Adamawa, Oyo, etc, there were indications that the Electoral Tribunals were greatly compromised and thereby delivered slanted judgments in face of overwhelming evidence of political rigging and corruption. Edo State and Oshiomole should give us another reason to hope that Nigeria is changing politically, and that while our political and democratic process might appear slow, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Well done to the Electoral and Appeals tribunal that oversaw this case. I wish the new Governor the best.

There are so many things I would have liked to bring out about my visit to Nigeria this time, but space precludes my doing so. Suffice it to say that my people are still suffering, corrupt ex-governors and other politicians are still roaming the streets and still dictating the tunes, current politicians are still embroiled in the mesh of corruption (the car scandal of the House of Representatives, etc). I even heard that a former Secretary-General of the Nigerian Football Association, NFA, has a hotel in South Africa; the Chief of Staff to the Rivers State Governor embezzled five billion naira (how he can do that without his boss’s knowledge beats my imagination) and the politicians and leaders are still pulling the wool over our eyes and trying to convince us that a dog is a monkey.

Finally, on the sacking of ministers, appointing new ones, and reshuffling President Yar’Adua’s cabinet, the sum total is Work Done Equals Zero. Nothing has changed or will change. If Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa does not go, Nigeria’s fight against corruption is doomed to failure. The man is holding us up, let’s get rid of him. Times are no longer desperate for the corrupt; they are indeed basking and glorying in it in the glare of everybody. Even new Governors have devised new ways of corrupt enrichment, as was confided to me by a staff of the EFCC.

I say, let the truth be said always.

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Ade Adewale December 2, 2008 - 6:36 pm

Good write up.

I think the labour leaders are the ones letting ordinary people down in Nigeria.

The Abuja master plan should have been criticized and all ordinary peoples attention drawn to this.


Reply November 29, 2008 - 11:10 am

Welcome back brother. Our struggle to make Nigeria great continues. We shall not be discouraged. May the spirit of the lord continue to guide us.


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