The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja is the focal point of political power in Nigeria being the capital city of the country. It is located at the centre of the country. It is both the head and the heart of the country. Head, because, it is where rational decisions affecting the country are made. Heart, because, it is located at the centre, just like the heart is located at the centre of the body and pumps oxygenated blood to the rest of the body for survival. Any nation that loses its capital to its adversaries suffers heart attack that could lead to the demise of such nation. As human beings protect their hearts from attacks so is a nation expected to protect its capital from attacks.
Lagos was the capital of Nigeria at independence. As time went on the leaders came to the realisation that Lagos, being a coastal city and a border territory, was susceptible to external aggression from the land, air and sea. Lagos also did not adhere strictly to the master plan of an organised city leading to the growth of a lot of disorganised suburbs posing serious security challenges to the seat of government then. The terrain of Lagos made it easier for coup plotters to take over power at the centre. All a coup leader needed to do to take over government was to cut off access to bridges leading to Lagos Island where the seat of Nigerian government was located. Even if the coup fails, he would have caused serious damages to some governmental infrastructures. The capital was moved to a new central location principally for the purpose of security, accessibility and unity. To ensure that this unity is preserved, every Nigerian is entitled to a plot of land in Abuja. This made the capital the melting pot of all tribes and religions in Nigeria. FCT is often referred to as the centre of unity. The Honourable Minister of the FCT, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello while addressing some guests that paid him a courtesy call recently at the wake of the #ENDSARS Protests reminded them that the FCT is built on a foundation of unity and tolerance for all Nigerians. He enjoined the residents in the FCT to join their compatriots across the country to stop and ponder deeply on the challenges currently confronting us as a nation and as people and imbibe the true meaning of piety, sacrifice, patience, tolerance and fellowship in our relationship and dealings with fellow residents, embracing dialogue to settle our differences and rejecting all attempts by unpatriotic individuals or groups to incite violence which in the end is unrewarding. Echoing the same sentiments, the Minister of State, Dr Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu reminded those gathered that they were indeed brothers and sisters regardless of ethnic or religious affiliations. The guests noted that the FCT has always been a home to all Nigerians where residents can practice their faith and professions without hindrance and stated that nothing should be allowed to overturn this situation.
A visit to any estate in Abuja confirms the sentiments shared by the current Ministers of the FCT. Each estate is a microcosm of the entire country and reflects our religious and ethnic diversity. The #ENDSARS protests exposed the fragility of the Federal Capital Territory and the need for everyone to heed the advice of the Ministers and live as brothers and sisters as whatever damages that result in any uprising affect every sector, section and economy of the country. Everybody agreed that the initial intention of the #ENDSARS protests was genuinely channelled towards ending police brutality. But the prolonged nature of the protests without identifiable leadership and after the five-point agenda has been accepted for implementation by the government posed security challenges to a lot of states, particularly the FCT because hoodlums hijacked the protests to unleash mayhem and looting throughout the FCT.
Fake news were spread across the FCT to fuel the looting. There was the impression created that the covid-19 palliatives meant for the people were hoarded from the people by the FCTA. I recall in our edition in this column titled, “Inside FCT Situation Room on Covid-19” published on the 12th of July, 2020, we noted that “the Federal Capital Territory Administration led by the Minister of the FCT, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, seeing the enormity of the medical emergency that covid 19 has imposed on the FCT did not pretend that they can solve the problem alone, especially in relation to the falling revenue from the Federal Government owing to the price of oil. He said, “it is very important that for us to jointly fight the covid 19 pandemic, we all have to work together”. He established the Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee which coordinated the partnership of the FCT with the organized private sector and saw the FCT wage a largely successful campaign against covid-19 with the provision and deployment of adequate bed spaces, palliatives, medical supplies, equipment and personnel. We noted also in that edition that “to cushion the effects of the pandemic on the welfare of the citizens of the territory, 600,000 households of 100,000 each from each Area Council initially benefited from the palliatives from the FCTA. A monitoring team made up of civil society organisations, religious and traditional rulers, youth and women groups was established to ensure an equitable distribution of the palliatives and the distribution was carried out through a door to door mechanism to prevent overcrowding”. Eventually the FCTA reached more than a million households in the territory with palliative food items under the supervision of the Hon. Minister of State prompting the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria and Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Nigeria, Ambassador Edward Kallon, to commend the Federal Capital Territory Administration for its efforts in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic in the Territory and vowed the continued support of the UN to the FCT Administration in its fight to ensure that the virus is kept in check. The FCTA had exhausted all procured and donated palliative items in its care before the widespread looting.
The private sector has always decided how their palliatives would be shared. The items that were looted at the Gwagwalada Warehouse on Monday, October 26, 2020, belonged to CACOVID (a group of Nigerian businesspersons and corporate organisations that goes by Coalition Against COVID-19, under its food distribution programme). The items were only formally handed over to the FCTA on Monday, 12th October, 2020, a week into the nationwide ENDSARS protests and the CACOVID Palliatives were scheduled for distribution before the End Sars protests began to turn violent. The CACOVID team had insisted on having beneficiaries’ list that was to be jointly reviewed by it and the FCTA and the process was stalled because of the endsars protests. A Committee that was earlier inaugurated to make the arrangements and to monitor distribution of the items, was forced to put every plan on hold.
The purveyors of fake news also spread the news that the #ENDSARS protests had ethnic colouration and was targeted against some ethnic groups leading to some clashes between some hoodlums and Igbo traders which resulted in the unfortunate loss of lives and properties of some protesters and traders at the Kabusa junction and Apo mechanic village. But for the timely intervention of the leadership of the FCTA, it would have degenerated to a national fiasco. On Thursday, 22nd October 2020, the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, the Minister of State, Dr Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu and Permanent Secretary of the FCTA, Mr Olusade Adesola, led an entourage of political, religious, community and traditional leaders on an assessment tour of locations within the FCT where ENDSARS unrests occurred recently. The entourage visited scenes of the unrest at Apo/Waru, Kabusa Junction in AMAC and Dutsen Makaranta in Bwari Area Council. While speaking to traders at the Kabusa Junction and Apo/Waru areas, Malam Bello commiserated with them for their losses and assured them that the FCTA would assess the extent of their losses and work towards appropriate compensation. He said “For those that have been encountered with destruction of their property, by the grace of God, the FCT Administration will ensure that all that needs to be done to ensure that you get adequately compensated will be done”. He also said that the FCT Administration will do all that it will take to ensure that peace and harmonious co-existence is maintained in the FCT and assured them of the Administration’s determination to protect their lives and property. He also appealed to them not to allow external influences to destroy the peace that has been built and maintained over the years. In his words “All of us have come here to earn a living, to find what we can do to maintain ourselves and family and I assure you that the FCT Administration will continue to ensure that your lives are protected, your properties are protected and above all, you have a correct environment for you to earn your livelihood”.
He did not stop there, the Honourable Minister of the FCT, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello went further to inaugurate an 18-member Ministerial Committee on Thursday 5th November 2020, to visit and assess the extent of damage to individual and public properties and assign value; identify those affected and ascertain their losses; identify lives affected and assess the loss suffered; recommend level and modalities of compensation; and advise the FCT Administration generally on measures to forestall future occurrences. This immediately calmed frayed nerves and restored the tranquility of the capital city. The Christian leaders commended the FCT Administration for the proactive steps it took in ensuring that the demonstrations did not degenerate into ethno-religious crises and commended the FCT Minister for the on-the-spot assessment tours and visits to the damaged and looted business premises. The Chairman of the Abuja, Nasarawa and Niger Branch of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Mr Odun Emasealu, saluted the efforts of the FCTA in containing the situation during the vandalisation of warehouses and factories. He said “As manufacturers, we invest a lot and we do much to keep commerce going. We now know that we have support from the administration and they actually came. In fact, as at yesterday, while the looting was going on, the Hon. Minister was in touch with us, calling more than 10, 15 times, calling all of us to ensure that we are at peace and today, he has come to see for himself. This is a big encouragement for all the manufacturers and we promise that we will keep investing and keep doing our best to employ a lot of these youths and create a peaceful place for us to live. On behalf of MAN and the Executive Council, we are very impressed and once again, we say thank you”. Yes, finding a way to get all these youths occupied should be the eventual target of the FCTA and other states in Nigeria. It is essential that they make efforts to understand the nation’s youthful population so as to engage with them. An early resolution of the ongoing ASUU strike so that students can go back to school will be helpful and an immediate and long term plans to check youth unemployment should be embarked on for an idle mind will continually be the devil’s workshop.