Justice at last for Abuja indigenes!

Muritala Ramat Mohammed

After 42 years of complicated relationship with federal authorities that grabbed their land for the purpose of building a capital for the nation, Abuja original inhabitants last Monday got some significant justice that will change their national profile for ever. It is puzzling most news media organs were unaware of the ruling on the status of the Abuja original inhabitants that has some jurisprudential significance. This is the story even most judicial reporters either curiously missed or did not consider newsworthy: The Court of Appeal in Abuja on that Monday declared in a landmark judgment that indigenous inhabitants of Abuja are indeed entitled to a ministerial representation in the Federal Executive Council as provided by the combined provisions of Sections 147 (3), 299, 14 (3) and 42 of 1999 Constitution. The Court also declared that persistent denial and refusal of past and current presidents to so appoint an indigene of FCT Abuja as a minister in the federal executive council (FEC) since May 1999 tantamount to a gross violation of the said constitutional right against discrimination. Accordingly, the Court directed the President to immediately make the said appointment. N100, 000 was awarded against the president and the Attorney General of the Federation as first and second respondents.

Expectedly, some FCT indigenes have expressed delight over Court of Appeal’s Jan. 15 judgment that entitled them to ministerial representation in the Executive Council of the Federation.The natives of Abuja said the decision would give them the opportunity to fully participate in governance in the nation’s capital their forefathers donated to the nation more than four decades ago.

While congratulating the originals inhabitants, it is also important to implore President Muhammadu Buhari to implement the judicial decision without delay. This is in the interest of peace and stability of the permanent capital of the federation. The (federal) capital was legally moved from Lagos to Abuja on Thursday 12 December, 1991 by the then General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) military regime. The proclamation of Abuja as nation’s capital was done by the military regime of General Murtala Mohammed on 3rd December 1976.

The battle for this judicial recognition and victory has been a long drawn one. The natives have been agitating for political recognition and other rights since creation of the capital. Even the 1999 constitution has long been identified as unfair to the citizens of Abuja who actually have no other state of the federation to claim. Section 299 of the Constitution provides the ambiguity successive governments have been exploiting to cheat the people. They have political representation at the level of civil service up to the office of permanent secretary, National Population, among others, but specifically, representation at the cabinet level has been a huge challenge despite peaceful agitations. F0r instance, in October 2015, when the Buhari administration was concluding cabinet making, the Abuja indigenes protested for their right to nominate their own representatives too. But as usual, no one listened to them.

Specifically, yours sincerely had in the last three decades written more than 45 articles on the plight of the original inhabitants of Abuja, especially within the context of the ambiguous provisions in various extant laws on the Federal Territory that have always discriminated against them. What is worse, the Federation Capital has no democratic institution beyond its only six (local) Area Councils. No State Legislature as the Constitution makes the National Assembly the Assembly for the Natives. The Senate is made up of three Senators from each of the 36 States of the Federation. But Abuja has only one Senate Slot. The House of Representatives of 360 members have only two representatives from Abuja’s (two federal constituencies). Besides, the Constitution, which makes the President and the Vice President their Governor and Deputy Governors respectively, enables the same president, (their governor) to mominate a minister to represent the FCT in the federal cabinet. But the President, their governor is not mandated to name a representative from among the natives. This has been the tragedy of the ambiguity of the controversial Section 299, which has been main issue for the natives of Abuja. The section states specifically that Abuja should be treated as if it were one of the states of the federation… That was the main provision in the nation’s organic law the natives approached various courts to interpret. The main victory over this darkness came so clearly last Monday when the Abuja Court of Appeal ruled so powerfully, so unanimously that Abuja should indeed be treated as one of the states of the federation. This massive victory came as a thief in the night and the news media “comprehended it not” for recognition as a prominent news item for the front pages and prime time.

It will be recalled that before the last cabinet was sworn in, in 2015 hundreds of protesters under the aegis of Coalition of Indigenous Inhabitants staged a protest over alleged marginalization of the natives of capital city by the federal government.The protesters, comprising youths, old women and men, drawn from the six Area Councils of Abuja, took the protest to the gate of the National Assembly, almost barricading the access road before the police repelled them. That marked the end of the protest. The National Assembly, their Assembly did not table the request.

The natives said then that they staged the protest to clamour for a ministerial post and creation of what they term as “second tier government” in Abuja to bring government closer to the people.The indigenes also expressed dissatisfaction with the way Abuja indigenes were allegedly treated in the composition of departments and agencies under the Federal Capital Development Administration, FCDA. Their words then: “We are here to say we have been marginalized beyond what we can bear. We cannot sit down and people come from all over the country to rule us as ministers….”

The leader of the coalition then, Ezekiel Balatu was also quoted as saying that the FCT should be accorded a state status even as he argued that in the Nigerian Constitution, Federal Character principle and an Appeal Court judgment in the case of Okeyede vs FCTA supported their claim. “So we should have a minister like every other state,” he said.

Even the police then could not stop Balatu from adding that, “Also, we need a second tier government that will cater for the needs of the indigenes. Why we are here is because we don’t have our own House of Assembly. The National Assembly is our House of Assembly. It should not be. How can an Abaji resident reach Aso Rock Villa to complain? We should have a government that is closer to us, which is for the people and by the people. If our parents have endured this suffering for 39 years, we younger generation are saying no….”

Mr. Balatu however said they were motivated to embark on the protest as a result of their belief in President Muhammadu Buhari.Another leader of the group, Yusuf Danlami of Abaji Area Council, said the protest was genuine and, “it is not that we are sponsored by anybody.”A week before the protest, the only Senator representing Abuja, Phillip Aduda, raised objection to the non-inclusion of any indigene of FCT in the ministerial list read by the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki but no action was taken by the Upper House.

When the natives got frustrated even by their representatives at their Assembly, our Assembly, they headed for the ECOWAS Court based in Abuja too. They dragged the Federal Government of Nigeria to the ECOWAS Court over “political, social, and economic developmental deprivation and marginalization”.

The inhabitants had in their affidavit lamented, “continuous evacuation, demolitions of indigenous peoples of FCT Natives Houses, displacement of some indigenous communities of FCT original natives, grabs of their ancestral lands without legally due payments of adequate compensation or adequate resettlement.”

They also raised, “issues of land-grab, demolition of natives houses illegally, illegal arrest on the processes of demolition, ecological degradation/ environmental remediation, non-development of satellite towns, marginalization in appointments, non- compensation of compulsorily acquired lands, massive sacking  of whole villages for the appropriation of their landed/ natural resources by selfish politicians and their cronies in government”.

The inhabitants, therefore, sought certain order/reliefs including:
– A declaration that the applicants, as law abiding citizens, are entitled to right to life, freedom of movement, freedom of Association, right to human dignity, right to integrity of their person, right to the security of their person, right not to be discriminated in their society, and Right to guarantee their state status as citizens of Nigeria, FCT Abuja.

– A declaration that the applicants members who lost their lives, suffer illegal arrest, demolitions of their respective Houses in the FCT Abuja on the continuous violation of their Fundamental Rights are entitled to a compensation to the sum of (2 trillion Naira only), which is general damage caused by the government, during recent and past administrations and payment of outstanding compensation balance due to indigenes of FCT made by the federal government.

Meanwhile, the only consolation the Abuja natives got in recent years was in 2014 when the then political conference recommended an elected Mayoralty for the Federal Capital Territory. They had then commended the conference delegates for approving mayoral status, ministerial slot and compensation for FCT lands the federal government grabbed since 1976 without compensation.

In July 2014 the natives of the Federal Capital Territory on the platform of Original Inhabitants Development Association of Abuja (OIDA) commended the National Conference for giving voice to the aspirations of Abuja natives through the approval of a Mayoral status for Abuja; One (1) Ministerial slot for FCT; Two (2) additional Federal Constituencies; Two (2) additional Area Councils; an FCT Commission for Indigenous People and asking the Federal Government to accelerate compensation for owners of seized lands in the nation’s capital.

A statement signed then by OIDA Media Adviser, Sumner Shagari Sambo stated that, “a democratically elected Mayor and Deputy Mayor will aid good governance and accountability to the FCT electorate unlike the present ministerial system that lacks transparency and accountability to the people. It will also put Nigeria on the global map as one of the countries with an elected Mayor that runs its capital city in accordance with democratic best practices.”

The FCT original inhabitants added then that the recommendations of the General Ike Nwachukwu and Mohammed Kumalia led-Committee on “Political Restructuring and Forms of Government” was in tandem with the natives’ desire for a democratic system that allows Abuja indigenous people and other Nigerians resident in the city to freely elect leaders that can be directly held accountable by them. When will President Buhari implement the Court of Appeal’s significant judgment? There are useful lessons here from the strategy of the Abuja natives who have never spilled any resident’s blood in the name of massive land grab since 1976. We will continue the lessons some day by His grace!

In this article:
Muritala Mohammed


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