By Dave Baro-Thomas
A recent statistic affirms that 1.05 billion people live in slums, with Eastern Asia, Southern Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa countries accounting for 80%. While 62.1 % is in Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is said to have 80 million people living in slums, although that figure is considered a conservative estimate. It is one global phenomenon that demands urgency and deliberate action if the world must achieve SDG goal 11.
In this light, the recent ministerial appointment of the former governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, as FCT Minister with the many challenges plaguing the capital city, chief of which is the slum menace, underpins the imperatives for a concerted and well-organized approach.
Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, the Rivers State political warlord and maestro, fittingly approximates the proverbial cat with nine lives and such inference, remarkably, is by no means a stroke of fate or a fluke, but a reflection of consistent character driven by a commitment to the ideals of equity, truth, justice, loyalty, and trust – imbued with uncompromising deportment alien to his political contemporaries.
With outstanding performance posted as a second-tenure governor, Mr. Wike set new governance benchmarks, and he redefined the whole concept of project delivery in Nigeria by commissioning projects far into the twilight of his administration -prompting the conferment of a national award on him as Mr Project by President Buhari, an opposition government – quite historic!
From the political intrigues and underbellies leading to the emergence of the present administration, the nomination of Wike and his emergence as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, is one development hailed by Nigerians – irrespective of religion, age, ethnic or party affinities.
However, the question on the lips of many is, why FCT Minister and not Works or Power, given the unanimity among Nigerians that he has the guts to bulldoze his way through Mount Gibraltar to deliver the goods? And more so, those sectors are sore points with dire national consequences.
While breaking the jinx of appointing a Southern as Minister of FCT in 32 years, we must not lose sight of the enormous challenges before the mint Minister and strongman from Ikwerre kingdom.
No doubt, Mr. Wike’s competence synchronizes with the quest of Mr. President to institute a government of national competence, but tackling the hydra-headed problems in Abuja and its environs, the nation’s first mirror to the world, is no tea party.
From the five suburban districts – Gwagwalada, Kubwa, Nyanya, Jokowi and Karu to the satellite towns: Kuchigworo, Chika, Pyakassa, and Lugbe bordering the Abuja metropolis – there is the unmistakable difference and sharp contrast of beauty and opulence just a few kilometres drive away from the city centre.
Abuja today is usually locked down by obnoxious traffic gridlock, keeping commuters stranded for hours due to poor planning for a fast-growing city without corresponding infrastructural expansions and lack of foresight in traffic management. The sheer chaos during the early morning hours and closing hour rush questions the continuous lethargies and competence of the city managers. Abuja has become a city that even Sherlock, in The Merchant of Venice, will wrench over the height of profiteering in real estate within the capital city. No honest civil servant can comfortably afford accommodation in the metropolis without a visit by the EFCC.
Abuja has become one big dark alley with streetlights either not working or abandoned, fanning security breaches and many other challenges shamefacedly dragging the country into disrepute.
These and a plethora of challenges are the onerous tasks coupled with the demands of SDG goal 11- that the new Minister has on his plate.
The suburbs confront you with the stench of filth, the near total absence of infrastructural amenities, poor health and sanitary facilities, unplanned and uncoordinated street outlays and housing projects, no good roads in most communities, no potable water, irregular power supply, and lots more. – leaving people impoverished with no access to opportunities that will improve their fortunes, thus making a government for themselves.
Before the Honourable Minister embarks on his threat to demolish and bulldoze illegal properties and probably shanty settlements along the airport road corridor and others, there must be some serious house cleaning across the agencies and instrumentalities of the FCT administration because the stench of rots oozes out from those quarters. Otherwise, how come we have slums housing hundreds of thousands of people without active connivance and complicity between landowners and officials of the FCT?
Are residents of these slums war refugees that happened on the land/environs suddenly? We ask the right questions, and the culprits should get the necessary sanctions less, justice will not reign, and this problem will linger for a long time.
Again, there are speculations or probably beer parlour gist that the Honourable Minister will demolish the PDP uncompleted Secretariat and go for properties belonging to some PDP stalwarts and perceived enemies erected on plots distorting the Abuja masterplan. These are laughable contemplations we hope
So, Mr Project has his job cut for him. While fixing the ills of the metropolis, the ovation will be loudest far into the annals of history as one of the most successful FCT ministers if he brings his magic wand to bear over the slums around the FCT. This higher calling requires no haste or rash interventions but tactical and strategic engagements and developmental models.
Mr. Minister should move into the slums not with the aggression of absurd generalization that characterized some past ministers but with the capacity and competence he stamped Rivers State on the national map. These slums are not cases for half-hazard contemplation but require in-depth reformation, regeneration, and the engagement of compelling urban renewal templates for sustainable growth.
With the transformative zest and passion displayed in Rivers State, Mr. Minister should create access to these towns through a solid road infrastructure that he is reputed, arrest the drainage problems, build low-cost housing estates, and ease the heavy burden of accommodation while redesigning the transportation system through incentivized private sector model-driven framework, and even daring to expand the city rail system enshrined in the masterplan, e.t.c. Thus, restoration of the Abuja masterplan should be total but approached with a human face.
We cannot continue with the socio-economic burdens, pressure and the cost these slums put on the resources and development of the country, and with the limited executive powers at his disposal, we hope the Honourable Minister will not be swimming against the tide.