JA Control Panle

Peoples Daily

Home Columnist Wednesday Columnist No, Mark, Abuja’s poor won’t go ‘home’

No, Mark, Abuja’s poor won’t go ‘home’

E-mail Print PDF


Garba Shehu


Without his occasional flashes of extremist militancy, the current President of the Nigerian Senate should be your idea of a robustly successful politician.



More than anything, Senator (Brig-Gen.) David Alechenu Mark is a role model, especially for military men and women who aspire to political offices. In this country in the past (and the whole continent in that era of political primitivity), all that soldiers who wanted power needed to do was to shoot their way to the heavily fortified State House, detain or even kill the head of government, then take over the state-run broadcaster to announce the leading coup plotter as Head of State. Mark, I am sure, had himself got involved in a few of those coups otherwise the handsome patronages he got as military Governor and Minister would not merely have fallen on his laps. Be that as it may, he served his term in the Army and left or was he kicked out? The interesting thing about this successful military officer and politician  is that he launched himself into a completely new area, the treacherous quicksand that is politics in these parts, adapted well to it, emerging thereby not just a survivor but a strongman. He sits pretty as Senate President and to have survived into his fifth year in that revolving door is no mean achievement. Don't forget that at one point, this country's Senate changed its President almost every year. That was when Senate Presidents were called Warrant Chiefs. So the stability of the Senate means directly the stability of the National Assembly and this has positively impacted on the overall political system. With this positive example by General Mark and a few others like Generals Ja'afaru Isa, Onoja and even Babangida and Gusau, the message to ambitious military men and women is that if you desire political power or office, shed your uniform, join politics and contest a democratic election. The sky, as they say, is the only limit. I believe the day is not too far when Senator David Alechenu Mark will step forward to receive his honour.

Now what is wrong with this man, personally democratic in his instincts, but potentially irksome in speeches targeted at the poor? I have no problem with a historic speech he made in the 80s in which he said that the telephone was not for the poor; that Nigeria was the only country in the world where someone will pick a phone without a purpose but to say he called to greet you. Is this not true?

The speech he gave at the inauguration of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was however excessively militant, reactionary and undemocratic. He called on the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory to remove shanty settlements around the Federal Capital City, Abuja. "We should not allow the FCT to become where shanty towns will be. They are springing up already. People should not just leave their hometowns aimlessly to Abuja. The Master Plan must be adhered to. The moment you deviate from that, it becomes a problem," (Daily Trust, 30th September 2011).

The speech, to take it mildly, is a sad reminder to the el-Rufa’i era as Minister under Obasanjo who ruled with old style colonial methods. Demolition, destruction and deportations were the keynotes of that regime. Arising from that fatal blunder, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees listed Nigeria at that time as one of the countries with high incidence of internally displaced persons.

Thirty-five years ago, Abuja, the Federal Capital City, was a collection of farmers huts. Its choice as capital and transformation into a modern city changed all that with metropolitan hotels, bars, discotheques, parks, gardens, well paved roads and exotic restaurants and boutiques with parent houses in Europe, America and Asia. Abuja has the best water and power supply schemes in the country. It seems to be the most secure city in Nigeria.

The chief business of the capital of Nigeria, as to be expected, is government and  that has conferred on Abuja, the dubious honour of being the capital or chief domain of corruption, which is the nation's present day industry. In this city, the elite live on loot, material and otherwise. They told me the story of an American Civil Rights leader who, a few years ago, came to Abuja and was fascinated by the mansions and villas built all over the place. When he returned to America he went about telling his people about the great things the black man is doing in Africa, "building a whole new city without mortgage." The secret he would learn later was that the mansions and villas were built mostly by public servants with access to government treasury, meaning that they stole money to build them.

Following recent incidents of terrorist bombing and other crimes, the social atmosphere in Abuja has become somewhat strained. Peace has taken a flight. Policemen, tanks and armoured cars patrol the sometimes dead streets. Police and soldiers are watching everybody as residents seem to have been driven into cocoons.

Outside Abuja, the rest of the country is rapidly degenerating into an overall feudal slum. It is not just the surroundings of  Abuja. Roads, schools, hospitals are miserable beyond description, if they exist. With kidnappers and armed robbers having a field day in the rest of the country, even legislators and the key civil servants are removing their mothers from the villages, bringing them to Abuja. Business advisers, I am told, are now pointing to the Federal Capital City as the preferred location for new industries because it is the island of relative security with continuous water and electricity supply and other infrastructural facilities. Jobs, money and opportunities for making it in life abound in Abuja and if our people in the states who are brutally starved of these opportunities are impelled to leave their villages and come over to Abuja, nobody has the right to question them.

Senator Mark's tactless comment was like turning the knife in the wounds of ordinary Nigerians who are the human debris of bad governance. With past demolitions having rendered poor Nigerians homeless, jobless and hopeless, Mark's remarks were a deliberate insult to the sensibility of the majority poor whose votes he needs to retain his office. What is the percentage of the elite in terms of the larger voting population of Nigeria? The argument that Abuja is not for the poor is selfish. When you neglect the rural areas thereby making them unattractive, how do you check the influx of poor Nigerians from the countryside into Nigeria's Capital City? Should a mason stay in the rural area where there is no construction work to engage his services? Should a motor vehicle mechanic stay in the village where there are no cars?

These poor Nigerians have no choice but move to the cities where they have opportunities to put their skills to profitable use. We can recall that the House of Representatives only recently rejected a motion that sought to discuss shylock rent charges in Abuja. Nigerians were, however, not surprised at the self-serving rejection of the motion. We know who the owners of the properties in Abuja are.

From the point of view of political rights, no Nigerian, even if he happens to be the President of the Senate has the power to ride roughshod over the Constitution to ask that our youths stay back in their villages when the children of politicians are actively predatory about money, collecting automobiles and mansions in Abuja with a maddening flourish.

As a mature statesman, Senator Mark and all those in positions of authority will do well to focus on the uneven and unjust distribution of infrastructure and opportunities all over Nigeria and redress the iniquities. Otherwise the day is not far off when all our people will leave their towns and villages to crowd in on Abuja because that is where there is opportunity of job and wealth as well as a modicum of respectable infrastructure. We are in a democracy and the Constitution protects them.



Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment




Theories of BH(2) - Northern troubles

Weather Report

Abuja - Nigeria : Weather forecast
Weather Provided by weatherforecast

Today's Front Page

Find & Follows Us

Find us on facebook
Follow us on twitter