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Why Abuja Smart City Remains A Dream 14 Years After

By George George Idowu

The day was on Monday, March 18th , 2024, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Barrister Nyesom Wike, painstakingly gave vivid account of how a Land Director and a Lawyer engaged by FCT Administration, unilaterally connived to issue 500 hectares of land with infrastructure to an individual who in turn sold the land.

The minister made the disclosure during the 2023 budget defence and 2024 proposal before House Committee on FCT chaired by Hon. Aliyu Muktar Betara.

Wike explained that the embattled Director of Land gave the illegal approval few days after the immediate past FCT Minister, Mohammad Bello left office on the 29th May, 2023.

Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed began work as the 15th mininster of the Federal Capital Territory, on April 8, 2010, after a stint in the Sixth Senate.

As the minister for the FCT, he set up the necessary task groups, aggregated their submissions and, so armed, faced the herculean task of making Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, one of the best 20 global capitals by 2020.

To him, the basic problem of Abuja as of that time is infrastructure and nothing but infrastructure. He promised to turn Abuja to ”A Smart City” through a silent infrastructure revolution that will take place in Abuja,under him. Recall that the minister asked a popular weekly news magazine (now defunct), to go the whole hog and appraise all the signature projects that the FCTA has been embarked on to ensure Abuja become a Smart City.

One of the key points the minister highlighted as the catalyst for rapid development of the city is the Land Swap policy and the 15 investors involved in the policy.

When the Abuja Land Swap policy was introduced in 2010, during the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan, Nigerians were assured there would be plenty affordable houses in the districts that were considered for the land swap.

The Land Swap policy originated from Abuja’s Master Plan envisioning comprehensive development of the city and its suburbs for 25 years.

Senator Bala Muhammed, then Minister of the FCT (now the current Governor of Bauchi State), was quoted saying, ” We are going to have abundance of houses that will certainly bring down the cost of housing to bearable limit. That is because we are going to have houses that are going to be of large quantity of different species and character.”

The FCT Administration delibrately designed the Land Swap programme because of targeted benefits accruable in the short and long term. As of the early stage of implementation of the policy, the FCTA was already counting its blessings.

For exmple, the administration claimed that the initiative saved the authority over N4 billion, which would have been require for district development preliminary works in the area of survey, planning and engineering services.

NatureNews investigation into the implementation of Land Swap policy revealed the policy faces significant setbacks particularly corruption which inhibit realization of Abuja Master Plan.

Consequently, towards end of 2023, the current Minister of the FCT, Nyesom Wike, established a committee to review the policy amidst minimal progress.

The committee, tasked with scrutinizing relevant documents, aims to address complaints regarding land swap and the sale of federal government houses. Concerns arise over abandoned properties and undocumented transactions, prompting a thorough investigations.

According to the plan that was well celebrated in the media when it was launched, it envision a territory that would be built in 25 years with 79 districts, nine sector centres and 11 stellite towns with the planned maximum population of 3.2 million people. Despite the projection, today, Abuja’s population surpasses expectations, growing at an exponential rate.

For example, the United Nations noted that Abuja grows at an annual rate of 139.7% between the year 2000 and 2010, making it the fastest growing city in the world.

The 35% lower growth rate in 2015 still made the Nigeria’s capital city the fastest growing city in Africa. Meanwhile, in 2013, the population of the FCT was put at around 5 million people with only 11 districts completed.

Our findings showed that Abuja is yet to meet up with the expected infrastructure development needed as of the time which necessitated the introduction of Land Swap policy.

Expectedly, the Land Swap policy was introduced to concretise the vision of Abuja as a true modern city. A modern capital city of a country like Nigeria with abundance natural and human resources ought to be one with state-of-the -art infrastructure such as good roads, regular water supply, adequate security of the people and their property, underground electrical and sewage connections, clean environment, regular supply of electricity and many more.

All these are still a dream at Abuja after different modernisation programmes and yearly budget has gulped trillions of naira without actualising the dream city. One of the questionable project that gulped billions of naira was the CCTV network in the city.

It was recalled that the project became moribund because the CCTV cameras don’t capture ciminals when there are security breaches. Some security experts raised up flag about the obsolete nature of these cameras and called for satellite radar -based system.

Hence, in 2021, the Land Swap policy was readjusted to make it more effective for all parties invloved. Part of the adjustment made was a legal framework that protect the interests of all parties, including the investor, the FCT Administration and the project (Housing) off-takers.

NatureNews research on this policy indicated that it was used successfully in other countries to build critical infrastructure at various times in their history. For example, the iconic tower in the United Kingdom (UK), called the Shard of London was built through land swap. It was formerly known asLondon Tower Bridge.

After the World War II, Britain used the land for infrastructure concept to develop 25 new cities. India has successfully utilized the policy to develop new towns. Denmark used lnd swap to develop a new town called Orestad, outside Copenhagen, the capital city.

Even African countries have been accessing the land swap option to achieve development goals. Egypt has used land financing to develop 20 new cities.

The same policy was used in rehabilitation of terminals in Apapa Port by Flour Mills Plc and those of Onne Port terminals by the duo of Intels Limited and West African Continental Limited. Example is limitless.

Land Swap ought to give opportunity for growth. There has been massive movement of the people coming on daily basis into the FCT from the southern part of the country in search of job and economic opportunities. Ditto for people from the states in the northern part of the country. People are relocting to Abuja everyday because of insecurity in their states.

Population of Abuja will not stop growing. The projections for the dream ‘Smart City’ is a little over three million resident but with the influx of people from far aaaand near across the country and the neighbouring Niger Republic, it is likely the city’s population will rise up to around 10 million next year.

The issue of corruption that has taken place in various quarters such as among civil servants, politically exposed people, the investors and government officials involved in the Land Swap implementation in Abuja has made the dream of a ‘Smart City’ become elusive about one-and-half decade after its launch.

So far, the Land Swap policy spearheaded by the FCDA benefit only few people who made millions through the backdoor while the dream city still remain a fantasy of the ‘Smart City’ initiator.

 

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