columnBy Umar Shu'aibu
"Abuja was my town but the nation asked for her. I kept her and then gave the name to our nation. Suleja is now my town and Abuja our town. I once owned Abuja but now Abuja owns me." Late Gen. Mamman J. Vatsa, 1984.
When in 1976 the announcement was made that the nation's capital was to be transferred from Lagos to Abuja the unsuspecting local indigenes were not in the least aware of how the erstwhile little town was going to shoulder that enormous responsibility. That was prior to the conduction of the demarcation of the actual boundary of the FCT and the subsequent ecological survey of the territory. It later became known that the actual Abuja town which is now Suleja was not going to be part of the FCT due to some extraneous factors. However almost 80 percent of the total area and the majority of the total landed assets of the former Abuja Local Government was to be excised for the FCT. The remaining 20% of the FCT was contributed by the former Keffi and Konton Karfe Local Governments of former Plateau and Kwara States respectively.
It might have been a coincidence but the promulgation of the 1978 Land Use Decree and the creation of the new Federal Capital Territory and the process of acquiring the land for the use as FCT were pursued concurrently by the Federal Government. As the leading casualty of the land use decree, one might not be wrong to assert that the acquisition of the land for the FCT must have informed the primary reason for the creation of the decree, other reasons adduced not withstanding. Perhaps to preempt the unconfirmed episode that arose during the first republic when land was requested for siting of air force base in the Eastern part of the country, but was denied. Only for the Late Sardauna to willingly obliged and graciously provided the land in the North, as such it was shifted to Kaduna.
Due to the weight and provisions of the Decree no compensation was paid for acquiring the land, it only applied to the available infrastructures, which included schools, clinics and the most extensive forest reserves in the northern Nigeria established by the former Abuja Native Authority. They were valued at 54 million Naira of yester years, approximated to only 7 billion Naira presently. Out of which till date only 27 million Naira was paid. In comparison to the land value in the city today the value of the central area district alone by far exceeds that figure.
Having acquired the land next was the name. the practice world over is to retain the original name of the land acquired for any new town, Abuja being an ancient kingdom it is more suitable than any. During the military era it only required an order from Dodan Barracks to the Niger State Government House that the Federal Government 'requests' the use of the name Abuja for its new Federal Capital. Implying that the name of the existing town had to be changed, otherwise it shall be confusing to have another Abuja for any other town or local government in Nigeria. The Niger State government in turn directed that request to the Emir of Abuja his Royal Highness Late Alhaji Suleimanu Barau, who subsequently met with his council. Since Abuja was derived after Abubakar Jatau the name of the first Emir and founder of the town, the Emirate Council thus decided to adopt the name of Suleja for the town, after Suleimanu Barau the reigning Emir when the FCT was created.
But for the change of the name, the Abuja Master Plan would have became a product of confusion, it made the IPA place a foot note at the preface page of the final report submitted to FCDA in 1979. It reads "IPA has been notified, after the publication of this report, that the name of the existing town of Abuja in Niger State will be changed to Suleja in order to avoid confusion with the name of the new Federal Capital City. Reference to ABUJA in this report denotes the existing city".
With the name and land gone uncompensated while the meager amount approved for taking over its infrastructure and forestry investments only partly paid, another demand came, that within the only 20% of the land left for the local government the Federal Government 'requested' for yet another piece of land within Suleja for siting of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) field base, necessitated by the urgent need for accommodation for the pioneer staff of the authority. However this time around it was to be on temporary basis, it was pledged that the whole estate shall be transferred to the host community when the FCDA finally leaves to the city within the subsequent 4 years. The 4 years elapsed since 1982 while the pledge was not fulfilled until 3 weeks ago, when the estate became dilapidated precisely 25 years after. Prior to that, the whole estate was about to be sold in the sale of FG houses exercise. It took the combined efforts of HRH The Emir of Suleja Malam Muhammadu Awwal Ibrahim, The Suleja Development Association (SUDA), Hon Rabiu Ishaq The Galadiman Zazzau Suleja and Senator Idris Kuta 12 years to discover the signed document which proved that the agreement was actually made, courtesy of the foresight of Malam Abdullahi Ladan the Kachallan Zazzau Suleja who was the secretary of Suleja Local Government, while at the same time doubling as the first accounting officer of the FCDA. The services of this octogenarian to the nation are still unrecognized.
Suleja was the town that nurtured Abuja at its infancy, where the FCDA worked, reviewed and accepted the Abuja master plan from IPA, it is Abuja's first and most important satellite town even before there was any, and the most absorber of its un-accommodated population till date, especially during major demolition exercises. It served the city before its actualization and is still serving it now. Yet it was not officially recognized as such by the Abuja Satellite Town Development Agency (STDA). It was never invited for any nor given any prominent role or recognition in any of the historical events taking place in the city like the Abuja at 30 celebrations. Yet it sacrificed its land, assets and name which were its symbol of its identity to the nation. How well to pay for a sacrifice to a dear nation!