interviewBy Ben Atonko and Cynthia Ilo
Mr Moses Aba is the director, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Federal Capital Territory (FCT) directorate. He explains why government will continue pulling down illegal structures in the FCT
Now, removal of illegal structures is ongoing and residents accuse government of insensitivity. Has government really done the right thing?
We need to understand issues involving the matter of demolition. One, we should realize that Abuja is not like any town. It is a planned city particularly the FCT. Therefore, structures just springing up without following the laid down plan are unacceptable.
We must also realize that every parcel of land in the FCT is provided for in the master plan. What we have seen is people coming, going to the local chiefs, giving them money, have some negotiations and they are given plots without verifying what those plots are for in the master plan.
I give you few examples. If you travel along Kubwa expressway and you get to that community called Die-dei, you will see that in the past months, the community has been growing without recourse to appropriate authorities.
Two, if you go to Gwagwalada, there is this community called Gwako I and Gwako II. That community is sprawling now. I have no doubt in my mind that the people are not taking into cognizance that there are plans for such parcels of land. If tomorrow, government says this place is for this purpose...For example, the Gwako area I'm talking about, that land belongs to the University of Abuja. If tomorrow government goes there to effect demolition, there will be outcries
In the first instance, people have built on where they are not supposed to. They have built without following the process of acquiring the land in a proper way. This is what has led us to what we are witnessing today.
Do you think people have been adequately sensitized on this process of acquiring land and building?
I will say yes or no because I'm not in FCT [Administration] to know whether the people were adequately sensitized and adequately given information. But from what we see, there are officers who are supposed to be moving around to see if structures come up where they are not supposed to come up. If a structure comes up not in accordance with the laid down plan, it is marked. People are supposed to stop building. But people ignore such warnings and continue to build.
What we heard is that notices were given to the residents of Mpape before demolition was carried out. Whether the notice was sufficient for them to make alternative arrangements is what I cannot say. Whether the people were sufficiently sensitized to be able to move out of that place is what I cannot say.
But your mandate is to inform Nigerians so they make proper choices.
That is true! And that leads me to talk about what happened recently. The minister of state who is in charge of satellite towns inaugurated a ministerial committee on 23rd of this month [August]. That committee is to sensitise the residents and make them take ownership of their communities and vegetate them.
This is where NOA is coming in. After the inaugural meeting, we broke into subcommittees and NOA was made to chair the subcommittee on publicity and sensitization. I have been made to develop a blueprint which will be used in the day-to-day visitation to these communities that are involved in ensuring that they are adequately informed so that we have a befitting city, befitting satellite towns. In the past, NOA had not been part of their [FCTA] operations. FCTA has its information unit that is supposed to carry out that function.
You have worked in many rural committees in FCT. What has been the experience?
Experience in what area?
You do sensitization. Do they do the things you tell them to do?
NOA is supposed to consistently raise awareness. That is our key mandate. This year, we have done a lot of work. When the federal government was to commence the implementation of the increased tariff in the electricity sector, NOA was called upon to do some sensitization and create awareness among the public so that they are sufficiently informed of what was ahead of them.
In FCT, we went to the nooks and crannies, not just the towns, the suburbs and even the villages that have electricity. We sufficiently informed them. It was overwhelming. Overwhelming in the sense that the moment people were informed that NOA was coming to talk to them, we could see a surging population coming to hear what we were saying. So to me it was a huge success because in creating awareness your audience is your first target.
We also went out to make people take ownership of government projects particularly the MDGs projects. Remember that MDGs have time line--by 2015 so and so should have happened. NOA realized that it is not enough for government or any organization to put structures or put projects in a community--you must ensure that those projects are accepted by the community, they take ownership so that they can protect them and elongate the life span of those projects.
So we went to the communities to dialogue with the people not just MDGs projects, government projects generally as government's thing because that is the mentality of Nigerians. They are to see those projects as "our projects". When you see projects as our project, you protect such projects and they serve the purpose they were sited. It was wonderful.
Today, these communities having set up monitoring teams that monitor projects, are doing well. Hitherto, there were projects that maybe for just N1,000, N2,000, N5,000 defects, were left like that. Sometimes they were left to be vandalized.
We have also been in the field for the past three years with UNICEF. We have gone to over 200 communities in the six area councils to set up what we call Youths as Agents of Change because we believe that communities belong to these young ones and there are things they do not necessarily need to wait for government to do for them.
We have mounted what is called Community Information Board that has indicators that tell the community its health status--whether it is doing well or not. If they are not doing well, they conduct community dialogue with the view to finding solutions to the problems.
With the coming in of the new Director-General, Mr Mike Omeri, activities in the agency have been stepped up nationwide. There is no more dull moment for NOA staff. Many are in the field monitoring these Community Information Boards I talked about--monitoring to see how community dialogues in these communities have been conducted, what has been the challenge they have. On quarterly basis, we come together, get the records they have kept, harmonise and send them to UNICEF.
Your mandate includes enlightening the public on government activities so they can make informed choices. Why have we failed in sensitising the people so this phenomenon of sprawling illegal structures in FCT is curtailed?
It is a big problem. It is multifaceted. Look at the aspect of insecurity particularly in the northern party [of Nigeria]. This insecurity has brought about influx of people into the Federal Capital Territory. It is on record that more than 100,000 persons come into FCT on daily basis.
When people come, they want shelter, they want to look for means of livelihood. So the infrastructure in the FCT are already overstretched. One of such resources is land. When people come, of course, the first thing is how can I accommodate my family? Because of desperation, the next thing is a local chief somewhere says I have a parcel of land, I want to sell it to you. They go there and pay the money and commence development.
Please, before you start anything, find out, this land I'm building on, are the papers genuine? Is the local chief the right person to give me land? If the answers are no, go to the right authorities. if land is acquired through the appropriate authorities which is the Federal Capital Territory Administration, definitely, nobody will come and demolish your properly.
Two, there is this angle to it of original inhabitants wanting to play fast one by selling out land which they think is ancestral to them. It could be out of ignorance. This land is in the hands of the federal government. They do not have right to that land any more. Because by the land decree, the land is vested in the powers of the federal government which has been ceded to the honourable minister overseeing FCT on behalf of the president.
Doesn't this amount to weeding out the indigenous people?
I'm a Gbagyi man and I originate from FCT. But we are talking of legitimacy, we are talking about constitutional matters--tribal sentiments shouldn't come in here. By the decree establishing the Federal Capital Territory, all parcels of land which are over 900sqms are now in the hands of the federal government.
Recently NOA honoured a cab operator for returning forgotten money. Why did NOA chose one when there were many of such examples.
When the Director-General came into office on January 17th, 2012, he made it clear that there are core values that no society can do without. Yes hundreds or thousands have demonstrated that.
Remember that he is an airport taxi driver and the image of the country was also at stake. It was a foreigner who forgot that thing in that taxi and this man honestly returned that N18 million. It is a showcase of honesty. This is going to be continuous thing. The DG was also in Lagos to honour the governor of Lagos who stopped an army colonel who driving wrongly. Any body who displays the core values NOA is watching.