19 September 2012

Nigeria: The Rich and Poor Dwellers of a Capital City


One of the satellite towns

The FCT Master Plan consists of a dichotomy where the Federal Captal City (FCC) is to develop along with the Satellite Towns, where majority of the population and working class lives, but for some unknown reasons, these town have been allowed to rot away by subsequent FCT Administrations, writes Senator Iroegbu

The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is today grappling with developmental crisis, where the majority of its population is being consigned to live in the satellite towns with little or no infrastructural provisions, while the planned but sparsely populated city centre is left for the privileged few.

But the poor are no longer at ease. They want a fair share of good life too. That, perhaps explains the brewing anger amongst the residents of the FCT who felt marginalized by the current development design that is seen to be planned in a discriminatory manner in favour of the 10 per cent super rich enjoying over 70 per cent of infrastructural provisions against the 90 per cent of the population with only 20-30 per cent of social amenities.

This anomaly is in contrast with the usual but a well-thought practice in most major cities of the world to ensure that the majority working or middle class of the society lives in the city centre where all the major infrastructures and institutions of employment are located while the super rich are remotely located at the suburbs.

The thinking flows from the need to ensure that the majority of the working population is not only provided with the basic social amenities, but also have easy access to their places of work and by implication maintain a social-culturally healthy society and productive economy.

In addition, the idea is that the minority rich have all the resources to maintain the demanding life-style of a "country-home" kind of abode, where they can easily drive down-and- fly through with their private jets, while satisfying their fantasies.

Unfortunately, it is the opposite case in the FCT, which prides itself as the only planned city in Nigeria. The prevailing situation only flatters to deceive especially for first time visitors who might be rightly impressed by the pace of development and super-modern structures that dominate the Federal Capital City (FCC), which is a direct opposite of squalor that is most of the satellite towns dotting the entre territory.

Many have argued that this apartheid style of development that is currently being orchestrated in the so called Centre of Unity, is shamefully similar to the colonial era when the European masters created the centre for the privileged few and the periphery for the majority masses.

It is alarming that the FCC-Satellite concept has created a psychological class dichotomy that other parts of the FCT are not regarded as Abuja, and Nigeria leaders have accentuated this status quo through decades of selective development in favour of the city.

Accordingly, the ugly scenario of Satellite towns was recently brought to the fore during the Primus Hospital-FCT Health and Human Service Secretariat "Free Health Outreach" Programme in Dei Dei Building Materials Market, which was launched by the wife of the FCT Minister Hajia Aisha Bala Mohammed.

While commending the initiators of the programme, the Vice President of the Market, Mr. John Okoro did not mince words to draw the attention of the FCT First lady to the extent of decay in Dei Dei town.

Okoro literally exposed the ills that have befallen all the environmentally degraded and neglected enclaves called "Satellite Towns" including poor road networks, lack of drainages, tap water and proper waste disposal system.

"We are environmentally sick, and are virtually without a road. We are really suffering and your Excellency ma, I want you to please convey our message to the FCT Minister Senator Bala Mohammed that we need road", he pleaded.

"I want you to know that there is no way Abuja can claim to be developed without this market because this is where the building materials for the development of FCT comes from, and without access roads this will not be possible", added.

Sadly, the scenario depicted above is prevailing in all the satellite towns from Abaji to Nyanya; where weeds have taken over most of the streets, and some once adorable towns such as Karu are fast receding into a shanty status plagued with potholes ravaged and refuse littered streets.

The FCT leadership has failed to appreciate the fact that proper and sustainable development of these towns could provide the urgently needed solution to congestion and economically sapping high cost of living, especially in the real estate sector.

In addition, opening up of these abandoned settlements could bring the sought-after economic boom through employment generation and wealth creation, which will once again be led by the real estate sector.

It is however pitiable that these economic potentials are not being harnessed but instead allowed to waste away or sacrificed at the altar of satisfying the insatiable appetite of the ultra-wealthy elites at the city centre.

Although Mallam Nasir El-Rufai did recognize the potentials of some of these satellite towns including Karu, Kubwa, and Gwagwalada amongst others, but he was more preoccupied with demolition to restore the much vaunted Abuja Master Plan and therefore, did little or nothing to improve the standard of life in these suburbs.

Meanwhile, some have argued that the concept of satellite towns and FCC is not a bad one as there are successful cities, especially in Brasil where the idea is said to have emanated. They maintained that what is needed is to improve the standard of living of these areas so that they can be socio-economically viable and interdependent enough to relieve the pressure from the centre.

Fortunately, FCT Minister of State, Oloye Olajumoke Akinjide on assumption of office recognized the importance of Satellite towns to the overall development of FCT and promised to make it central focus of her administration.

Akinjide expressed concern over the shortage of affordable accommodation in the FCT and assured that FCTA will improve the situation through focused development of the satellite towns.

She however disclosed that the project will require N37.463 billion in 2012 alone, and has gone ahead to back her words with action by revitalizing the defunct Satellite Towns Development Agency (STDA) with a take-off grant of N2 billion.

While speaking to THISDAY recently, the Director, STDA, Alhaji Turku Ibrahim-Bakori said that they are expected to open up and develop the satellite towns by providing infrastructural facilities to the teeming rural dwellers, thereby improving their living standards.

The STDA boss however clarified that they only play complementary roles to the works of the Area Councils, which are primarily responsible for the overall development of the satellite towns within their domain.

"STDA is like the FCTA, which has the people in mind not only for the development of FCC but also for other areas of the FCT. It was solely created to complement some of the services being created for the FCT, I mean to centralize the provision of services into satellite towns such as Kuje, Karshi, Gwagwalada, Bwari because when you look at the strength of the population , there are more people now in the satellite towns now that are in the city", he said.

"Not that the services are not there, but they are not adequate. So the STDA is trying to improve some of the basic services that are required in the satellite towns but this baby is not supposed to take over the functions and duties of the Area Councils. It is only created to provide only some of the primary and basic requirements for the development of such towns", he explained.

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