Abuja — The Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) yesterday in Abuja, staged a protest in support of the proposed construction of N4 billion for the African First Ladies Peace Mission Secretariat in Nigeria as budgeted in the 2013 Federal Capital Territory (FCT) appropriation budget.
The group of 13 CS0s led by the President, National council for Women Society (NCWS), Ms. Nancy Bulus, numbering about 1,000 protesters stormed the FCT Administration (FCTA) Secretariat to press the importance of building the First Ladies Secretariat, considering the spate of crisis ravaging different parts of Africa.
The protesters in an open letter addressed to President Goodluck Jonathan, said it was a shame and ironic that the construction of Secretariat of such pivotal organ of AFrican Union (AU) could be subjected of ill-motivated criticisms and "evil politics as been witnessed in the country."
They questioned why some people should resort to "spreading needless and inciting speculation about a major project, which as the potential to touch the lives of hundreds of millions of women and children in Africa."
Part of the letter read: "In respect of the efforts by some political mavericks, anti-women and unpatriotic individuals wishing to sabotage the efforts of the FCT Administration (FCTA) under the leadership of Senator Bala Muhammed, and the First Lady of Nigeria, Dame Patience Jonathan, as she carries on with her endless programmes which aim to promote the lives of children and youths in Nigeria and indeed Africa.
"The protest held last week in Lagos by a civil society group was politicised to against the proposed construction of the Secretariat as captured in the 2013 budget of FCT administration.
"The evil plots devised by the group include blackmailing FCTA through dubious claims about the 2013 budget presented for debate at the National Assembly by alleging through the media that N5 billion was proposed for the rehabilitation of prostitutes and destitute and N4 billion of the building of a private non-governmental organisation," it added.
Speaking further, Bulus, who coordinated the protest, said past records of the Nigerian First Ladies showed how well they impacted the lives of the people through their various programmes including Better Life for Nigerian Women, by late Mrs Mariam Babangida.
"Through that we have National Centre for Women Development, the National Hospital was also built by the formal First lady Hajia Mariam Abacha through that Nigerians are enjoying the dividends of democracy.
"Why should Patience Jonathan who doubles as Africa First Ladies President be deprived of the project. We are protesting to FCT minister that we want this secretariat to be built and it is our hope that we want Nigeria women to be known not only in Nigeria but the whole world," she added.
Addressing the protesters, Mohammed justified the construction of the Secretariat, saying: "It is not because the First Lady is from Nigeria, or because the construction of the Secretariat was not provided for in the constitution but it would be build for diplomatic reasons."
He reminded that the building of ECOWAS and UN Secretariats wee not provided for in the constitution but were built to foster diplomatic relations.
The minister criticised those opposed to the inclusion of the building of the African First Ladies Peace Mission in the 2013 appropriation of the FCTA; adding that his administration needs to be commended for working to uplift the image of Nigeria internationally.
He recalled that the Decree No. 6 of 1976 that created Abuja also simultaneously created the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) with duty and responsibilities to plan, design, provide the infrastructure and construct public buildings as well as services to the entire 8,000 square kilometres of the nation's capital.
He said: "The First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan has done so much for Nigerian women and children; noting that AFLPM building will be an Embassy for the African Union in Nigeria.
"She inherited it from her predecessor and we in the FCTA have a responsibility to build public buildings for all the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as international Organisations dwelling in Abuja."
"Accordingly, in Abuja this obligation is transferred to the FCTA and as part of its efficiency measure, the Administration saw in the proposed headquarters of the African First Ladies Peace Mission building an opportunity to save cost by using the AFLPM building to serve multiple roles in providing office accommodation as well as housing not just for the African First Ladies Peace Mission but to other international bodies as well," he stressed.
Mohammed lauded the disposition and orderly manner with which the protesters conducted themselves to present their grievances to the government, assuring that their letter would be passed to the President, the Senate President, Senator David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representative, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal.
The protest letter was signed by all the 13 CSOs including the NCWS, the Market Women Association, United Women Traders Association of Nigeria, Friends of Abuja, Zenzelen Organization, Youth of Social Network, Women in Business, Kasuwa da Kasuwa Mobilisation Team, The Widows Organization, Youth Mobilization Movement of Nigeria; Farmers Association of Nigeria, Hairdressers and Barbers Association of Nigeria, the Disabled Organisation of Nigeria.