9 July 2014

Nigeria: Yahaya Yusuf, Challenges of Development Control in the FCT

Yahaya Yusuf, Director of Development Control of the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC), is a rare public servant. A textbook example of a thoroughbred professional civil servant who believes in maintaining the divide between the world of politicians and that of civil servants, he is one true gentleman in a muky landscape. If you spent an hour with him and got a hundred words from him, your discussion must have been about managing the development of Abuja, Nigeria's capital and seat of Government.

Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, located right in the centre of the country, is administered by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who, as the Chief Executive of the FCT, exercises executive powers over the territory through a Minister. With its own High Courts and laws made by the National Assembly, the FCT - established in 1976, comprising lands vested in the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria - is designed to function like one of the states of the federation.

The management of the Federal Capital Territory presents a unique model that should commend itself to the states. Unlike the case of state governments where the Governors are the absolute sovereigns, the Federal Capital Territory is run by two separate but mutually dependent authorities - the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) headed by a Minister, assisted by a Minister of State, and the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) manned by an Executive Secretary. Whereas the Minister of the FCTA reports to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria - his appointer, the Executive Secretary reports to a Board.

The FCTA was created in December 2004, to replace the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory and to restructure and streamline the ministry's operations along the lines of Mandate Secretariats (Education, Transport, Agriculture and Rural Development, Health and Human Services, Social Development, Legal Services and Area Council). These Mandate Secretariats are administered like State Ministries, but, instead of having Commissioners, they have Secretaries to run them on behalf of the Honourable Minister of the FCTA. The current - 14th - Minister is Senator Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed. The appointment of the Secretaries takes into account the principles of Federal Character. Besides these Secretaries, the Director of the Land Department, the Administrator of Abuja Environmental Protection Board, and that of Abuja Geographical Information System also report directly to the Minister.

The Minister formulates and presents the Policies of the FCT to the National Executive Council and the National Assembly. The FCDA, established by a Decree (law) on February 5, 1976 to manage the infrastructural and physical development of the FCT, is the body responsible for the design, planning and management of the master plan of the territory. The construction of all Federal Government buildings, including those of ministries and parastatals, comes within the purview of the FCDA, which is why the FCT usually executes two sets of budgets. This also accounts for its seemingly bloated budget. The Minister of the FCTA is the Chairman of the Governing Board of the FCDA, while the Executive Secretary of the FCDA oversees the day-to-day running of the FCDA, which operates through the following Departments: Engineering; Survey and Mapping; Resettlement & Compensation; Finance & Administration; Mass Housing; Satellite Town Infrastructure; Urban & Regional Planning; Public Building; and Procurement. Many people, including lawyers, who sometimes needlessly drag the FCDA into land disputes, believe that the Minister/FCTA and the FCDA are one and the same entities.

One authority of the FCTA that is crucial to the effective functioning of Abuja is the Abuja Municipal Management Council (AMMC). The AMMC operates through several departments, about the most important of which is the Department of Development Control, the department that controls and regulates land use and building. In other words, this department, as its name implies, is saddled with the task of managing the development and the building of houses and other structures in the Abuja metropolis.

Abuja was well-planned from its conception and inception. It was meant to be a modern city competing with any other modern city in the world. Besides the ring roads that connect each part of the city to the other, every structure in the city was meant to conform to a master plan. The territory was meant to be seamless. No individual or institution is expected to build a structure in Abuja without the prior permission or authorization of the Department of Development Control. This is the Department headed by Yahaya Yusuf. An action man whose calm and taciturn disposition points to a personal philosophy that seems to ride on the maxim 'Actions speak louder than words', Yahaya's conviction - indeed, philosophy - is that with political will, Abuja shall be developed along the path envisaged by its master plan. No man or woman identified with such a philosophy can expect to be popular in Abuja - certainly not with the political class or the privileged class in the city.

Abuja is surely undergoing rapid growth that was never anticipated at its conception. Today, Abuja is a haven for people running from more troubled spots across the country. The city is also home to the rich because of its ability to provide the comfort and ambience that no other city in the country can provide. The Federal Government also attracts human traffic to Abuja, being the largest and most viable economy in the land. With this unprecedented growth come multi-faceted problems, one of which is the growth of slums and squatter settlements. The completion of the development of districts like Jabi, Idu Industrial Area, Idu Sabo, Karmo, and many others has been stayed because of slums and squatter settlements.

The daily proliferation of squatter settlements is one common feature of the FCT. Besides the challenges posed by these squatter settlements and slums to the master plan of the FCT, the security challenges they throw up make it imperative for those whose business it is to control and regulate development in the territory to work overtime. There is nowhere in the world where people can just wake up and put up settlements without caring to seek authorization from relevant agencies.

Even in villages and farmlands, development is regulated - which is why one views as most unfortunate the campaign of calumny launched against Yahaya Yusuf by some elements driving squatter settlement racketeering. Yahaya is one of the few civil servants that I have encountered who does not take bribe or accept gratification. Nobody needs to see him to get approval for any legitimate venture. Once you meet the guidelines you are certain to get approval with no cost beyond the statutory cost. I recall a friend of mine who had issues with some of Yahaya's field officials, and wanted me to intervene. I told him that he did not need my intervention because the Yahaya I knew would treat his case fairly and with dispatch without anybody's intervention. I advised him to write and drop his complaint at the office of the Director of Development Control, Abuja Metropolitan Management Council (AMMC). My friend did, and within 24 hours, Yahaya was at his site to see things for himself. My friend was amazed. The man Yahaya Yusuf is still a reference point for him today. I have also interacted with countless people who will swear with anything that Yahaya is not from this part of the world.

Like those people, I strongly believe that that gentleman will give us the city of our dreams - if only there is political will.

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