Our attention has been drawn to various media reports in which the Senate Committee on FCT accused the previous administration of illegally converting the green areas of Maitama District into developable lands and allocating same to named individuals.
While we had not wanted to join issues with the Senate Committee, however, the exuberance of the Committee’s Chairman that borders on ignorance of the limitations of the doctrine of separation of powers under the constitution has necessitated us to set the records straight:
1. Throughout the tenure of the previous administration, all allocations of land in the FCT were based on professional advice, availability of layouts and the provisions of the Land Use Act. In reference to the Ministerial Hill, which the Senate Committee gave the Department of Development Control directive to stop work, we state as follows:
2. That sometimes in 2010, the FCTA under Senator Adamu Aliero commissioned Messrs. Fola Consult Limited to advise the FCT Administration on the extent of the area in Maitama Ministerial Hill that could be converted for residential use;
3. That Messrs. Fola Consult Limited submitted its report highlighting the history of the area and rationale for its development as follows:
a) The redesign of Plot 2278 was carried out during the regime of Air Vice Marshall Hamza Abdullahi in 1998 to accommodate the Federal Ministers who moved from Lagos into the FCT;
b) That the change in land use was captured by the Land use plan produced in June 1989 by Messrs. Dynasys Resource Company in association with Alpha Consult Rome;
c) That the redesign of Messrs. Dynasys Company was not comprehensive since the sole aim of the design was just to create plots to accommodate some few Ministers’ houses;
d) That the area was not designated as recreational area or park but was designated as undevelopable area based on its difficult terrain and that the level of technology at the time was the major consideration for its classification as undevelopable;
4. That Fola Consult Limited advised the Aliero Administration that additional plots should be created to justify existing underutilized infrastructure In line with its land use categorization as a low-density residential area;
5. That sometimes in 2014, the Department of Urban & Regional Panning also made recommendations that additional plots should be created on plot 2180 to justify existing underutilized infrastructure around the Mississippi street of Maitama;
6. That the immediate past FCT administration was fully convinced that the master plan is a dynamic road map for the city’s land use and infrastructure development, guided by the demands of change and time. Hence, on the basis of the above recommendations, and in recognition of its responsibility to ensure full utilization of resources, the administration approved the redesigns and subsequently, allocations were made in line with the Land Use Act;
7. That the FCT Administration allowed for commencement of work on the plots after the allottees got due building plan approvals from the Department of Development Control which approval, needless to add, can only be reversed by the authority of the Hon. Minister;
8. Apart from insisting that such new developments were based on the green city concept, the approval process was predicated on a robust environmental impact assessment conducted by a team of professionals within the FCT Administration.
9. That the Senate Committee is advised to seek adequate information from the FCT Administration before issuing wrongful directives.
With the above said, we consider it imperative, at this juncture, to make some clarifications on the concept of the master plan, green areas and the dynamism of city development.
The Master Plan Concept
I am not a Town Planner, but a Master plan has been defined by professionals as that broad policy document meant to guide the growth and development of a town or city. May I add that the life span of a master plan which is not less than Ten years minimum, is so wide that there is no way changes will not occur for a document based on assumptions, predications and projections. As soon as gaps are observed between these proposals and realities, as is the case of the Abuja master plan over time, a review or redesign becomes imperative.
Above all, nowhere in the world and on any town or city is a master plan implementation achieved at 100 percent level even in developed countries.
Concept of Green Areas and the Dynamism – of City Development
Green area is a land use provision within the master plan for recreation, flood drains, city buffers, urban farming, reserved lands and contextually undevelopable area. However, for reasons of population growth, expansion in infrastructural facilities, security concerns and logistical demands, city development all over the world has never remained static. Rather, it has been a dynamic process. Abuja has not been an exception.
Thus, long before the advent of the last FCT Administration, Ministers had reviewed and re-conceptualized green area provisions in the Abuja Master plan. For instance, part of the Presidential Villa was a green area in the master plan. So also were the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), the High Court, the residence of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and recently, the residences of the presiding officers of the National Assembly. Military formations such as Camp Wu Bassey and Niger barracks, and urban fringes including Usuma, Maitama Extension and Mpape Districts etc. were part of the changes made to the master plan. Many other examples abound of green areas being converted to other uses by previous ministers based on need of the time to make the city more functional and more socio-economically viable.
In fact, all of what is termed the “Urban Fringe” including Usuma and Mpape Districts, was a green area and was supposed to constitute a buffer zone between the city on the one hand and the regional space, on the other. However, it was utilized by previous administrations for the building of the various barracks, Asokoro District, Guzape District, Sunrise Hills Estate and parts of Apo. These urban fringes were redesigned by previous ministers in accordance with the powers conferred on them by the Land Use Act.
For emphasis, it is important to note that even part of the present Presidential Villa and the Eagle Square were changed from Transportation Center to what they are today, while under the Master Plan, what is now known as Maitama Extension was supposed to be a Sports Center but was redesigned by previous administrations. Even in the city center occasions arose where the Boulevard Project in the Central Business District area led to redesign of many plots in the original master plan.
For the enlightenment of all stakeholders and members of the public who are ignorant of the historical background to this matter, it was Mallam Nasir EI-Rufai as FCT minister who, seeing the lack of capacity on the part of the FCT Administration, to maintain the green areas, started allocating them to individuals in the hope that the allottees would live up to expectation.
Unfortunately, they did not. Instead, most of the park allottees converted the green areas to commercial uses thereby placing them on a collision course with the Development Control Department. Overnight, restaurants, hotels, showrooms, beer parlours, pubs etc. sprang up in these areas, in complete negation of the master plan. In some cases these unapproved conversions constituted not only a nuisance to the public but a grave security threat. To tackle the deplorable situation, the immediate past leadership of the FCT set up a committee headed by former Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Commission, Otunba Segun Runsewe which, in the course of its activities, established that most of the beneficiaries had made heavy investments in the green areas. It was therefore decided, that in deserving cases, the allottees should retain only 10 of the green areas while the remaining should be developed for public use with the firm belief that if the administration needed to recover the whole land, it could do so since it was not covered by deeds and titles.
We have gone to this extent to explain dynamics of the transformation of the green areas to prove the point that the immediate past FCT administration was simply following precedents in adopting out-of-the-box strategies that would guarantee more effective land use management. The truth is that the previous administration drew immensely from both the Accelerated Development Program of EI-Rufai and the Sunshine Hills Estate of Abba Gana, in prosecuting its highly ambitious mass housing programs. It is on record that the administration, under Senator Bala Mohammed, collaborated with estate developers and institutions like the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and the Trade Union Congress, TUC to develop districts for workers while the administration itself conceived three social and affordable housing schemes in Wasa and Mamusa Districts which were allocated to co-operatives to provide housing to the lower cadre.
From the above, we want to conclude as:
1. The Minister never acted outside the limits of his powers in the matter of land management in the FCT.
2. The Abuja Master Plan has never been inviolable. At various times in the past, Senator Bala Mohammed’s predecessors had managed the plan to achieve a functional and harmonious development in the city. For all his actions in the area of land management, there were precedents by his predecessors some of whom are still serving the nation in various capacities.
3. What we do not understand is the Senate Committee Chairman’s unusual interest in the Minister’s Hill. The committee needs no reminding that all the beneficiaries of plots at the redesigned Minister’s Hill are Nigerians who are legitimately and eminently qualified to receive the allocations that were made within the constitutional powers of the minister following laid down procedures and precedence set by his predecessors. Some of these Predecessors are not just around they are still very much in the service of the nation
4. We recognize the prerogative of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on FCT to carry out his oversight functions in any manner he chooses but that should never include making unguarded statements that tend to ridicule those who served to the best of their ability or derogate the powers of the executive to carry out their normal constitutional duties.
5. The committee will need to be reminded that a similar effort to revoke the last minute allocations by EI-Rufai on the eve of his departure could not stand. Ironically, it fell on Senator Bala Mohammed to resolve the matter and restore the status quo, which led to massive development in the FCT and alleviate unnecessary litigation.
6. The former minister is available at all times to clarify his actions in the area of land management thereby avoiding unnecessary dramatization of ignorance or grandstanding for media attention.
Media Consultant to Senator Bala Mohammed, CON
Former Minister of the FCT