The area known as Abuja was selected in 1975 out of at least 33 other options to replace Lagos as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The area was populated by many different people, predominantly the Gbagyis. What we know as the FCT today was carved out of Nasarawa, Niger and Kogi states by Decree number 6 of 1976. Construction began in the new FCT in the 1980s and Abuja officially took the title of Nigeria’s Capital on December 12, 1991. The seat of power, and the public service moved to Abuja.
In the early days of Abuja, the only interesting thing that I remember was the draw to see the Nicon Noga Hilton Hotel. Today, less than 30 years later, Abuja is a sprawling metropolis with roads, bridges, highways, housing developments, and modern conveniences. Abuja enjoys what no other city in Nigeria enjoys – infrastructural expansion to keep up with the growth of the city. There is no time that I visit Abuja and have not witnessed that a new road or by-pass has been built somewhere or that serious road construction is taking place somewhere. This is Abuja. It is impressive. It is laudable. But how is the rest of Nigeria faring with the development of infrastructure within the purview of the Federal Government?
The story is often told of when some Niger Delta elders visited Abuja for the first time; they were amazed at the level of infrastructural development. They could not believe their eyes. Coming from the Niger Delta, which has not only suffered neglect but also environmental degradation, they were shocked to see what the proceeds of oil had contributed to Abuja.
I am pained on two levels – as a daughter of the Niger Delta, and as a long-time resident of Apapa.Today I write as a resident of Apapa. Apapa is home to Nigeria’s two major seaports (Apapa and Tin-Can Island Ports). Reportedly, these two ports account for over 80 per cent of all import and export activities in Nigeria. In addition to the Customs Service, these institutions generate revenue for the government. Revenue generated by the activities of the ports go into the Federation Account from which funds are appropriated for spending each year. What this means is that the ports generate funds, pass them on to the Federal Government and they (the National Assembly) far away in Abuja, decide how these funds are spent. It is obvious that over the years, very little thought has been given to the maintenance and/or expansion of infrastructure.This is how our government treats its host communities – inconvenience them; destroy their livelihoods; destroy their communities; but make sure the revenue keeps flowing.
The two roads leading to the ports are failing or have failed, yet government is still dragging its feet about fixing and expanding the roads. Work is on-going on Wharf Road but it is a nightmare situation and in my opinion, it is only palliative. It is not a lasting solution to the lack of infrastructure in Apapa. The Apapa-Oshodi Expressway is inaccessible with what can only be described as gullies taking over what used to be the expressway. That axis to the ports is impassable leaving only the Ijora/Apapa/Wharf Road axis for use by articulated and private vehicles. The resultant chaos caused by this situation has led to economic losses for businesses, residents, and the national economy.
Businesses have failed because investors cannot recoup their investments in Apapa. The traffic situation ensures that. Apart from a diminished quality of life for the residents, properties have lost their values. At least a quarter (and this is a conservative estimate) of the houses in the residential area in Apapa sit empty because their owners have moved out of Apapa for saner communities in Lagos, or because the owners of the property cannot get any tenants for their property.
The ports in Apapa and the infrastructure supporting them have existed for decades. While activities in the ports and the population in the Apapa community grew, the infrastructure remained the same. We are told that a stitch in time saves nine. Well, Apapa’s needs are well beyond ten stitches now. For years, the Federal Government watched as the infrastructure deteriorated. Or maybe they did not see what was going on. Planning and maintenance are key to infrastructural development. You cannot expect a dwelling that was sufficient for a family of three to work efficiently when that family grows to 10 people. It is the same with public infrastructure. We pray that a great disaster does not happen in Apapa before the road repair and expansion is given the attention and urgency that it deserves. I have written before, that Apapa is a catastrophe waiting to happen. We, Nigerians, are an eternally hopeful people but I am guessing that God does not reward foolishness.
We have a National Bureau of Statistics, we have numbers that can tell us where growth is happening; forecast our population growth rate; identify waves of internal movement etc. These numbers are supposed to help us plan and anticipate the future infrastructural needs of the country. Yet for decades, successive governments watched as our population outgrew infrastructure, but if things were moving along fine in Abuja, all was/is well. These are the things that brew discontent, whether we like to admit it or not.
This is the problem with a federal government where powers are concentrated in the center. The focus is on the center, and the center alone. The eyes can only see but so far. If some of the power is devolved to the federating units which are closer to the people, then arguably, the needs of the different areas in Nigeria can be better met. Those closer to the problems can see and anticipate them better than some public service officers sitting in their office in Abuja. I say arguably because government is only as effective as the men and women who drive it.
Abuja is great, even though it frightens me that people in Abuja drive as though they were practicing for NASCAR, I love that there is this great network of roads that makes everywhere accessible. However, this development must spread. The Federal Government must pay attention to infrastructure within its purview in the states, or relinquish its control to the states so that citizens know whose shirt collar they are going to hold. It is all about fairness and equity.