A day before the 2011 presidential elections, an abandoned telecommunications mast was used to cordon off the road leading to the FCT office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), ostensibly to boost security by reinforcing the barriers around the commission’s premises. After the elections, the road was reopened, but the mast was left on the side of the road, effectively compressing traffic from two lanes into one.
Nearly four years later, the mast remains there, serving absolutely no purpose except to worsen traffic congestion in front of the INEC office and the adjacent headquarters of the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC).
That rusty mast, which the police and INEC used four years ago, lying abandoned on an important highway in front of AMAC secretariat, more than anything else, is symptomatic of the physical and intellectual lethargy constraining the management of the Federal Capital Territory.
Thus, when it became clear that the FCT Minister Bala Mohammed was considering making a bid for the governorship of Bauchi state, I wished him well, not because I had any stake in the electoral fortunes (or misfortunes) of Bauchi state, but because I thought it would be a good thing to have a new minister bring something different to prevent one of the world’s fastest growing cities from becoming one of the world’s worst urban disasters.
The poser I couldn’t find an answer to was, if the minister could not achieve much with the huge resources available to him at the FCT, what might he have accomplished with the much less funds he would have had to contend with in the much larger Bauchi state?
Of course, I do not expect the Bala Mohammed to remove his babbariga to help drag the offending mast out of the way, but if he did his job with a bit more diligence and passion, the effect would have permeated to all levels of the administration, the effects would have trickled down in several ways and some of the energy would reflect on the streets.
Due to space constraints, I am unable to address all the issues that require urgent redress by the FCT, but just one area would illustrate the decay in the city: traffic congestion.
A few months ago, a construction firm, possibly working under a component of the FCT Sure P programme, dug up the Area 1 end of the MKO Abiola (formerly Festival road) in order to replace the tarred surface that didn’t really need replacement (and would have been welcome in other states, and even other parts of the FCT). After digging up the road, work was abandoned and today, a perfectly good road has been transformed into a traffic nightmare for drivers and commuters, especially as one side of the road is used for indiscriminate parking.
Today, traffic congestion in Abuja compares with, and is in some ways worse than that of Lagos. For instance, the 10 minute trip from the city centre to Karu-Nyanya-Mararaba can take about two hours after close of work on some days. Coming the other way, it can take two hours or more for commuters to reach the city centre from any of these locations. To beat traffic, some workers leave home as early as 4am, or wait until the rush hour and saunter in to their offices at 11am.
Again, I do not expect the FCT minister to put on a reflective jacket to direct traffic and arrest offending drivers, but there are polices and programmes he can implement to curb the madness and growing chaos on Abuja’s roads.
While the number of vehicles on Abuja’s road has multiplied and an effective public transport system is still lacking, the major deficiency is the lack of traffic management scheme. And the minister does not need to go too far: It only takes 1 hour to fly to Lagos from Abuja for the minister to see what the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) has done in managing the legendary traffic snarls of Lagos and bringing sanity to the roads.
If the FCT were to create a traffic management agency in Abuja, for instance, and employ an all-graduate cadre of officers to manage traffic and politely correct first-time offenders before fining persistent offenders, the madness we call driving and the indiscriminate parking everywhere would certainly stop. This simple idea would create much needed jobs and even generate income of the FCT. What is stopping him?
The tragedy of Abuja is that nearly eight years after former FCT minister Nasir El-Rufai left office, his achievements still sets the benchmark in terms of development of the territory’s master plan and forward-thinking projects. It is ironic that the current minister, who is the longest serving minister of the FCT, has hardly left footprints that would engrave his name in Abuja’s history.
Now that the Bauchi distraction is over, it is time for the FCT minister to wake up to his responsibilities before Abuja becomes the world’s most expensive slum.