Senator Bala Mohammed is the minister of the Federal Capital Territory, a position he has held for four years. 56 year old Mohammed, who is a graduate of English Language from the University of Maiduguri, began his career as a journalist and rose to the position of News Editor of the Mirage Newspaper, and was also a News Reporter with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). He also served as State Editor in charge of Benue for Democrat Newspaper, from where he joined the Federal Civil Service as an administrative officer. He rose to the position of Assistant Director, Federal Ministry of Power and Steel; Deputy Director/SA to the Minister, Federal Ministry of Transport; Director of Administration, Nigerian Railway Corporations; and Director of Administration and Supplies, Nigerian Meteorological Agency before venturing into politics and became a senator in 2007. In this interview with Tokunbo Adedoja and Segun Awofadeji, Senator Mohammed speaks on how he has been administering the affairs of the FCT since 2010, the challenges facing the capital city and how Abuja remains a secured city despite the recent bomb explosions, among other issues
Abuja is more or less like a state and it is unique because it is the capital city of the country. Presently, it is the fastest growing city in Nigeria because of the population. How has it been administering FCT?
Thank you, it is very exciting and quite a very noble experience administering or leading FCT administration. As you said, we inherited an administration that was faced with many challenges, challenges of having a durable administrative framework. And of course the problems of infrastructure delivery in terms of road infrastructure, water infrastructure and then services like transportation and health and education. So we developed a road map in order to see that we take care of all the problems and the challenges that we inherited given the problem of inadequacies in finance. We also inherited an administration that was plagued with a lot of corruption in the areas of leakages, in terms of accessing land, administration and speculations, lack of good turnaround time for doing business especially writing approval, accessing land and getting development control approval.
We also had problem of providing infrastructure in the satellite towns and of course the district infrastructure which makes provision for speedy development, housing and so on and so forth. So, we developed a roadmap, a diversified roadmap, where we looked at the problem of policy framework, institutional and legal framework that were completely absent, apart from the constitution that created FCT like a state and of course stipulates that under section 305 that the National Assembly and the presidency would determine how the administration will be run. In 2004, we had the executive order where we had various secretariats, eight in number, that were established as part of the administrative framework for administering the territory in addition to the area councils. We did not have bills or laws governing, for example, our enforcement of anti begging policy, and all sorts of social menace that are impeding the development of the city. So we needed the law. And of course even our revenue board was absent and we could not establish a board.
Our revenue generation in the areas of land were being subjected to round-tripping because there was no e-collection. That was what we faced and of course today I can say we have worked very hard through the bureaucracy to make sure that we bring some kind of synergy in terms of reducing the leakages at all levels of governance – in water board, in collection of water rates, collection environmental rates, collection of premium for land and then development control. In that context also, creating divisions and districts that will do the collections, decentralising approval or delegating, and in so doing augmenting the revenue generation by 40 per cent. In general, we tried to reduce the infrastructure deficit by unbundling the area councils, by making sure we build more districts than what we inherited and also making sure that affordable housing are built by the private sector, partnering with the private sector to access private capital with a view to augmenting all that are worth doing through the normal budgetary allocation. We tried to reposition ourselves not only as a government implementing agency for projects of the Federal Government, but also leveraging on other private sector initiatives to provide infrastructure and services.
Abuja is an expanding city and from projections, it was not envisaged that the population will skyrocket within a short period. What are you doing about the problem of security and demography?
That is the issue. The demographics are going against us. Abuja was projected in the urban and regional planning or the Master plan to be built within 20 years and of course with 79 districts and nine sector areas. 35 years after, we only built 11 districts and three sector areas and we envisaged to have only 3.5 million population when the whole city is fully built. But one-fifth through the development, because of not adhering to the plan and because of the demographics, people come in for greener pasture and opportunities here and there, we already have five million population in those satellite towns and the eleven districts that we have developed. So we are far away from our planning point. So we had to innovate, we had to really invent the way and manner that we will be able to go pari-pasu with the increasing population.
Of course, you know the reason, we have said it – the insecurity in the contiguous states or in other states of the federation, the quality of infrastructure, the quality of life and the opportunities that are available. All the people coming to Abuja don’t go back. Infact, the peculiar status of Abuja makes it free from all social impediments in terms of sense of belonging, in terms of liberty and freedom, in terms of creation of oneness, unifying and identifying with the territory as your own because this is the only territory or jurisdiction that every Nigerian has no problem of indigeneship. Ideally, you are an indigene as soon as you come here, if you are a Nigerian. So people flock into this place and so what do we do? We try to turn the demographic challenges into opportunities like making sure we raise the GDP, raising the IGR and creating investment opportunities within the territory. And of course, we have a literacy level that is high, even those who are coming as labourers and looking for small work to put food on the table. So, we have really worked assiduously to see that we leverage on the problems and challenges. But certainly it is not easy. You see a lot of people coming here and what they do sometimes is very unwholesome in terms of behavior. But certainly it is the manifestation of poverty which is not the responsibility of FCT. People come here, they beg along the streets, people come here, Nigerians, and engage in street trading. We try to remove them but as soon as we remove them they come back and this negatively affect the status of Abuja.
And we have problems of bye laws and regulations. We don’t have laws to prosecute even the commercial sex workers that we have. We are not removing them because we don’t like them or we are criminalising them or we are saying that they are not wanted. We are trying to rehabilitate them but there is a limit to which our rehabilitation centres can accommodate. Even the beggars, we have beggars who have overwhelmed our rehabilitation centres, they have overwhelmed our enforcement capabilities and that is why you can see the preponderances of all these obnoxious sights here and there. But we are doing so well to make sure that we are keeping them on their toes, we are not leaving them because they are also impinging on safety and security. That brings in the issue of creating a safe environment because safe environment has to do with knowing the who is your neighbour, who is responsible for what and what you are doing. So we have created a sort of consciousness in Abuja by using the security agencies to develop a template for monitoring and intelligence in the city so that you can hardly commit any crime without being caught and even if you commit the crime, you know you are under notice that you will be detected because of the infrastructure that we have put in place in terms of monitoring, evaluation and intelligence by all the security agencies working together.
So in Abuja, the challenges of demographic is there but certainly that is the manifestation of our growth as one of the fastest growing cities in the world, because if you look at the population vis-à-vis the way urbanisation, it is growing at the rate of nine-to- one. That is certainly one of the climax of growth or the anti climax of development that we are faced with in Abuja. And of course you can see the whole territory is turned into a construction site because we have been able to reduce the turnaround time for getting approval for people to build and of course you can see the mass housing has been reconceptualised. We are building about five districts that we have inherited from previous administrations through the normal budget. In addition, we have really invented what we call “the land swap” where we leverage on the add-up capital to do the preliminaries in terms of doing the design, the survey, the conceptualisation of the development of the engineering design and so on and so forth in eleven districts. And the private capital is what we use, not through the normal budget because we don’t have money and we said it is land for infrastructure. We have leant this from Dubai and America where land is seen as a resource because of the value it has. Here, investor comes and he takes a percentage of the land in the district and it is his own payment for whatever primary infrastructure that we will otherwise have had to use government resources to build like roads, electricity, water, sewage. In fact, any infrastructure that you can see in Maitama is what he provides.
But instead of coming as a contractor to take money in billions of naira, right from the preliminaries, that is to say the studies in terms of design, he pays for it and we open account together, he maintains the account because of transparency and feasibility that we are doing and at the end of the day we were able to get eleven, fifteen investors that are investing billions of naira which would take us another 10 or 15 years to get from the Federal Government. This time, they will take four years. Already, they have paid about N4.6 billion for the preliminary, that is for design and consultancy which they paid fully and of course we are taking it step- by-step because we have designed a framework in such a manner that we are not in a hurry, we have to protect the investor and also protect the master plan.
When you assumed office, you were faced with a lot of problems, particularly the way and manner the land allocation system was being run resulting in the alteration of the Abuja Master plan. How far have you been able to sanitise the land administration system in FCT?
When I came in 2010, the first thing I did, because I am a citizen of Abuja and I have been here since 1984 and I know the kind of problems and challenges, I knew there was a problem and I needed to do some reforms. There was a lot of land speculations, there was fraud, and of course people were defrauded and there was land freezing whereby people who are opportuned to be close to the minister will collect as many land as possible and keep until they get value, that is what we call “ land freezing”. And of course there was round tripping of the payment system of AGIS. The payment of the premium was done through draft where you take a draft payment and you put it in a particular bank account and you bring an evidence which shows that you have paid for the premium. One draft would be used to round trip and pay for about ten or twenty land allocations. So you see the FCT is defrauded by about 2000 per cent. Right from the onset we were not collecting up to N40 billion before and by the time we made it e-payment, you don’t get premium paid through the draft. It has to be through e-payment. So there is no opportunity for anybody to defraud because it takes two to tango – the people outside and our people in the system. Because they were benefitting so much, it was very difficult fighting that, fighting the war within in terms of corruption.
Then there were those who had been indicted or who left the service because of their previous bad records, they were still milling around and parading themselves as workers of AGIS and land department, defrauding the unsuspecting public, we had to use the security agencies to make sure we do away with them, we set up a committee under Senator Dansadau with other experts and professionals in land administration who came up with all the revelations that helped us and we developed a roadmap where we were able to really see what we did in the department of land and AGIS. We augmented the data system recently, we have just finished the augmentation where our system became impregnable in terms of knowing all the data and manipulating it for personal end. And of course even development control, how we were able to reform it; in the past when people come and meet development control officers, they will insist – give me contract for all the aspects of the design, is it mechanical and what have you, before they even approve the design it will take two to three years because they were involved and it is in their interest to make sure they make it so difficult. So when we came, we brought some reforms, we said six months after you submit your report it must be ready. And then also we discovered that it was not only the development control officers that were liable, that were compromising, even the architects, the professionals outside were also compromising and taking advantage of the gullibility of their own clients. But we have really augmented the time for getting approval which is the key global indices of access to land. And of course, we have done a lot of prosecution, we have done a lot of publications where we were able to also, on our own part as leaders, we tried to eschew arbitrariness and over exercise of discretion because the land of Abuja is given in delegated capacity by the minister on behalf of the President of the people of Nigeria. If you sit down in this office and start revoking land because of duration of implementation, that is to say, right from the title, you are supposed to finish and get approval and develop the place within two years. If you don’t do it, I revoke it. So we exercise restraints, we have not been revoking land of people who have not developed because we know may be there is problem of finance, problem of accessing credit, getting approval and so on and so forth. Most importantly, we noticed that if we do that we will just go into litigations unnecessarily and we will be slowing down the implementation of Abuja as a project. Again, we noticed that within the system a lot of people have suffered. We needed to do something different. All these double allocations we had to resolve them, we bought land from other districts and made sure we resolved over 5,000 double allocations that were caused by revocation, that were caused by unnecessary discretion where land were revoked or where there was double allocation due to either incompetence in the land department or exercise of discretion and I won’t blame anybody, it has been the rot in this system. But we made sure all these things were put in the past. Currently, we have about 10,000 allocations that are impeded by double allocations and we are resolving them. Again, we had problem of litigation, anything you do in the land department people will always go to court even if they are wrong and sometimes they get a lot of hearing from the court. By and large we have done a lot of reforms within the system.
You talked about the satellite towns and you talked about also creating more districts and moving out again. I want to find out what precisely your administration is doing for satellite towns like Kubwa and others because some of them are largely unplanned?
What we did first of all was to resuscitate the department of the satellite town development agencies that was comatose . We said, Ok we should work pari pasu with the Federal Capital Development Authority( FCDA) in terms of necessary institutional provision of enforcement services and of course provision of infrastructure like water, sewage and sanitation. Of course, the councils are independent and the satellite towns are domiciled within the area councils and we made sure all the monies received from the federation account meant for the councils were 100 per cent released to them, and we made sure we supervise what they are doing.
In addition, the provision of the law of the federation is that 10 per cent of our IGR is given to Local Governments which is a reversed situation if you look at all the states of the federation. Under the guise of joint account they take all the monies meant for Local Government allocations and they spend and they don’t give Local Government their own IGR. We are the most ideal federal set up where you have states, local government and federal government. We access some projects as national projects of federal government; we do things as state, as FCTA, and our Local Government, we give them free hand, we supervise them, audit them to make sure they maximally provide services. But certainly because of the demographics we mentioned, most of the people who come into the territory will not find any readily available abode in the city, they reside in the satellite towns. That is why you have the crime rate rising in the satellite towns, the sanitation is appalling, water system is overstretched, transportation is encumbered, all the people doing keke NAPEP or Okada, they are all residing in the satellite towns, all first comers in Abuja are residing in the satellite town, they are completely over stretched, 1000 per cent.
So, what we are doing is just to augment and make sure that we give them our template. The city has a template for cleaning. We concessioned all the corridors and districts to concessionaires who are carrying the refuse and cleaning the city and corridors and districts and carrying out some recreational activities in terms of vegetation control and so on in the city. We want to replicate this in the satellite towns and the satellite town agencies are doing that in conjunction with area councils chairmen so that they will be able to, on their own, also to do what we are doing in the city. For infrastructure, we make sure we give district infrastructure. Kubwa, for example, about two districts have been created, in Karshi, it is going on.
We have just given water project for Karshi so that they can have water. Kuje, the greater Kuje water project we are trying to do in Kuje but they are all becoming part of the 250 square kilometer embedded Federal Capital City as distinct from the FCT which is 800 square kilometers. So the city is divided into two, we have the embedded federal capital city that most of the towns that are within the satellite towns are also part of the parcel upon which we must do things assiduously to augment the quality and integrity of their services and infrastructure as well as make sure that they work at par. That is why you see our own transportation system, the high capacity buses we have just bought about a hundred new ones to augment what we had, making it about 350 and addition to those that we have licensed by TUC and NURTW to provide transportation so that we can do away with all the Araba buses.
You have raised the question of security, Given the deadly bomb explosions that claimed lives at a motor park recently, how would you assure residents, particularly commuters of their safety?
Well you have raised a question. The issue of insecurity is a very, very serious concern to us. Abuja was conceptualized 35 years ago and when the master plan was being made, it was planned to be a safe and secured city without the anticipation of any insecurity. You can see the corridors, the road alignments were done in such a manner that it is just like Sicily in Italy, like the city of London where you can even throw improvise explosive devices from your car and it will reach a house. And so with this development, you can see some of the roads are being blocked in order to protect some very serious national assets like the NNPC building, the military installation along the corridors. This is not something that was anticipated but we have developed a robust security framework with all the security agencies for monitoring and evaluation.
if you go round Abuja in the night, you will see what is going on. During the day you will see what is going on. Of course there are some minimal discomfort to the public, to our commuters, but that must be experienced. Somebody told me that coming from Nyanya he saw the military people just standing, and I told him that they are not just standing, you can see some vehicles parked, this vehicles are filled with monitoring and detective gadgets. If you pass with explosive they will catch you. But you think that they are just standing there. We intend to replicate it in all the corridors of the city.
We have just developed the security framework, the security, what I will say the inventory of what we want to provide in the city. I don’t want to say much but we are doing so much to make the city safe and secured. Of course, in terms of monitoring and evaluation, we are the only city that has CCTV, not only the CCTV that was done nationally, the SSS have CCTV, we too in the FCTA we are trying to do CCTV but because it has been done before, we want to harmonise. Now except for areas like Nyanya where the CCTV infrastructure has not reached, you can always have a fall back. We have given out a lot of vehicles, a lot of support to the security agencies, not only to the police, the SSS, the Road Safety, even those that deal with drugs , we have given them, that is the NDLEA, we have given them support to make sure that they do their job irrespective of the fact that they have their statutory allocations. But we as a territory we make sure that every month we spend nothing less than N100 million to make sure the city is safe and secured through assistance apart from what we are doing to make sure we build capacity within the territory in our department called the security department.
Again, we have deepened the aspect of consultation and then stakeholding with the contiguous states. we have what we call the G7, where we call all the governors and all the commissioners of police to make sure we nip crime that is moving around in the bud, from Kaduna, Niger, Benue, Plateau, all the contiguous states around Abuja. We are planning to build a very robust infrastructure, already our commissioners of police meet routinely and this is what I encourage all the blocks in the country to do. If the Northeast were doing this they will be able to come together as a force, as a region to face the challenges because there has to be monitoring and evaluation. Today in the territory, we don’t just allow anybody, we have told our chiefs, whoever comes from anywhere, even though he is free, we have to know.
That is what we are doing and it is working and we are continuously collaborating with local chiefs and the security agencies to make sure we make this city safe and secured. But most importantly we are lucky to be the seat of the federal government where Mr. President is holding sway, where we have the services chiefs, where we have the IGP, where we have the DG, SSS and where we have the DMI. All of them are helping us with one security infrastructure or the other to make the city safe and secured and of course we say it is not just because we as FCT have developed the capacity but this city is for all Nigerians, is for all Africans and of course the federal government is doing so much to make it safe and secure. I will not tell you the details of what the federal government is doing but be rest assured the city is safe and secured. And what happened in the past is just something that you can’t do away with. Insecurity, terrorism, they go for soft targets. Doing it in Nyanya, you can see they even repeated it in Nyanya because we have made it impossible within the city because of what we are doing. Pertaining to the parks, they are close to the corridor, as I said the demography is against us.
The whole of Nyanya, Masaka, Maraba is on 40 kilometers. From Nyanya to keffi in Nassarawa state that was created by Abuja because we did not envisaged the city would need affordable and social housing, what our people can afford is the shanties that you have sprawling in the manner that shows our lack of planning. So we have to do away with that. And in the whole place only that corridor is available, we tried to create alternative roads through Karshi to Apo but that road is under procurement. When we provided another alternative, it has to pass through Mararaba, through the cantonment here, Mogadishu cantonment, it will go behind Asokoro, behind Gusabe to burst out here at Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway. We are doing this to make the place safe and secured and then of course make the place unencumbered, but certainly the number of people coming from that corridor is more than the number in the whole territory. So you can just imagine the traffic gridlock, the confusion and of course the provision of soft landing by those people that have heinous intentions against the Nigerian public. But what we are trying to do is to take and build a new park and even tomorrow we are going to hold a meeting on that. The new park that is going to be well reinforced and fenced and we are going to put detectors to make sure that people don’t use it for other purposes. Again, our high capacity buses, our taxis they have tracking facilities, they have detectives to make sure they are safe. So the Nigerian public should know that we at the FCT are making sure we provide taxis, we have provided high capacity buses and they should use them. Where they use unpainted taxis and they are subjected to terrorism or abduction or they carry them and slaughter them and we have information like that, we are not to blame.
We have told them that the use of unpainted taxes is outlawed and Nigerian’s should know that we have provided brand new taxis and they are always available. Sometimes our high capacity buses are going round empty but they chose to cut corners and enter the Araba buses. You see them operating and the public are patronising them. I am seizing this opportunity of your interview to talk to Nigerians, to connect to Nigerians, what we are doing is for them, it is not for us. What we are doing is to make sure that we give them the best of service but it will take their cooperation for us to succeed, when they are patronizing rickety cars, when they are patronizing rickety Araba buses they think that they are running away, they are just exposing themselves to danger and we are urging them please and please don’t use unpainted taxis because they are outlawed, of course we are arresting them but it will take the decision of those we call our bosses, the Nigerian public, to make sure that we succeed in that respect. But terrorism definitely is a new thing and we are doing so much to go along with it so that we will make the territory safe and secured and that is why you see so many people coming to the territory because it is the safest place in this part of the country.
But there are speculations that some of these CCTV are not working?
That is why I said people are speculating and saying the CCTVs are not working, certainly it is not our procurement, we are not the ones that put it. It was done by the police. But I know the police, even before they had CCTV, the SSS had CCTV and they are working, even these ones you are talking about, they are working. This CCTV is a national project, it is not just for Abuja, it is for the whole country that Mr. President has done it for, from here to Lagos and to Maiduguri they have six hundred stations and they are being fueled together so that they act as a cluster. At various clusters so that they can have that unity for them to check the information, is just like metrology where you have stations where you take reading on weather, the same thing with CCTV, they are done at various intervals within the country so that the whole country will be under surveillance. That is the only way we can deal with insecurity. But for Abuja, it is working. That of the SSS is working, I will not say 100 per cent for the police but certainly the police are doing well and I know they use it as a fall back to get information to catch most of these criminals, hoodlums and charlatans that are worrying us in the city.
You were in the National Assembly before you became the FCT Minister, I know that the National Assembly makes law for this territory. How much impact does your past experience or your relationship with lawmakers have on the administration of the FCT?
I must seize this opportunity to thank my colleagues in the National Assembly, especially Senate Committee on FCT led by Senator Smart Adeyemi and the previous committees and the committee of the House of Representatives led by Hon. Jimi and the previous committees in the House. Because of my parliamentary experience, because of the spirit of comradeship,they have really helped me. And you can see that just recently, we have just passed the FCT Revenue Board law and the FCT Property Tax, and of course, even some of our laws that have been there, about 18 of them, they have gone through second reading. All the agencies we have in the FCT had no legal backing, it is during my tenure… and I thought by now I would have finished with all the processes in terms of making sure that the President assents to the law. But so far, I thank God I am the only person privileged to have taken FCT to that level where institutional and legal framework has gone to a level of no return because all the bills that were private member bill have passed second reading. I have just mentioned to you some of them. Even our water board bill, because we had to review it, has been approved and passed into law. So, you see the National Assembly has helped me and I established a good partnership between FCT and the National Assembly, because the National Assembly is our own state Assembly and of course anything that we do, it has to be approved by the National Assembly. It is not like any state, of course under Section 299 we are a state, but we are a state without our own elected Assembly because this office belongs to the President who is the governor general and he gives this delegated responsibility to the minister. So it is a difficult thing getting things approved through the National Assembly, but certainly if you establish good rapport with the National Assembly and with the sentiment that I am one of them, they have helped me a lot and that is why since I came, the era of skirmishes, of clashes, of conflicts between FCT and the National Assembly has been a thing of the past. For the past four years we have never had any conflict and of course because of the peace created, because of the synergy established, we are moving the FCT to a level where we are going to have our legal instruments, and of course, it will make enforcement of our byelaws, our laws easy and of course collection of IGR and we will become self sufficient because of that simple legislative/executive synergy.
Your posters are everywhere in Bauchi State, and individuals and groups across the state are calling on you to come out and contest the state governorship seat in 2015. What are your plans for 2015?
Well, my brother and friend, Labaran Maku, said just this week that the time has not come for us to start any campaign because for now we want to face our work with vigour and without distraction. But one thing I know as a politician, you should always be there and prepared to serve the people. What you have seen happening in Bauchi is an attestation to the fact that I have always been playing politics and I am always connected with my people. All the posters you see are not done by me, they were done by those people who believe that I should go and run in Bauchi. I have once told you, in whatever capacity, if I am called to serve, we still have time, if at the end of the day, it is the decision of my people and of course I am given the opportunity by my party, the PDP, I can go and run. But certainly that is an advocacy of the political class that I am a member and I feel proud but not arrogant because I am not the only person in Bauchi. There are so many people whose posters are there and I am thankful for what God has done for me as a person. I have a modest back ground, a technocrat, a journalist, a reporter , a senator and today, four years as a minister of FCT, the longest serving minister apart from one that served under the military. I can only say thank you to God, I can only say thank you to Goodluck Jonathan for bringing this phase of leadership free of godfatherism, free of religious and tribal sentiments.