By Anayochukwu Agbo and Tajudeen Suleiman
What are your duties as the Minister of State?
Well as the Minister of State, the omnibus duty is to assist the Honourable Minister, but I am specifically responsible for the supervision of the satellite towns, the area councils, agriculture and social development. Social development of course has so many aspects to it; it has the department of youths, sports, arts and culture, tourism, women affairs. And then I am also responsible for Christian and Muslim pilgrims in the FCT. As far as the area councils are concerned, we have six. In the state they are called local governments but in the territory they are called area councils. We have Satellite Town Development Agency that is responsible for satellite towns that I oversee. I also oversee the Abuja Enterprises Agency which is an agency for startups and training for young people to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.
When you started, what targets did you set for yourself?
It’s been a sharp learning curve; the FCT administration is unlike other ministerial assignments. As you know it is a constitutional role; with the exception of the attorney general of the federation, I think we are the only ones that have a constitutional role. It is because the constitution says the President is actually the governor of the FCT; he gives a delegated authority to the Minister. Government is here to do two things: provide the basic amenities for citizens; and two, create an atmosphere where those citizens can achieve their goals and potential. By creating an enabling environment, economic environment, and the ability for them to worship and ability for them to do whatever they want to do, for me that is my goal.
Three years down the line, what would you say the FCT has achieved?
The first major achievement to me is the establishment of Satellite Development Agency by Mr. President. As you know this agency was created by executive order by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003 but for some reasons, it was collapsed back into FCDA as a department. So when I came on board, all we had was a department of satellite towns servicing, as I said, 80 per cent of the population. We made appeal to Mr. President that we needed an agency that would focus on satellite towns and he saw reasons and he immediately established it. So that gives you a platform for development.
To me, everybody knows FCDA; in fact, when we talk about the territory you talk about FCDA, FCDA built this city. So the Satellite Town Development Agency has to replicate what FCDA has done in all the satellite towns. We had had a mass housing policy before which was not working. So we came up with affordable housing policy whereby the state subsidises by providing you land and infrastructure. That we call site and services. So you then give smaller parcels of land between one to 10 hectares to the developer just to build the houses, that way we believe the houses would be affordable. Secondly, we are actually giving the land to cooperatives, whether they are workers in the public sector or in the private sector, it doesn’t matter. We have two sites in Wasa and Mamusa West District. For the Wasa site we have given out the infrastructure to a very good contractor, Gilmor. They will start the infrastructure construction this year and we are procuring for Mamusa West. These are pilots. We anticipate we should be able to house 5,000 families.
What of social amenities?
We did a study in health care and saw that primary health care is actually the foundation of health care. I declared a state of emergency in primary health care. We found that we have about 227 primary health care centres, out of which only 27 were providing the service that they should. Half of them are not connected to water, half of them are not connected to electricity, many of them don’t have staff, many of them don’t even have toilets, drugs, you name it. So, what we have done is we have called all the stakeholders, the MDG, the FCT, the area councils, partners like UNICEF, National Primary Health Care Agency and all these people to assist us. We have a four-year programme to upgrade every primary health care centre to make it standard, to be able to deliver service to the community. On the back of this we also started Community Health Insurance Scheme which I believe is probably the first successful health insurance scheme in this country, where you pay health insurance at a low premium because we are trying to leverage on the economy of scale. You are paying a premium of may be N500 per month and you can work into primary health care centre or general hospital to get health care.
In the education sector we are doing the same thing, we are up scaling our schools most of which are in the area councils, the primary schools and the secondary schools, to make sure they are up to standard. Everyone is connected to water, every school has laboratories, in every school the pupil to student ratio is not more than 30, we are just setting standards and making sure that the area councils and education sectors adhere to these standards. So, what we are doing is to set standards. We started a major water supply project a year ago in Karshi. Karshi water supply is a dam and we are going to service all that area, up to Jikwoyi and Orozo.
We talked about agriculture, I am proud to say that we were adjudged to be the first in the whole country out of the 36 states and FCT in the government new GS programme; we got enhancement scheme of the federal government whereby support for subsidised products like fertiliser, seeds, goes directly to the farmers. We enumerated over 70,000 farming families in the FCT and got the product directly to them through the electronic wallet and voucher system. And our target is to reach a 100,000 farming families this year. We also have tractor scheme where we buy tractors and subsidise it and sell it to the farmers. We want to do smart agriculture in the territory because we believe we have infrastructure for it. We have a lot of young people coming into the territory who are roaming the streets when they could be engaged in agriculture in a way to raise money.
When I say smart agriculture that means we need to provide the basic services, for this we have an agro centre now in Gwagwalada where we are going to put the agriculture and technical centre. If you have one hectare of land there is no need for you to buy a tractor, if you need a tractor you come and hire it. If you need to test your soil to know what to plant we have a laboratory you can come and test it. If you need preferential service we have somebody who can give you that support. When you want to harvest we have harvesters, if you want training we can train you, when you finish we can help you with your marketing. If you want to keep your products with us we have refrigerators, cooling, and then we can help you with your packaging because we want to leverage on the fact that the federal government is building cargo airports with fresh product terminals so that we can export and collect fresh produce from all the surrounding states of Niger and Kogi to the centre to sort it out, weigh and export. So we are doing a lot in agriculture.
Are there plans to leverage on the good infrastructure for tourism?
We are just putting finishing touches to FCT tourism master plan that I commissioned. We are focusing now not only on conference tourism which FCT is known for but we are also focusing on medical tourism because we now have a medical village that the federal government is going to enable the private sector to establish at a medical centre with everything from diagnostic to every single medical specialty. We also have private sector hospitals, the Chinese Hospital has come up, and of course we have government hospitals like National Hospital. So we believe medical tourism will be a growth area. Sports tourism, as I said, we are developing a very active sports calendar, like a lot of sports that were never done before, like we are doing Abuja Marathon, after the London Marathon and then Boston Marathon. I think this is something that will attract people. We are positioning the territory for people to come here for higher education, secondary education and university education. As of now I think we have about six private universities of very high quality. We have the Turkish University, we have Base University and we have so many more coming up and of course we have one of the best secondary schools located here. When people come with their children they stay in a hotel, they spend money and of course the fees that are being paid help the economy. The whole idea is to diversify so that it is not only just a government city.
What happens to the local government councils’ federal allocations? Do you hand over all or do you spend them on their behalf as some states do?
We are proud of the fact we are probably the only “state” in Nigeria that gives to its local government their allocations on time and in full. And we even add 10 per cent IGR. We do not deduct, we do not spend on their behalf.
But you have Joint Allocation Council?
We have a JAC, in fact we had JAC meeting yesterday that allocates and gives out money; we do it publicly and the press is always there. Of course the money comes to us but we give it out. If we have FAAC on Monday you will be assured that on Wednesday we will have our JAC in the territory and so we are very proud of that. We are showing as a federal government we need to show good example to the spirit and the letter of the constitution and to develop the third tier of government. And as a viable tier of government that is closest to the people, it should be empowered to deliver services directly to them and it is working.
What challenges are you are facing?
The major challenge is that the territory is the fastest growing territory not only in Africa but in the world. And if you have 10 people come into the territory, eight of them will remain in the satellite towns. So we have a demographic surge because when people are coming for opportunities from all over the country and because of the security situation in the North a lot of people are relocating to the territory. That is our challenge that we did not expect. But it is an opportunity because with people you have a market, which is the strength of the major city like Kano, Lagos and Port Harcourt. Abuja’s population is three million but we know that we have exceeded five million and growing. That’s a challenge although, it is also an opportunity for business; we should leverage on it.
The other challenge is revenue income; the fact is that we don’t have in FCT an inland revenue board. We have a bill now before the National Assembly for our FCT revenue board and if we are in charge of collecting revenue I believe we will do it more efficiently. We also don’t have a law to enable us collect revenue for property taxes, so we have a situation whereby we have many buildings and residences in Abuja that nobody is paying property tax on. That’s a huge amount of money being lost. There’s a bill in the National Assembly for that. The third challenge is the National Assembly, as you know the territory’s local assembly is the National Assembly. People complain that in Abuja there is more lawlessness, people don’t obey, but the point is that we don’t have enough laws in place to regulate all the activities that are going on and we don’t have enough laws in place to collect the revenue that we need to collect so these are our challenges.