Hon. Suleman Ibrahim Barde Kutunku is a politician, an estate manager and Coordinator of FCT Youth Frontiers. In this interview with Forefront, Kutunku, an indigene of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), lays bare how past administrations conned FCT indigenes on compensation for lands and mayoral status for Abuja. It is a must-read story of government’s failed promises to the people
What motivated the formation of FCT Youth Frontiers (FCTYF)?
The basic reason behind the formation of FCT Youth Frontiers is to unite all the indigenous languages in FCT for peace, unity and progress. Sadly, the FCT youth have been neglected by successive FCT Administrations; we are not carried along in terms of employment, appointments and international scholarships. Also, no FCT youth is a beneficiary of land allocation in the Territory (our God Given prosperity and resources). Can you belief that 98% of FCT youth are still leaving in their grand-parents houses due to high cost of plots and rents in the FCT (Abuja)? Under our nose, our lands are being taken and allocated to even foreigners in hectares while owners of these lands are only paid peanuts for economic trees that survive on the land. That is why you see cashew and malaynas trees everywhere in FCT. For example, if we inherit 100 hectares of land and only seven (7) cashew trees survive on the land, the FCT Administration or the developer may end up paying you for only the seven (7) cashew trees surviving on that land. Is that the meaning of compensation? Can you do that in Niger Delta or Lagos? During Senator Adamu Alero`s tenure as Minister of FCT, he allocated lands to the people from Kebbi in the city centre, the layout called Maitama Alero (Maitama EXT AO5) today, he did that to empower the people of Kebbi State (his people) at our expense, while we the original inhabitants cannot afford a plot to build, even at Lugbe or Kuje; is that fair to the FCT people?
There is this claim that some of your leaders have been settled in respect of FCT land. How true is it?
We, the FCT youths need evidence. As far as we are concerned, FCT Youths have been shortchanged and not settled in any form. What kind of settlement? The only thing is that we have had some partial and improper compensation. The Laws say when your land is taken from you for public interest; you shall be compensated, relocated and resettled. Compensation here means giving you another plot or cash and not for the economic trees only. Relocation here means we will be taken to more favourable locations with provision of infrastructures, like roads, water, electricity, schools and hospitals; then resettlement means structural arrangement for us to dwell just as it is done in every major city of the world. The only Minister that attempted to do the right thing without sentiment was Malam Nasir El-Rufai, now the Governor of Kaduna State, who successfully opened up Apo – Resettlement area for Garki-villagers close to the city. However, during the tenure of Bala Muhammed, hundreds of hectares were taken without proper compensation. For instance, Karsana, Kagini and Lokogoma districts were allocated to developers to build mass housing under the land SWAP programme for sale but the original inhabitants of those places have no place to call their own. Their situation is pathetic, because the developers only paid them token for the economic trees that grow on the land not minding how they survive the pressure of forceful development around them. No plots to expand their community, no farmlands for their economic activities, no resettlement for them and their children; and worse still, they are exposed and surrounded by Estates without effective relocation. Is it a curse to be peaceful and law abiding? Regrettably also, the so-called land SWAP was a good scheme but fraudulently executed. I saw where 1,000 hectares and 300 hectares of swapped plots papers were being sold in the open market to third parties. Land SWAP has been in practice in US and France where governments partner the private sector to provide mass low cost housing and infrastructures to it citizens but the FCT land swap was purely a business plan to defraud the people.
What is the political bearing of FCT indigenous people?
The political bearing of FCT is still under development. We need a vibrant and better political structure just like other states. FCT is one of the most populated capitals in the world today, but we have only one Senator; only two members in the House of Representatives; no Mayor, no Commissioners; and no Mayoral Counselors. Our political activities start and end in Area Councils. Is that fair? Are we not part of this country? Regrettably, all these are aimed at under-developing the indigenous people of FCT.
What has happened to the agitation by indigenous People of FCT for Mayoral Status?
Our people have been fooled over the years, particularly when the Federal Government needs our support to win elections. I remember when they wanted Khairat Gwadabe Abdulrazak, a non indigene to become Senator, they promised us Mayoral Status for the FCT but as soon as she won, the issue was never mentioned again. When they wanted Senator Maina from Niger State to become the FCT Senator, again they came with the promise of a Mayoral Status for FCT but reneged immediately after the elections. However, now that we have successfully and by God’s will, democratically taken the FCT Senate seat by collective indigenous cooperation, we believe things would change for better. Do you know the last administration promised us a Ministerial slot because they were seeking a return to power by all means just the same way the present administration promised us Ministerial slot for FCT indigenous people. So, the FCT youths are coming together irrespective of tribes, religion or class to demand the constitutional rights of the FCT people, because we can’t contest any post, even a counselor seat in another State apart from FCT.
Do we still have indigenous people in the FCT?
Very well, FCT indigenous people have traditional council headed by a first class chief. We have other chiefs and district heads recognized by government and we have tribes that constitute the original inhabitants of the FCT, including the Gbagi/Gbari, Koro, Gwandara, Gana-gana, Gade, Basa, Hausa and Ebira Koto. All the above mentioned ethnic groups are the landlords and original inhabitants and we are still very much present in FCT and everywhere, except City Centre where we were forced out by the Federal Land Acquisition activities.
It is alleged the indigenous people of the FCT, especially the Gbagy do not like or welcome strangers. How do you react to this?
It is not true. We are the most peaceful people on earth; we love other languages; we accommodate people from other States, giving them farmland to farm free but at the end of the day, they still call us fools, that we don’t know the value of what we are giving to others free. It is difficult to find a gwari man fighting other language and we are trustworthy even if a Hausa man wants to do something, he will say let’s do it gwari-gwari meaning let us be sincere. Assuming FCT is in Calabar, Lokoja or Lagos, there would be no peace as we presently enjoy in the FCT. So, it is because of our peaceful nature that development came to FCT without any hitch, but we have been taken for granted. Surely, FCT indigenous people are very loving and accommodating without sentiments.
What is your message to the current FCT Minister?
The FCT Youth Frontiers congratulates him as our political and administrative leader. We urge him to work closely with the FCT indigenous youths and carry us along on important issues of governance, just like it is happening in States, particularly as it relates to employment, appointments, scholarship (Local and International), and allocation of plots in various Area Councils, including the city centre because we are Nigerians too. Secondly, we want the Minister to look into how to develop other Area Councils because 75% of civil servants and businessmen in FCT reside in these places but at present, there is obvious neglect by the FCDA, in terms of Area Council and Satellite towns’ development. Therefore, we advise the FCT Minister to decongest the city by developing the Area Councils.
How should this be done?
Some Ministries need to be moved away from Capital City centre to the Area Councils where 75% of Civil Servants & business people reside because, there is too much concentration of development in the city centre at the expense of other Area councils. FCT Police Command is supposed to be in Gwagwalada; Ministry of Agriculture in Kwali; Ministry of Education in Bwari; Ministry of Industry in Kuje; University Commission and Port Authority in Abaji; but today, everything is concentrated in the city center due to poor and lack of infrastructural development in the Area Councils. The few departments in Gwagwalada Area Council have unfortunately been moved back to the city centre. These include Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Sharia Court of Appeal and the Hajj Commission that have all returned to city centre and everybody is just quiet about the development.
Are the Area Councils really developing and empowering the FCT Communities?
The Area Councils cannot operate properly and effectively without appropriate support from the FCDA in major infrastructural development like roads, electricity, water and primary health care. FCDA is supposed to be the major stakeholder in the development of Area Councils and the Satellite towns, but most of the past Ministers spent years not knowing what is happening in the Area Councils because they don’t care for the local dwellers of FCT. We pray this present Minister will not repeat the same mistake. We expect massive development in the rural areas in this regime of change.
Finally, what is your advice to the FCT Youth in general?
As Coordinator of FCT Youth Frontiers, my advice is that the indigenes must recognize and live in peace with other tribes in FCT. We must shun criminal activities that may have been imported by others while holding our leaders responsible and demanding our rights in education, water, electricity, roads and other social basic amenities. Also, we should always vote into office people with developmental ideology not based on religion, tribal or mundane sentiments while bonding for peace, progress and unity of FCT people. I will also advise the Area Council Chairmen and their officials to use our money and natural resources judiciously. They should focus on youth empowerment and infrastructure development. We have no other place than FCT and therefore, the Council Chairmen are our Governors. So, if they work together, they can achieve a lot for the overall good of the people and the territory. It is important they stop politicking with issues of development based on so-called party affiliation and work with the Minister to engender sustainable growth and development within the territory. The six Area Council Chairmen should please come together and develop skills acquisition centres to cater for FCT Youth because as things are presently, we are about 30 years behind as far as civilization and education of our people are concerned.