Bala Muhammed In the Eye of the Storm

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Muhammed

Bala Muhammed, minister of the Federal Capital Territory, receives knocks for wastefulness and wrong prioritisation of projects

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Dec. 23, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

ABUJA, Nigeria’s capital city stood still on Monday, November 8, as workers of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, took to the streets to protest the non-payment of their 13 months’ salary arrears. The more than 400 FCTA staff shoved aside every other activity and marched through major roads singing solidarity songs and bearing placards with various inscriptions.  They demanded the resignation of Bala Muhammed, minister of the federal capital territory, Abuja, for refusing to pay them their salaries for 13 months.

Some of the staff also complained about the non-promotion of staff in the ministry which, according to them, has affected their careers as civil servants. They also accused Mohammed of being the worst FCT minister they ever had and vowed to continue the protest until President Goodluck Jonathan removed or reassigned him.

While the protest was going on, Muhommed was said to be hiding in his office for fear of being attacked by the protesters. Officials of the ministry who tried to prevail on the protesters to abandon their cause had it tough as they were almost lynched. Obinna Chukwu, a permanent secretary of the ministry, had to be whisked away by his security details when he tried to pacify the protesters.

For ordinary observers, the action of the FCTA workers may be seen as a step taken too far. But for those familiar with the happenings in Abuja and the ministry, it is a step long overdue.

Mark
Mark

Muhammed has come under severe criticisms in recent times over some of his actions which many consider outlandish. For instance, in November 2012, the federal executive council, based on Muhammed’s request, approved the building of a new N2.2bn banquet hall at the presidential villa, Abuja, despite the fact that there was an existing structure for that purpose.

Defending the approval for the construction of the 150-capacity hall, Muhammed told journalists that his administration decided to build a new banquet hall because the existing structure was not befitting enough for a country like Nigeria. According to him, smaller countries of the world have better banquet halls in their seats of power. “We noticed that the existing hall is inconvenient.  It is not in tandem with what exists outside the country. Even smaller countries have better banquet halls near their presidential residences. Of course, some of the things we are going to provide include a 150-seater hall with all the facilities that will cover the walk ways, security, hall conveniences, technical room and press briefing room that  are  more enhanced so that national broadcast can be done from there. The contract was awarded in the sum of N2.2bn to Julius Berger because they are more familiar with the terrain in the presidential villa and for security reasons.”

As expected Muhammad’s explanation for spending state funds on such needless project drew the ire of many Nigerians, especially those in Abuja, where there are many areas begging for government’s attention. The hoopla generated by the N2.2 billion banquet hall contract had barely receded before Muhammed announced yet another humongous contract to be undertaken by the FCTA. This time, it was a N4 billion secretariat for the African first lady peace mission which was included in the 2013 appropriation budget of the FCT.

Again, Muhammed was in the eye of the storm recently as Nigerians expressed their dissatisfaction with reports that the principal officers of the National Assembly rejected the official quarters built for them by the FCDA, describing the project as a waste of money and another means of encouraging corruption. The minister had stated that David Mark, Senate president, Aminu Tambuwal, speaker of the House of Representatives, and their deputies, along with some other principal officers, had rejected the N3bn official quarters being built for them in Abuja. Muhammed had cited insecurity and delay in the provision of infrastructure as reasons for the rejection of the official residential buildings. But the National Assembly claimed that the decision to abandon the buildings was that of the FCTA and not that of its presiding officers.

As if the public outrage that greeted news of the wasteful expenditure was not enough reason for the minister to soft pedal, he has recently announced another white elephant project to be undertaken by the ministry. On Wednesday October 15, he announced that the FCDA was embarking on the construction of a new city gate which would cost N64 billion. It was not just the amount of the new city gate that angered many people but the fact that there is an existing one close to the national stadium, Abuja.

Tambuwal
Tambuwal

While making the announcement, Bernard Lot, FCTA’s director of public buildings, told journalists that the new city gate would serve as a symbol of cultural heritage for the nation’s capital. He added that the gate, which would be located at Kuje junction on Airport Road, would replace the existing one close to the national stadium.

“The central axis will have pedestrian bridges; the northern axis will have conference rooms, parade ground, botanical garden, a five-star hotel and a hospital, among others. The northern axis will also serve as a place where a new President will be given a key to enter the city. The southern axis of the project, to be sited close to the Centenary City, will be used for commercial activities, such as shopping and amphitheatre.”

Muhammed had earlier been quoted as saying that the move was one of the steps being taken by his administration to restore the city’s original master plan. The minister said the current city gate was wrongly located. He further justified the move by adding that the project would also serve as a tourist attraction and would have social and economic significance to FCT residents and visitors to the city.

Since the news went viral, Muhammed has been subjected to heavy criticism from members of the public. Despite his explanations that the project would be private sector driven, many people still hold the view that the project is useless and has no impact on the lives of the masses.

Nifemi Okusanya, an Abuja-based civil servant, said embarking on such project is  a clear indication that the government does not care about the welfare of its people. “How can we spend such a huge amount of money on an ordinary city gate when they are a lot of areas in the city where that money could be better utilised. This shows that our government officials are corrupt and do not care about the welfare of the people.”

Mayowa Ogunsanya, a student wondered why the government would watch while the current gate was being erected in a wrong place. “Who do we blame for erecting the current city gate in a wrong place? Is that not a dereliction of duty on the side of government? By the way, what is in a gate that you will be spending N64billion? God will help us.”

Despite the opposition to the project, there are indications that government will go ahead with it. It was further learnt that the pre-qualification for architectural design of the project has already been completed.

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