The indigenous people of Abuja recently went on a street protest as part of activities marking the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. CALEB ONWE reports
Like a wounded lion, the indigenous people of the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT), have consistently expressed their anger about the seizure of their lands by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Their forbearers surrendered their ancestral land to the government for the development of a more befitting capital city for Nigeria.
More than four decades after the creation of Abuja, the indigenes have continued to agonize over the loss of ownership rights, to their lands without commensurate compensation. The lamentation becomes worse each time they realise how modern and developed Abuja had become and how the original land owners have been restricted to slums, where they languish in poverty and squalour.
Over the years, they have been clamouring for the elevation of Abuja to the status as a state, provision of a ministerial slot for the indigenous people in the federal cabinet, and above all, inclusiveness in the land administration within the capital territory.
They have realised that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for them to reverse the constitutional impediments that transferred the ownership of the lands to the Federal Government of Nigeria. They have suffered serial demolition of their homes by agents of the Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA) and have vowed to use every legitimate means to resist any further attempts to deny them fair access to their ancestral lands. They argued that the constitutional provisions only support land administrators to come for their lands, when there is an overriding national interest on the land and not personal interest in the allocation of lands to people for residential purposes. In recent times, they have resorted to using civil agitation to demand for justice.
Their method is unique and non violent. On several instances, they had mobilized both the elderly men and women to the streets of Abuja, in protest over land rights. The protesters often storm the streets half- naked to express their anger. One of such opportunities was during the just celebrated United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous peoples. About nine ethnic groups that are aboriginal to the FCT, defied the early morning rain to march through the streets in different cultural attires and costumes.
As expected, the first port of call was the FCT Minister’s office, the place considered as their own ‘ government house’. Like a beleaguered man, who woke up to discover that his precious possessions had been taken away by invaders, and faced with the urgent need to recover them, these indigenous people, have always used every occasion they have, to tell those in authority, that though, they have slept away their rights, their belated realization was better than never.
They not only wail each time they remember the gravity of loss they have incurred by government’s acquisition of their land, but want to remain a weeping child till global attention is drawn to their sorrowful conditions. While on the peaceful march, they reminded the Minister and his officials that the burning embers of their incurable anger has refused to die down because their ancestral shrines and graves have been transformed into magnificent palaces, while they watched helplessly from their shanties. FCT Permanent Secretary, Mr. Christian Ohaa, who addressed the people, reeled out government’s policy direction already articulated to compensate them for sacrificing their land.
Ohaa, who spoke on behalf of the Minister, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, stated that government would forever be grateful to the indigenous people for giving up their land for the development of the capital city. Apart from one of the indigenes who recently rose to the rank of a Permanent Secretary, he said, the FCTA would soon send some of the indigenes of the FCT abroad for training on railway engineering and administration. Ohaa, who was bent on defrosting accentuated bitterness in the hearts of the people, told them that nobody would force them to leave their ancestral homes.
He urged them to take ownership of the infrastructure that government has provided within their domains and ensure that they were not vandalized. After expressing their grievances, they marched to an event centre along the popular Ahmadu Bello Way, where some of their leaders energized their spirit and allayed the fears of losing their cultural heritage and going into extinction, due to the frequent assault launched against them Senator Shehu Sani, representing Kaduna Central Senatorial Zone in the National Assembly, said that the Federal Government has not been fair to the indigenous people of the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT) , since Abuja became the country’s seat of power. He said that the people who sacrificed their ancestral homes, should not be treated like refugees.
“We should all be concerned as Nigerians that we see Abuja as home today but we also have a second home where we came from, but the indigenous people have no second home, as this is your only home. How can people who have other places other than the FCT to call their homes, have lands from where they make billions of Naira while those who are indigenes are becoming poorer? “Your cries for ministerial slot should have been considered over three decades. You need a minister in the executive council to represent the FCT. You must not be punished because you gave your lands as Federal Capital”, he said. According to the lawmaker one of the worst injustices the indigenous people have suffered for many years, was the failure of successive governments to appoint an indigenous minister into the cabinet.
He assured them that he was going to champion the cause of the people at National Assembly. “Abuja deserves a special status that will give the people a sense of belonging. It is injustice to keep displacing the indigenous people, because you want to accommodate other people”, he added.
Coordinator of Coalition of FCT Indigenous Association, Kamal Shuaibu, who led the group to the Minister’s office, said that the major thing the indigenous people were asking from the government, was to stop excluding them from administration of their ancestral land. Shuaibu noted that they wanted the land administration of Abuja to be of international standard, where some percentage of government’s revenue would be given to real owners of the land. Another leader of the group, Ezekiel Musa, expressed the hope that the government would do whatever it has promised the indigenous people.
“The FCT indigenous people have been here before the coming of the Federal Capital Territory. We have no place to go. So, when those in government refuse to treat the indigenous people well, they should realize that it is sitting on time bomb,” Musa said.
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