It may be strange to write about this small but significant development: The Federal Capital Territory, (FCT) my organic beat, has been suffering in silence and sadly even the watchdogs in Abuja appear to have forgotten that there is a Federal Capital Territory’s government within the Federal Government in Abuja and the president presides over the two of them (FG and FCT). This will not be the first time that I have noted here that the President of Nigeria is also the Governor of the Federal Capital Territory and the Vice President is the Deputy Governor. It is not my opinion. That is a provision in our constitution. Let’s not go into the technicality, the letter and spirit of the constitution that has made Nigeria’s capital the most undemocratically governed in the country. I just want to draw the attention of the presidency to the fact that Nigeria’s president has since ignored his other government – in the nation’s capital. For conceptual clarity here, the constitution provides that the President is the Governor (of FCT) and he may delegate his powers over the FCT to a Minister (Sections 299-304). That is what has been happening.
Before we go into the nitty-gritty of the current dilemma of the government of the nation’s capital (Abuja), let us do some quick peregrination of what is trending, sorry what is happening to democracy in what the world has come to believe to be the bastion of democracy, the United States of America. Some distraction specialists have begun to inundate the social media with some witticisms and satirical remarks about what has become of democracy in ‘America, their America’ as J.P Clark once noted in his classic on the country. I have received so many of such comical remarks on Hurricane Donald Trump’s failed ‘coup’ through an attack on the hallowed Congress the other day. Here are some of the poorly written messages being used to burnish our sagging democratic image:
‘Irony of politics: same people telling us protesters breaking doors and windows in the Capitol are not peaceful but violent and their act is insurrection/coup and must be dealt with; they tell us protesters in this side of the world are attacking government facilities like police stations carting away guns and killing policemen and calling or insisting on the removal of an elected government are peaceful protesters and must be spoken to and negotiated with. I am confused…’
Another one: JUST NEGODU: The USA national guard has been activated. They asked Nigeria why we brought the military but are doing exactly the same thing…Sorosoke children and hypocrites are quiet. America has been exposed. Our democracy is far better than theirs…#CapitolMassacre
…Meanwhile, on a lighter note: 3-day workshop: Nigeria to train American leaders on tenets and values on modern democracy. Venue: International Conference, Centre, Abuja. Date: 12-14, January, 2021. Time:10am prompt.
The messages of the amateur commentators are quite clear. They are mocking the transition turmoil and the denouement so far. But that can’t fly. We need to put whatever is happening in the United States in a proper context to deepen our understanding of what democratisation and institution building should be. We should not twist matters to confound people. We still do not have credentials to mock the Americans who have just demonstrated to the world that they are indeed in a country governed by laws, not men. They just demonstrated and they are continuing to bask in that glory of the foundation laid by their founding fathers that only strong institutions run by good men and women can sustain a democracy. We have seen in action as some commentators here have noted that we should acknowledge the strength of the institutions of governance in the United States. They have indeed in a bipartisan mode, stood up to the manipulations of Trump and his strange Trumpism.
Do we have their independent judiciary? The U.S judiciary did not grant curious and obnoxious injunctions. Their courts stood firmly by the law. Trump’s 62 lawsuits to scuttle democracy failed. The restless President Trump tried all the tricks to blackmail and intimidate state officials in Georgia, but they stood firm, though they are Republicans. They allowed the laws to rule, not strong men from Washington D.C. They even exposed the stratagems of the strong man from Florida.
As a commentator noted here neither the FBI nor the Department of Homeland Security arrested key figures and detained them illegally a few hours to elections. In 2019, the Abuja strong men removed the Chief Justice of Nigeria without recourse to constitutional provisions on how to remove the highest judicial officer. Even the constitution and courts of Nigeria could not save the hapless CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen.
Despite an open violation of a key democratic institution, there were no reports of hundreds shot by police and national guards. Yes, there were four reported deaths. And here is the thing, the institutions did their job. And the Capitol Hill police chief, sergeants-at arm of both chambers of the Congress had to face the consequences of bungled policing efforts. They resigned. Some members of the Trump administration have also resigned in protest. Their institutions are working and cleansing themselves on the spot. Do we have a Mike Pence as President of the Senate? Do we have a Nancy Pelosi, a Speaker of the House who would just ask the police chiefs and sergeant-at-arms to resign and they will resign? This is part of the arguments about federalism. On that January 6, 2021 when the Electoral College votes were to be confirmed by the Congress, one speaker after the other from both Democratic and Republican parties spoke on the beauty of federalism within the construct of the various institutions that determine outcome of presidential elections. They kept referring to the power of the people and the 50 states that make up the federation. They kept mentioning the secretaries of state of each of the states. Trump was furious with the Georgia’s secretary of state who the law gives the power to handle a critical aspect of the presidential election. He wanted the secretary of state to find just 11, 000 votes to alter the election result. The Attorney-General of the United States appointed by President Trump, William Barr stood up to the strong man, told him he didn’t find irregularities to cancel election results. He resigned. A civil servant, a director of cyber security and infrastructure security in the Department of Homeland Security, Christopher Krebs amid Trump’s intimidation declared that 2020 election was the most secure in their history. He was fired by Trump. But his job is secure: He will be restored. Even President Trump’s executive rascality and excesses have been curbed in the last few days by the laws. The laws are above him. How do we achieve this remarkable institutional framework? This is what we should reflect upon instead of shouting 2023 in a federation without federalism – that has just delivered the United States from damnation. Unitary system is evil. We must reiterate that loud and clear! Nigerians must overthrow it now – to make progress.
The FCT Minister’s Lost Memo
There is a matter in Abuja and it is of urgent national importance that the president’s men and other cabinet members may not be aware of: the taciturn Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Mohammed Bello is in some discomfort he can’t tell anybody about. He has a huge challenge that may threaten national security in the nation’s capital. The Adamawa-born Minister can’t form his government since he was sworn in for a second term in August 2019. The Minister who functions as the governor of the ‘37th state’ of the federation has no State Assembly unlike the 36 states of the federation. The 1999 constitution provides that the National Assembly shall be the Legislature for the FCT. There are two Committees in the same bi-cameral National Assembly overseeing the FCT Affairs. The National Assembly’s only serious business for FCT has always been approval of the FCT budget, as submitted by the President.
Specifically, it has been curious that an executive memorandum for the formation of the FCT’s Executive Council and appointment and reappointment of executive heads for FCT agencies sent to the President for Approval since late 2019, has not been returned to the FCT Minister. Here are the facts. There is an FCT Executive Order 2004, which emerged when the Ministry of the Federal Capital territory (MFCT) was scrapped on 31st December 2004. The Executive Order, signed by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo when Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai was FCT Minister created seven new Mandate Secretariats, comprising Education, Transport, Agriculture and Rural Development, Health and Human Services, Social Development, Legal Services and Area Council. The Secretariats are like the Ministries in the states and the heads function as if they were state commissioners. They are called (Mandate) Secretaries. The Secretariats (ministries) can therefore not be headed by civil servants. Besides, there are a number of agencies under these Seven Secretaries. They include Abuja Metropolitan Management Council, which supervises a number of development and regulatory agencies including Development Control; FCT Water Board, FCT Parks and Recreation, FCT Internal Revenue Board, etc. The challenge now is that since August 2019 when the new Cabinet was sworn in, the FCT Minister has no functional executive body and most of the agencies have no legal heads. Main reason: as I was saying, the file the FCT Minister submitted to the office of the President since late 2019 for the appointment of the seven Secretaries to manage the Mandate Secretariats and appointment of executive heads of agencies has not been treated. And so since August 2019 the FCT has no Executive Council to consider development projects for FCT. Besides, all the agencies without heads too have since been headed by civil servants who have been acting and so cannot carry out executive functions. What is worse, the two FCT Committees in National Assembly and the only Senator representing FCT, have been quiet about this executive procrastination that has crippled operations in the almost 45-years old nation’s capital. There should therefore be a constitutional amendment to remove the FCT from the office and grip of the President. The FCT Mayor should be elected as it is in most cities in the world. But who will tell the president that the FCT Minister’s governance file has been gathering dust in his office for one and half years?