By Tunde Olusunle
He made a name for himself as the ultimate builder of infrastructure during his eight-year tour of duty as Rivers State governor. His accomplishments in the development of flyovers for example was to serve two purposes as he has serially theorised. One is to mitigate traffic in the Rivers State capital. The other is to enhance the aesthetics of the virtual one-city state, Port Harcourt. Nyesom Ezenwo Wike highlighted these on his outing as broadcast on live television when he reeled out his curriculum vitae while being screened as ministerial nominee. He had been nominated to serve in the administration of President Bola Tinubu and was being vetted by the 10th senate of the Federal Republic. He flaunted his completion of a dozen overpass bridges within four years as one record which will take a while to be equalled by any of the nation’s federating units. Some of his opponents in sections of the media profiled him as being “possessed by the spirit of flyovers,” since that was his unique selling point.
He was criticised for abandoning pensioners who were starved of their entitlements, while playing the “offshore philanthropist.” States like Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Benue, Lagos and Sokoto were beneficiaries of impulsive generosity. He was accused of insensitivity to the working environments of civil servants. Office complexes like the *Point Block,* the iconic state secretariat built decades ago, fell into unmitigated degeneration under his watch. For a state which famously prides itself as abode of the “garden city,” the way the capital, Port Harcourt is adulated, environmental sanitation suffered and impugned the aesthetics and cleanliness of the city. Wike also built several roads and bridges, which hitherto overawed his predecessors. He invested heavily in sectors like education and the judiciary, often filling in the gaps left by the federal government in several instances.
Wike made a very boisterous resumption on his very first day at work. Straight from inauguration as minister, and deployment to Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), he addressed an impromptu press conference. He had barely acquainted himself with relevant files and documents in the ministry, nor availed himself of briefs and guidance from the bureaucracy. He spoke in his trademark husky voice ending every other sentence in that fashion which anticipates response from his audience, the way teachers do in the classroom. He expressed the desire of his administration to enforce the FCT masterplan and thus would be unsparing in knocking down structures which violated the original prescriptions of the development of the capitol. Conjectures were spontaneously drawn to the possibility that Wike could be targeting individuals with whom he had axes to grind. He cultivated quite a few such people within the past year.
Just weeks after that premiere public appearance as FCT minister, Wike announced the revocation of land allocations to 165 Nigerians and corporate concerns. A preliminary reading of the list of the primary casualties of Wike’s scythe, seemed to suggest he was embarking in the pursuit of plain political vendetta. Beginning from his loss of the presidential ticket of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP) in May last year, Wike has drawn the battle line between him and those he believes stood in his way to getting the ticket. He has similarly not forgiven presumed terminators of his dream to be running mate to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who floored him in that contest. That was his desired compensation for his runner-up performance in PDP presidential primary.
Names like Peter Obi, the flagbearer of the Labour Party, (LP) at the presidential poll; Liyel Imoke, a former governor of Cross River State who was deputy director-general in the Atiku campaign and Chidinma Chidoka, wife of Osita Chidoka a former aviation minister, also a top shot in the Atiku campaign featured prominently on Wike’s list. It was automatically presumed that Wike was poised to move against his adversaries. The names of Udo Udoma and Victor Oyofo, both former senators, as well as those of Kanu Agabi, SAN, a former Attorney-General of the Federation, were on the list. Ufot Ekaette a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), Niki Tobi, a former Justice of the Supreme Court, (JSC), and Sam Nda-Isaiah, founding publisher of *Leadership* newspapers, all three transited, were also on the list. In response to public murmurs about his high-handedness, Wike has granted a three-month reprieve to all entities on that list to develop their properties. Checks in the FCTA did confirm that most of these allottees did contravene land development statutes, by the way.
As with his famous designer dresses and peculiar dances which characterised his final days in office as governor, Wike has in recent weeks discovered a new passion. This has retained his regularity in the social media. More recently, the new FCT minister has continued to showcase his skills as a good cook, to his guests in his Guzape, Abuja home. When he hosted Tinubu’s chief of staff, Femi Gbajabiamila earlier in the month, Wike was seen at work in his kitchen, stirring a giant soup pot to the admiration of his callers. Just days ago, Bukola Saraki, a former President of the Senate and PDP heavyweight came visiting and Wike was once again at his favourite pastime, cooking. He even sampled the broth this time around to ensure proportional adequacy of the various condiments. Who would have presumed that Wike the “Port Harcourt Boy” celebrated in the hit song “Port Harcourt first son” by the musical artiste Duncan Mighty, was as domesticated as he is proving to be?
Away from his luminous cooking area, Wike has set out to work since his inauguration. He has given timelines for the completion and operationalisation of specific projects, notably the Abuja rail system, which should ease commuting for residents. He has directed the demolition of squatters’ hangouts in parts of the city which hitherto served as breeding grounds for crime and criminality. He has requested infrastructure contractors to return to site in specific areas even as their needs are assessed and addressed. These are positive early indicators of a public servant who wants to work. Despite these, however, Wike can do with some guidance from us all about how to maintain Abuja as a successful prototype on a sustainable basis. But he will have to listen to those of us who have been “permanent residents” here longer than him, to deploy an expression from the thesaurus of foreign affairs. This is Abuja. This is not Rivers State. Abuja is a global melting pot, not a province.
First, let me avail him of one of my essays on Abuja titled: *Capitol of the Dark, Dank, Dirty and Dangerous* which was graciously published on the back page of *The Guardian* of June 27, 2022. Wike was still the Rivers State governor at that time and barely conceived of his present schedule, I believe. That article can be downloaded and printed for him by his media aides for his perusal and guidance. Beginning my odyssey in Abuja as a functionary in the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar administration, I’ve witnessed first hand, the transmutation of the city for nearly 25 years now. Yes Abuja continues to sustain its appeal as Nigeria’s best planned and functional metropolis on the scale. So, so much, however, has gone awry in the underbelly of the capital territory, especially in the post-Nasir El Rufai years.
While successive FCT administrations have serially focused on the continuing development of areas within and abutting the city centre, scant attention has been paid to the outskirts of the city. The absence of infrastructure in many such places has necessitated self-help in some cases, or enabled the spontaneous ascent of slums and ghettos elsewhere. Wike will need to purposely go beyond the official itineraries prepared for him by his aides, to visit the depths and hinterlands of the capital city. The physical conditions of areas like Nyanya, Mararaba, Durumi, Okanje, Kabusa, Kyami, Lugbe, Kuje, Idu, Karmo, Dei Dei, Jikwoyi, Karshi, Mpape, Kpaduma, Bwari for instance are grim eyesores. Some of these districts and communities by the way are intertwined with neighbouring states notably Nasarawa, Niger and Kaduna.
There are no roads in these communities, neither is there potable water and electricity. A permanent cost item on the bills of quantities of most potential homeowners in Abuja is that of drilling a borehole. The less privileged resort to hand-dug wells for water supply. Residents of parts of the Gaduwa/Gudu/Lokongoma remain grateful to a certain “Prince Ebeano” who reportedly developed the three kilometre Gudu/Lokongoma road. Sadly, reports say the road has fallen into disrepair even as Ebeano the benefactor grapples with the redevelopment of his monstrous mall, razed down by fire, two years ago. The scant illumination of the capital at night finds a corollary in the degenerate security situation.
There is a burgeoning drug underworld in Abuja which should elicit the concern of Minister Wike. “The night truly, really hides with a knife,” to appropriate the title of the 1995 volume of short stories by the same title authored by Nigerian-Canadian scholar, Nduka Otiono. Commuters are eternally at the mercy of cold-blooded miscreants disguised as transport operators, who rob, attack and maim unsuspecting passengers. Some passengers have been abducted and murdered for ritual purposes, a very distressing dimension to our national apprehensions. Obnoxious “one-chance” vagrants headline the crime chart in the city, subsisting *parri passu* with scurrilous garbage scroungers known in popular parlance as *baba’n bola.* Most of the metal covers of ducts and manholes across the capitol have been stolen by an organised syndicate which collaborates with Abuja garbage hawks. Cattle herding in a city which should be Africa’s showpiece to the world carried forward from the years of locusts of the colourless President Muhammadu Buhari, remains till date. Camels have been sighted specifically on the airport road in Abuja, as we inch gradually towards the wholesale designation of the capital city as the “new national zoo.” The world awaits Wike’s ingenious solution to this abnormality.
Wike has his job cut out in the FCT. His stamina for hardwork is not in any doubt. He has had multilevel precedents in public service, waltzing through local government administration, a previous stint in the federal executive council, (FEC), and more recently governor of his state. This is his second odyssey as minister. He will, however, learn to listen more, attune himself to reading more and more, and cook up viable solutions to the multifarious afflictions of the capital territory. He will be expected to be proactive and to think outside the box, especially with regards to addressing existing challenges and those that arise. He will also be expected to be less impulsive and abrasive, the way he famously was in Rivers State. Nigeria is at least, a pseudo-democracy.
▪︎ Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)