We Want a City that Works

John Chukwu, permanent secretary of the Federal Capital Territory Administration is a seasoned technocrat and head of the efficient bureaucracy that supports the land swap policy. He examines the policy and its implementation in this interview with Anayochukwu Agbo, general editor, and Tajudeen Suleiman, senior associate editor

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John-Chukwu

We are looking at the land swap policy in details. What is your understanding of the policy?

Land swap is a model, which the FCT administration is implementing. It is a way of attracting investment. Government is unable to fund all infrastructural development in the FCT. If you look at the history of the FCT in the past 35 years, government has been trying to develop these districts. We have only been able to develop 11 out of over 89 districts, and even these 11 have not been fully completed. For instance, you see the Garki villages are still here within the districts. We were unable to do the entire infrastructure, do the relocation and do the compensation. And you have seen the influx of people into the city; the city is growing exponentially. So, in order to be able to provide new service areas, the administration has tried to use the land as a last resort. It is not an issue of giving land to people to just keep; now you are going to add value to that land – building primary infrastructure – roads, drainages, electricity, water supply and all that. Then there would be secondary off takers – those who will try to develop estates, hotels, houses, market, schools and all these services.

So, that is basically what land swap is all about. And it is estimated that there would be an influx of over $2 billion and so far 15 investors have shown interest. And in their delivery, they are going to take care of the entire infrastructure, the resettlement issues and the compensation issues in a very holistic approach. So we really believe that it is going to add a lot of value to FCT. And of course, when we succeed, we would look forward that other states of the federation would buy into it.

A lot of the people we talked to expressed some uncertainties over the resettlement and compensation package. How is the model being adopted any different from what has been done before that did not work?

Previously, I was chairman, committee on resettlement and compensation; that was my first assignment when I came here. Originally, government was supposed to relocate the original inhabitants; provide houses, provide schools; pay them; but because government does not have all the funds, it has been done in bits. So, you find some places we have built houses and we have not been able to complete them over a period of ten years. And in the past we had given these houses to people and they are selling them. But what we are trying to do now is a model where they would choose what and how they want it done. We look at the possibilities of integration, relocation and those kinds of models. And then that is what the ESI Committee is working on with the people. But what we have tried to do is to enumerate the crops, the lands, the houses that are in those locations. When we looked at the issue of integrating them, I am reminded that look, it is better you resettle them away from those areas where the land swap is; put them where they can continue to have their lives the way they were originally and then you would be able to provide farmlands where they will continue to farm and those settlements will have provisions for expansion. We found some areas of land that at their own choice they would live there; infrastructures and other services, we will provide there; these will be provided by the developers; the land swap partners.

There are also some uncertainties about the issue of land bank, like the sharing ratio of 40/60 between the FCTA and the investors; some investors are wondering what would happen to the 40 per cent that would come to the administration in relation to their investment.

Let me correct this; it has not been 60 to 40. We are negotiating with the developers based on the cost; you know the cost they are bringing in; you know the cost of the infrastructure but because of their locations, their terrains are not the same so the cost of enrolment would vary. The developers; by the time they provide primary infrastructures and they provide some secondary infrastructures, some of them are going to develop houses; some of them are going to build shopping malls and hotels. Now, that land that is available to the FCT; whether it is 10 per cent, 20 per cent, 30 or 40; it is still going to be allocated to those who want it developed. So, it is going to be given to the people. The reason is that we are not handing over the entire land to them but what we are trying to do is, we don’t have the money; we ask them to come and develop; take some to recover your costs; then pay back to the government and then we allocate them the way we usually allocate to applicants.

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John-Chukwu

Apart from the Phase 4 of the FCT that would be developed through land swap, we also have the Abuja City Centre; we also have the industrial park. What are some of the institutional frameworks that have been put in place to make these projects outlive this present administration?

Even the land swap, before it came on board, I think it was taken to the Federal Executive Council where they approved the model. And it becomes a policy; so it is not to say that if the minister is no more here or if the permanent secretary is no more here; the ESI dies. It is a government policy. And the agreement would be structured in such a form that you don’t just come in and scatter it; government is a continuum. And then the investors too, they must be protected from this risk of uncertainties and of course nobody is going to put his money when he is not sure that his rights and privileges are guaranteed. Development is a continuous thing. I don’t think that any sane person would come and scatter it. There would be agreement that would be signed; the MOUs and the agreement will cover all those risks, both for the government and the investors.

Looking at all the high profile projects that the FCT is handling, which of them is dearest to you?

We try to do developmental projects not high profile projects. The Abuja Airport Road, the Kubwa City Road, I met those projects here. These are projects that are done to improve service, to improve quality of life in the FCT. For instance, you have seen it is easier for people to come to work, less time is spent to come to work, the wear and tear of cars are reduced, so these are things that on the whole, we will finish some of these projects including the recent one that was flagged off. It will reduce the time people will take to come to work. Of course you know that developments are coming up like the Karshi water construction so that those who are not in the city centre would be able to still have the same quality of life as somebody in the city centre.

What are the challenges this administration has had to surmount to put these projects on stream?

Well, this is a national problem – inadequate funding. We have so many projects; we don’t have the funds. We owe many contractors and we have so many things in the pipeline we would have wished to do simultaneously. That is why we are looking for other ways of executing projects; like you mentioned the Abuja City Centre project. We are trying to attract foreign investors, I mean private investors to come and develop physical infrastructures. Of course you know that these things take long time. It is not like trading. It is going to take a lot of time, we are going to borrow a lot of funds – it takes a lot of time before we can begin to reap any returns at all. But of course recently, the security challenge in the country which has come to Abuja is one thing we have to deal with every other day and make sure you just sleep with one eye closed. Every now and then you have to mobilise the security agencies to go and attend to issues of possibly of information like some terrorists are going to strike here and things like that! Of course you know that kind of a thing is not good for the country as a whole. So, all hands must be on deck to make sure that we secure the environment. We are asking the residents and everybody in this city to be at alert.

The civil service is a very important instrument of implementation of policies by administration. How would you say the civil service in FCTA is adapting to achieving this to make government work?

One thing that is constant in life is change. And of course, over the years, the civil service/public service suffered a lot of destructions; but the (President Goodluck) Jonathan administration since he came to power has done civil service reforms, trying to transform the service, to be able to deliver quality service at the shortest possible time. So in doing that you must have to have an effective service, a service that is equipped by the right human capital. You motivate them, train them and make them to adapt to new challenges and better ways of doing things. That is what we are doing here. Of course the problem is not one you can finish in a day. In FCT you have about 28,000 public servants in the various secretariats and agencies. So when you are managing 28,000 people you can imagine the problem that comes with it. And the FCTA is a complete package; it is not like a normal ministry. It’s more like a state. You are dealing with issues of infrastructure –talking about schools, hospitals, social services, social development, destitute, beggars, cleaning the city, it’s an entire government of its own. So you need an effective and a well-motivated workforce to be able to deliver. And of course you know Abuja is the centre of the nation. If you don’t give the best service, the impression anybody that comes to this country gets from Abuja is his impression about the country. The impression of Abuja is what will transcend to their perception about Nigeria.

In specific terms, could you tell us one or two reforms you have had to implement to make civil servants buy into this project?

The reform is being done by the entire service. One of the things that has been done in the civil service which we are also trying to do here is the issue of the integrated pay system. That will help to minimise issues of salary delays, ghost workers and things like that. But we have done the biometric capture to try to check our data in terms of the amount we pay monthly. And recently, we have seen some changes. By the time I came, there were backlogs of promotion issues. We promoted people in education, people in health sector. Also the health and human services secretariat had a lot of issues about staff because the doctors and nurses keep going. We have employed about 300 doctors, nurses and pharmacists, which we have injected into the health sector. If you go to our hospitals now, you will see that the quality of service has greatly improved. We are equally trying to improve the performance of our children in schools. But they are not things you do in one day.

You have seen a lot of ministers in your career. What would you tell us is different about Bala Mohammed?

It is not easy to do assessment of your boss. I have been here for a year. I’ve worked closely with him; he is quite a hardworking, focused and amiable person. I have found working with him quite refreshing. I think I could say I am happy to have a boss or a colleague like that. We relate very well.

If you are asked to advice him, honestly which areas would you advise adjustment in his nature?

Adjustments to his nature? One thing with him is he’s too frank to a fault. He tells you the way it is. He has a passion to deliver the good. You know you cannot have it all. I’m sure if we have fund, we will do quite a lot. And I think without being immodest, he has done very well. He added quite a lot of value to this city. At least, the records are there. The number of projects concluded, those that are still ongoing in spite of the fact that we are owing contractors.

Administratively speaking, how have you been able to address internal pilfering in the system so that the little money that comes in goes exactly where it is supposed to go?

You see, besides monetary, every public servant has a moral duty to do his or her best. So, we try to encourage people, preach transparency, preach accountability and show leadership by example. We do things transparently. And as much as possible, majority of the staff are putting in their best. But of course there is always suspicion of the public servant and politician. Oh! They have stolen money. But you know it is not that simple. You can’t take government money and put it in your pocket. If you do that, the system has a way of catching up with you. Everything you do here the EFCC, ICPC are checking. Then there is the Freedom of Information Act. So whatever you do, is in the open.

What kind of Abuja does this administration envisage?

Even the founding fathers of Abuja had dreamt that Abuja would be one of the first cities in the world. And of course you know Abuja is modeled over Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Now, we want a city that works. For instance Last week I came from Singapore. It is a city described as a city in the greens, where everything is working – the human nature. Everything has been integrated to work in unison. All hands must be on deck to make the city work. I envisage that Abuja will continue to grow, to expand and will continue to be maintained as the major city in Africa and the world.

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