I moved to Abuja nearly twenty years ago, when the city was a haven. I recall having travelled with a set of editors from Lagos who were visiting for the first time. It was a night landing at the airport. As we drove through the well-lit dual carriageway to the city centre, one of them expressed disappointment that he saw a dead lamp light among the hundreds that lined the now – renamed Umaru Yar’Adua way. He had been told by someone who had come before, that city management was so efficient that it was not possible to see one unlit street light from airport to the city centre, a stretch of about 50 or kilometers.
The population density was low. The roads, well-paved were not clogged with traffic. But the amazing story of the city was its flawless public utilities. Electric power supply hardly failed. When it rained then, I am talking about the thunder-storms we have up in the North, it was a totally different experience because electricity still ran.
Nowadays, Abuja’s woes remain before, during and after the rains. If you are not at home, you would in probability be struck in movement related jams. While the out-laying areas of the federal capital put up with sub-merged roads, the city centre puts up with traffic snarls, tree falls, power outages, gushing water into homes in low-lying areas and clogged manholes. The disturbing part of it is that there is hardly any help at hand.
An emergency journey to anywhere in the Federal Capital City is becoming a nightmare. These days when it rains everyday, even foreign airlines are adapting to the challenging situation by officially allowing up to one hour of light delays. “We know it is difficult getting out of the city,” a check-in clerk was heard to say to a panting passenger bracing the check-in counter thirty minutes after it ought to have closed.
Does the administration in the Federal Capital Territory have a long term plan for ending the situation in which the Federal Capital city is brought to its knees whenever there is heavy rainfall? Can the city innovate an option for speedy emergency journey?
Abuja is the window through which the world sees Nigeria in terms of both our economic reality and social capacity.
Rather than this being seen as an attack, warranting insults from the irritable officials of the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory, this is a wake-up call and, assuming budgeting is the problem, a plea to government to stem the slide. The Nigerian government needs to take urgent steps to restore Abuja to her rightful place among the world’s finest cities.
I read recently that the authorities of India’s capital, Delhi, are thinking up a plan for an underground road from the city’s VIP areas to the airport on the city’s outskirts to deal with security concerns and the difficulties of reaching the airport in time to connect flights. Dubai in the United Arab Emirates began, and put in place a light rail system traversing the megacity in three years. Abuja’s light rail is decade(s)-old and there is no date in sight for its completion.
The New York City is working hard improving rail, land, marine and air transportation to make movements easy. To show that they are not doing enough, President Obama last week joked about offering his motorcade to pregnant Chelsea Clinton, in case she needed to go to hospital while he was in the UN General Assembly. (Chelsea gave birth to a bouncing baby girl at the weekend). Manhattan is gridlocked whenever he is town due to security drills.
If I owned the Hilton or Sheraton Hotel Abuja, I will tell the President of Nigeria to keep their money, my hotel facilities are not available for him. Any day the administrative machinery of the government has an important function in any hotel, other fee-paying users are subjected to so much inconvenience. The routine of going in and out becomes such a challenging task that other hotel users have a sense of being momentarily held as prisoners. Is it worth it?
At the Abuja International Airport as in Lagos, there is a mandatory airspace closure for 20 minutes before and 20 minutes after any “VIP movement”, meaning a presidential flight either landing or taking off. You are safer when your flight is on the ground, but it is not the same thing where you are up there in the sky, hovering around in circles, buffeted by hard, rain-bearing clouds while the waiting lasts. Must VIP flights bring our airports to their knees? The President has his own terminal building they call the presidential wing, why not appropriate money for a runway for their flights so that they do theirs and “we the people” run our lives without interruptions?
In terms of time, fuel, man-hours, Abuja needs to start long-term thinking. If officials are to start doing their jobs, they can ensure better road and sewer conditions. A known fact is that greedy officials force contractors to cut corners and help them through poor or non-existent supervision. But the thing that will work is to have a system that holds, not only Minister and Permanent Secretary, but the Director, the Chief Engineer, the assistant chief engineer and the contractor responsible each time public utilities such as the clogged manholes fail.
Abuja, Nigeria’s new federal capital which once boasted of the best infrastructure in the country should not be allowed to be destroyed by greedy officials and politicians. This city needs a re-think on how to deal with urban infrastructure and transportation.