It was in 1863 that Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of America, gave his famous dedicatory remarks at the dedication of Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, from which the concise definition of democracy evolved. Democracy, from his speech, is the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. From whichever angle this is looked at, “the people” are at the centre of any democracy. To put this aptly, a government’s number one agenda is to foster the common good of its citizens through which it came into power. In other words, whatever will be detrimental to the people should not be embarked upon by the government, and that is why the people see the government as their only succor when being wronged by their fellow citizens. But the fate of a people being wronged by the government is not only uncertain, but pathetic and unfortunate. Worse still is when the government is adamant and insensitive to the plight of the people it seeks to promote their welfare and interest. But has the Nigerian government reached this level?
Before the capital of Nigeria was moved from Lagos to Abuja in 1991, the settlers of Abuja were like any other local settlers in the thirty-six states, and owned lands which devolved to them from their ancestors. But with the transfer of Nigeria’s capital city to Abuja, it invariably means that many of them would have to forfeit their lands - developed or not- for the construction of roads, federal ministries and parastatals, and other government agencies or developmental structures. Furthermore, with the adopting of the Abuja master plan, many structures and houses were destroyed by the Federal Capital Development Administration, and the Abuja settlers were displaced, likewise other residents within the F.C.T.
From a legal point of view, under the Land Use Act, all lands in a state are vested in the hands of the Governor to be held in trust and administered for the benefit and common use of Nigerians. The Governor can also revoke the land for any public use. In the absence of a Governor in the F.C.T. that power invariably vest with the minister of the F.C.T. However, the Governor is enjoined by the Act to pay compensation to the affected persons. Though the Land Use Act did not categorically state the amount of compensation, it is expected that a “people-oriented” government will pay such an amount of compensation that is capable of establishing a person whose property has been demolished to get a similar one, and develop. But this is not the case with the Nigerian Government. In Nigeria, the plight of those who were so unfortunate to have their lands needed by the government for one reason or the other are either forgotten or poorly compensated. The government’s usual claim is insufficiency of funds to disburse to these people, or they give the affected people such a meager amount that cannot put them in their previous position. Their travail is so enormous, and the fact that it is caused by the body responsible for the protection of their interest and welfare, makes it so unfortunate.
Recently, the height of this insensitivity was perhaps felt when the Federal Capital Development Authority in a bid to demolish some buildings, recklessly and inhumanely caused the death of a child. To make the matters worse, the indigenes and settlers of Abuja said they were not informed that the demolition exercise was to be carried out that day. Could this government therefore be said to have the interest of the Abuja people at heart? Of course, this only happens to the poor and average dwellers in the Federal Capital Territory.
I need to state here that there were times in which houses were actually built for the indigenes of Abuja, wherein they were purportedly relocated there by the FCT Administration as part of the resettlement exercise, but the case is always the same- the houses could not go round. In such circumstance, the whole exercise became politicized with the chance of an individual getting allocated dependent on who he knows or what he is willing to part with. What a Government of the people indeed!
So if these people are protesting on the streets, we should be able to understand their grievances. We should be able to understand that their ancestral heritage is not just forcefully taken away from them, but that they will have nowhere to lay their heads. We should be able to understand that the other dwellers have left their respective states and came to serve their nation in the F.C.T., and struggled to acquire the little property being demolished by the government. This is not being done by some rich and influential person, but by the government they voted into power. What a pity! And the best way the government could address this issue was by clamping down on the non-violent protesters. I guess this is the best approach of a dictatorial regime, but the last time I checked, we are still under a civilian rule!
That “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. This was the desire of Lincoln, which I adopt today for my country. But government can only give testament to this when it assumes its role as the custodian of the citizens, and ensure that their right to own immovable property is not tampered with. And in cases where it becomes indispensable for the government to demolish the properties of the Abuja residents, adequate provision should be made to ensure that they are not vagrant or homeless for any reason.