Making a case for special funding for the FCT

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By Muhammad Tanimu

Abuja

The issue of funding for the Federal Capital Territory, FCT recently occupied the front burners when the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, at separate occasions made passionate appeals for special funding arrangement for the Territory from the Federation Account.

The appeals were part of the Minister’s submissions at the Public Hearing organized the Revenue Mobilization and Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to review the revenue allocation to the FCT. It was also in response to questions by the National Assembly to understand why Abuja’s development seemed to be moving at a very slow pace despite repeated budgetary allocations.

Speaking at the former, which is the final public hearing on the review of the vertical revenue allocation to the FCT, the FCT Minister painted the picture of a nation’s capital with so much to offer but whose development potentials have been hampered by funding challenges.

The Minister inferred that Abuja from the way it is currently being funded with just one percent allocation from the Federal Government implies that it is merely a Federal Government’s project alone, as opposed to the dreams of its founding fathers which designed the nation’s capital as a project for the entire federation.

Bello described Abuja as a work in progress with so much to offer the country, but whose development could be derailed if nothing is done to address the current funding challenges. He challenged the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission to as part of its national duty, create a special funding mechanism that is not against the Constitution, that would make sure that this work in progress is done.

According to the Minister, “Our formal presentation to this August Commission is to emphasize the fact that for us to really achieve the goals why Abuja and by extension the Federal Capital Territory was established, then we have to work out a very special funding mechanism for Abuja. It’s very important.”

Continuing, the Minister said, , “The reality is, there is so much that needs to be done to be able to really finalize the masterplan and the concept and that cannot be done based on the present system of funding where Abuja is thought as a small component of the Federal Government of Nigeria budgeting. Abuja should not be looked at as just Federal Government. It should be looked as a project for the whole of Nigeria because that is the reality.

Funding for the FCT has not always been this bad. It would be recalled that the FCT was once funded directly from the federation account until the brinksmanship by the State Governors some years back which culminated in a supreme court decision that truncated this arrangement. As a result, the FCT’s one percent direct allocation from the Federation Account was replaced with just one percent allocation from the Federal Governments revenue.

This event would mark a turnaround for the worse in the fortunes of the FCT, slowing down the pace of development of a city that was once adjudged as the fastest growing city in the subregion.

However, the FCT Minister is today championing the cause for a reversal in the revenue fortunes for the FCT and the Minister has made very valid arguments as to why the FCT should derive it’s funding from the Federation Account.

According to the Minister, “In the presentation that we made to the Commission, we have proposed a special funding mechanism for Abuja, independent of what is allocated to the Federal Government of Nigeria. We have also proposed that the Area Councils within Abuja should also be considered just like any other Local Government as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution as amended and in so doing, we are conscious of the fact that based on the current thinking and the current laws, funding for the Local Governments is done straight to them from the Federation Account. So, we think six Area Councils in Abuja should also enjoy the same benefits. In so doing, it goes to practicalize section 299 of the Constitution, which says the FCT should be considered as if it were a State.”

The Minister further gave a breakdown of some of the ongoing projects in the FCT that are being starved of funds and may continue to be so if nothing is done to address the situation.

According to the Minister, the FCT today has about 137 ongoing projects which could have been completed as at July this year, but for the challenges of funding. He explained that the FCT only received about N37 billion from the Federal Government in 2021, amounting to 25 percent of its N300 billion budgetary provision for the year, leaving the city to rely on IGR and other ways and means to source for funds.

The Minister further disclosed that the FCT required, about N800 billion as at July 2021 to complete about 137 ongoing projects. He added that the FCT already has completed projects worth 82 billion that have not been paid for due to lack funds.

Giving insight into some of these critical ongoing projects in the FCT, the Minister disclosed that about five massive interchanges and bridges are currently being constructed, one of which will connect Wuye District in the northern flank of Abuja to the Wuse District, helping to improve traffic flow in these areas.

Others, the Minister said, include the bridge and interchanges at the Power House Junction in the Asokoro District that would also eliminate the perennial gridlock experienced along the Keffi, Mararaba, AYA axis of the city and the neighbouring Nasarawa State.

In the words of the Minister, “As I am speaking to you now, we have under construction today, about four to five massive interchanges and bridges that need to be completed, which we are working towards completing by the grace of God, by May 2023. One of them is a bridge that is supposed to connect Wuse District and Wuye District. By the time you pass the Federal Road Safety Office on Olusegun Obasanjo Way, you will see it, and the moment you do that, it connects these two parts of the city so that for you to go to one part, you don’t have to go right round. That’s going to ease transportation and traffic gridlock.

“Secondly, if you go to what is called the Power House Junction which is connecting one section of Asokoro to the other section of Asokoro, you will see massive work there. There is going to be a massive bridge there with some interchanges. When you do that, it becomes a game changer. Anybody coming from the Keffi, Mararaba, AYA Axis, does not have to experience any gridlock because you either decide if you are going to Asokoro on the right-hand side, you just follow the right-hand lane; if you are going to Asokoro by the left, you go on the interchange and if you are going straight to Apo, you just go on the flyover. This is also something that is ongoing.

“You go to Apo just by the cemetery, that is what we call the Outer Southern Expressway. We’ve constructed one lane of the expressway. That expressway is meant to be just the way you see the Umar Yar’Adua Adua Expressway, that is the 44-kilometer Expressway that takes you to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, it’s going to be duplicated there and it’s going to open up what we call the Abuja South.

“Already, we are working on the first set of 15 kilometers, from the Apo Intersection, you go to Ring Road 1, Ring Road 2 and eventually Ring Road 3. But ultimately, that’s a road that is supposed to burst out in Gwagwalada, 65 kilometers, 10 lanes. The plans are there but how do you fund it?

This explains the growing concern in sections of the FCT about the slow pace of infrastructure development and provision of services. The Minister also painted gloomy picture of what could become of Abuja if nothing is done to improve the funding situation.

According to the Minister, “If we continue the way Abuja is being funded now, I think it’s just going to be one big major slum which I think is not going to sit well with us.”

Malam Bello is therefore making passionate appeals for Abuja to be seen as a joint project of the States and the Federal Government. According to the Minister, because Abuja is home to everybody in Nigeria, it’s very important also in terms of the development of Abuja, it has to be considered as a truly joint national project.

The Minister believes this is the only way to really achieve the goals why Abuja and by extension the Federal Capital Territory was established.

“What I want to propose is, we should sit down as a country and agree that Abuja is a federal project and then we give ourselves a timeline and say, okay, for the next 10, 15 years, this is the revenue arrangement for the Federal Capital City, by which time it would have properly grown into all the phases that we have planned and envisaged and then it would have become a mature city, so that after that, then we can say specific funding can wait, and then the economic development that will generally arise as a result of this massive infrastructural development will in itself serve as an enabler that will provide income, resources, taxation, revenue, so that we have a cutoff point,” the Minister said.