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Can Nyesom Wike conquer the cancerous Abuja Transport Debacle?

By Festus Fifen

When the  FCT Minister Barr. Nyesom Wike recently sacked the Board and  Head of Agencies under the Federal Capital Territory Administration FCTA, it was greeted with a great sigh of relief as many Abuja residents believed the city needed a breath of “Fresh Air” after 8 years of not too impressive performance by the last administration.

With Nyesom Wike described by many as the bulldozer and “Mr. project” taking over the affairs of managing the city, his decision to purge these Agencies of Government that will help him implement the long awaited reforms  was perceived to be working-the-talk.

Though the action was received with  mixed feelings,  there were jubilations in some agencies and  the opposite was the case in the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited (AUMTCO) as was seen in a viral video where members of staff were lamenting the sack of the Managing Director and Chief Executive,  Mr. Najeeb Abdulsalam for unceremoniously leaving the stage when the ovation was loudest.

In his usual manner, reacting to the viral video, the Minister  described the   move as laughable,  re-emphasizing that no sentiment will deter him from doing what is right for the people of the FCT. Specifically he said “If the MD was that good like they claimed in the video,  why were the mass transit buses not on the roads of the FCT?”

In his maiden Press Conference on assumption of office as the 17th Minister of the FCT, Nyesome Wike spoke concerning areas that needed urgent attention in Abuja in  the short term, which includes an efficient public transport system.

The Question on the lips of an average  FCT resident is, Can  Nyesom Wike  solve this perennial transport challenge that has become cancerous in Abuja.?

Taking a close look at developments in the  FCT over the years, it can be said that the master plan did not put into consideration a predictable and efficient  transport system or better still the implementation of the master plan over the years left transportation issues behind as if it did not matter.

The Beauty of any Modern city in the world today is the ability to leave point A to point B within a definite and precise timeframe .

A predictable and efficient  transport system in any economy is a catalyst for development.  When transport systems are efficient, they provide economic and social opportunities and benefits that result in positive multiplier effects such as better accessibility to markets, employment, work efficiency, access to prompt healthcare services and additional investments.

A good Transport system carries an important social and environmental load, which cannot be neglected.

Transportation is a reality of our life and without an effective and affordable transportation system  it becomes almost  impossible for any meaningful  movement of goods and services from one place to another which will in turn hinder meaningful development in any city. With Barr. Wike promising to reposition the FCT how fast can this be in the areas of effective  and efficient public transportation system ?

One of the reasons given for the relocation of the Nigeria Federal Capital from Lagos to  Abuja was the growing concerns for congestion and traffic gridlocks in Lagos.

The Nigeria Federal Capital Territory Abuja is one Federal Capital City that was created from nothing, having been conceptualized from scratch to the current state it is now.

As a new Federal Capital City created from nothing, it will not be out of place to  assume that the founding principles would be to overcome and correct some of the shortcomings and challenges that Lagos presented which made it unfit to be a federal capital city. However who would have thought that after about 48 years of creating the federal capital and 32 years of the relocation of the seat of Government to Abuja that same problems that bedeviled Lagos as a federal capital will still befall the new capital city?

The Abuja Master Plan which has become a mystery to an average Abuja resident and even to some senior and management staff of Federal Capital Territory Administration FCTA is supposed to be a document that guides the development of infrastructure in the new capital city, but this document has not lived up to expectation in the areas of transportation within the city.

Over the years past Ministers of the Federal Capital Territory have tried to implement different phases and “Faces” of the master plan, giving it different interpretations and colouration as it suits their governance style or the will of the “powers” that be.

One major shortcoming or omission of the Abuja master plan if it actually  exists  is the  lack of a clear and unambiguous transportation system that will  accommodate the ever-growing influx of people  into the city.

The absence of Bus Stops and Bus terminals  within the city and other transport infrastructure has made movement of people, goods and services within Abuja a terrible experience. Different levels and shades of insecurity of life and properties and other transport related crimes are now the order of the day.

Apart from the Gwagwalada, Zuba, Utako and Nyanya Motor Parks which are far below the standard of a Modern Motor Park or Transport Terminus befitting a modern capital city like Abuja, other transportation points within the city are more of a makeshift arrangement or personal properties converted to motor parks.  This is mostly true of inter – state Transport companies who now use private residential apartments dotted all over the city as offices for transportation Business.

Highways and arterial roads are mostly constructed in Abuja without important  road infrastructure such as temporary or emergency stop points, emergency ambulance service points and other security architecture.

The recent Abuja metro rail completed by the President Buhari Led administration soon outlived  the joy and excitement of the people when it was shut down during the outbreak of covid -19 in the country a development that later led to  vandals carting away critical infrastructure in the metro station.

Though the Abuja metro station was one of the first Neglected infrastructure visited by Nyesome Wike upon assuming office as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, many believe it might just be a show of political “Rascality” associated with politicians as nothing much has been heard from that corner since that visit.

The Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited (AUMTCO)  established by the then Ministry of Federal Capital Territory now the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) in 1984 as Abuja Bus Service (ABS) and later registered on 13th November, 1989 as Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited is an example of how things should not be done in an efficient society; as its impact is yet to be felt by resident and visitors to Abuja.

Past ministers of the Federal Capital Territory have not done too well with the AUMTCO in providing a steady and reliable transportation system that could take care of the transportation needs of the evolving capital city.

Malam Nasir El-rufai who popularized the Abuja Green Cab and high capacity Buses which were later christened after him as El-rufai Buses did his best but it was soon brought down by the decay in the system after he left office in 2007.  Efforts to re-introduce these high-capacity buses for effective transportation in subsequent administrations have not yielded any positive result that is worthy of note.

Temporary interventions by private investors under the Public, Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements of the Jonathan and Buhari Led administration did not stand the test of time as those initiatives were not sustained.

With the coming of “Mr Project” Is there any Hope for the FCT Transportation System?

One of the dangers of the absence of an effective transportation system is the Notorious “One-chance” syndrome which is fast becoming a norm in the FCT. As a result of the failed transportation system, many residents  and visitors to the FCT have fallen victim of kidnapping from boarding vehicles and make-shift taxis from the Illegal motor parks dotting the city.

Loss of man-hours to avoidable traffic lock jams from satellite towns into the city Centre is an issue for another day. Workers sometimes spend as much as Four hours or more to cover a distance that should not exceed 15 minutes on a normal day if the vehicular movements are more organized.

Barr. Ezenwo Nyesome Wike the man that is believed to work his talk has been in the news for some transformation initiatives of the Renewed Hope Agenda of President Bola Tinubu. From the award of resurfacing contracts of internal roads within the city to the quick appointment of Mandate Secretaries across the mandate secretariats, the establishment of a secretariats for women and children issues in the FCT and  Pulling out of the FCT from the Treasury Single Account (TSA) Scheme  of the Federal Government not forgetting  the creation of the FCT Civil Service Commission which is a work in progress and many other reforms, many are still wondering if he will once again perform “Magic” in the transportation sector.

 A lot of ground needs  to be covered  if he must leave his footprints in Abuja the way he has done in Rivers State.

The Question is, Can He Cure This Cancer?