Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is seen as the nation’s centre of unity. But the concern of many, over the years, is whether the claim is not only by words of mouth.
Policies aimed at developing the city appeared to have alienated some sections of the populace, especially the middle and lower cadres of the society and such steps have been consistent.
With the announcement of the approval of new land charges by the authorities of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) two weeks ago, alarm bells began to ring.
Many were of the view that the new rates will further drive the amount for acquisition of lands in Abuja to the rooftops. This will also have attendant effects on rent and drive a lot more to the undeveloped satellite towns.
The Senate did not join in the commentaries but it immediately mandated its committee on FCT to look into the matter. Last Thursday, the committee, headed by Senator Abubakar Sodangi, summoned the minister, Senator Adamu Aliero, to brief it on the modalities and the justification, if any, for the new land rates.
The new rates, according to the FCT, will see land charges rise from N2, 000 per square meter in the developed areas to N18, 000 per square meter. The charges also range from N15, 000, N10, 000 and N500 per square meter in developing areas to the least developed.
Senator Sodangi told the minister that the leadership of the Senate was concerned about the cries of the people who saw the new charges as too expensive and that the committee has been mandated to interface with the ministry to review the rates. He also said that the Senate was concerned about following due process in approving the land charges.
Senator Heineken Lokpobiri’s contributions immediately charged the atmosphere in Room 301, venue of the meeting. The Bayelsa senator accused the FCT authority of committing illegality by refusing to secure the approval of the National Council of States before announcing the new land charges.
He quoted section 1 and 16 of the Land Use Act to buttress the submissions and a war of words immediately began when he was severally interrupted by Senator Aliero. He also interrupted the minister’s submissions.
Other Senators, who spoke at the meeting, include Senators Anthony Agbo, Sola Akinyede, Adamu Talba Garba, Sidi Ali and Caleb Zaggy. There were series of interjections between Lokpobiri and Aliero before Sodangi intervened. Senator Aliero had told the Senators that the sections referred to by Senator Lokpobiri to fault the process were not mandatory as the sections used the word “may” and not “shall.”
But Lokpobiri insisted that the Supreme Court had interpreted the word in some rulings.
Sodangi said that the Senate was concerned about the exorbitant amount of land charges in Abuja, while the committee’s Vice Chairman, Senator Agbo, said it was wrong to arrive at rates which would shoot up the cost of acquiring lands and Certificates of Occupancy(C of O) to about N50 million. The senator said such a measure would be counterproductive for the FCT, as many would prefer to relocate to the state capitals, where the costs are minimal.
He blamed civil servants who recommended the new rates for betraying the people and not telling administrators the truth about the economic situation among the common man.
Sodangi also said that it was wrong for Aliero to have insinuated that the new rates would not be reversed.
Aliero, however, told the committee that the reference to the Council of States may not be sacrosanct as the 1999 Constitution sees the council as advisory.
He, however, said that since no law is sacrosanct, the FEC can review the charges when they sit again on it.
The minister also said that the FCT administration was concerned with the need to develop Abuja and ensure that it retains a presentable outlook at all times.
He stated that with outstanding projects standing at over N300 billion, while new projects are also on hand, the administration was trying to use its resources in a more efficient manner and raise funds to develop the FCT.