Luka Bulus Achi, a retired civil servant, was in charge of preparing and writing the FCT Vision 2020 Report. He is the president of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners in Nigeria. The sexagenarian relived his youth and working life with JULIET KUYET BULUS
When and where were you born?
I was born on 1 September 1953 in Katsit, a village near Kafanchan, in the Kafanchan Local Government Area of Kaduna state.
How did you know the exact date of your birth?
I am lucky my father was educated so he kept record of all our births. I do recollect when I was five years old, there was an eclipse of the sun and there was a photograph taken with the date recorded. That way I am able to identify specifically because he kept record of everything including that of his brothers. Apart from that, since he was moving from state to state, which was region to region back then. They had documentation as to when they were to travel. We also had missionaries and records of them were kept including when a particular church was opened. My dad was a bit active when he got married and was managing a church.
What was growing up like?
I will not say it was complicated but rather very challenging because I come from a polygamous home and my dad married six wives though not at the same time. At this particular period he had two to three wives in the house. We the children had to form a union in the house with me as union leader. And as the first child all other siblings were looking up to me. What I did first was to decide that whatever crisis was going on between the wives and their husband was not our business. We were one and decided to unite without segregation because like I told them, eventually these parents would leave us and we would be left to fend for ourselves. Hence, I made sure each one had to go to school, do well and think of how best to take care of themselves and by God’s grace we have succeeded in doing that. We were up to 25 children but surviving now we are 17. One of the wives left with her daughter and when I came back and was established, I kept remembering I had a sister and was not able to trace her until my father’s death. News of his death got to her mother who called to pay condolences and I asked of my sister and we got united. I relocated her from Lagos to Abuja and got her a job.
Which institutions and schools did you attend?
I attended primary schools at different places because my father was moving from one place to another and I ended up at the Government Secondary School, Potiskum where I started and concluded at College of Alhudahuda. From there I proceeded to Kufena College in Wusasa for high school certificate. I then moved to the Kaduna Polytechnic to study Urban and Regional Planning. From there I moved to the United Kingdom for my first degree (BSc. Honours) in Urban and Regional Planning then eventually came back for my M.sc in the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. I also did a postgraduate in Environmental Protection at The Netherlands. In-between all the studying I was working and due to my performances at diploma level I was taken in Kaduna Polytechnic to be a technician and assist lecturers. Eventually they were the sponsors of my first degree and when I came back I lectured there, and continued after my Masters.
I was later asked to be the General Manager of Kaduna State Environmental Protection Board then, Head of Department of Urban and Regional Planning. I think when Kaduna State Governor, Nasiru El-rufai who was then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory was asked to come and renew the Abuja Master Plan, that was when I was asked to come in as a transfer staff. So, I came to Abuja and was asked to work with Parks and Recreation where I started as Deputy Director before I became a full Director. While there I moved to other departments and became Director of Security Services and was in charge of preparing and writing the FCT Vision 2020 Report. From there, I moved to History and Archives before going back to Parks and Recreation where I finally retired in 2011. I would have naturally gone back to the Kaduna Polytechnic to continue lecturing but I chose to transfer all my services to the FCT and retire there otherwise as at today I will probably be with the Kaduna Polytechnic thinking of a few more months to retire.
Where did you start work and at what age?
At professional level, having been trained as a professional planner from the UK, because it was a course recognised by the Royalty of Town Planners you qualify as a registered planner as soon as you graduate. So when I got back, I registered at the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners. I have been very active all these years and I became a member as far back as 1983 and a fellow of the institute in 1996 thereabout. I have worked in various segments of the programme and I was elected the Internal Auditor, Assistant Public Relations Officer, Public Relations Officer, Assistant National Secretary and National Secretary. Six years ago, I became the second Vice President that moved to First Vice President and now the President of the Institute. Hopefully, my tenure will be over at the end of this year and of course in between that time I academically produced one major textbook that is used now in Planning courses called Urban Designing in Nigeria and I have written series of articles and conference papers. I am sure there are well over 50 of them. I am trying to write one very soon related to challenges in the area of education in higher institutions of learning. And of course, I have travelled a lot in the course of my professional career especially I attended UN conferences all over the world. I have been to the UK, US and within Africa I have travelled to South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, China and I think that’s about the extent for now.
Would you say the choice of your career was accidental?
Initially it was accidental because I thought I wanted to be a medical doctor. But in between that, I felt I was better off in engineering but when I wasn’t able to get the A level requirements, I decided to relax and wait for another period because that time when one finished secondary school in December, they would have to wait till after nine months. When that time passed, one would have to wait for another nine months before getting admission. It was during the wait that I had to look for something to do, so I picked a temporary appointment on daily pay at the time with the Kaduna Polytechnic and I was attached to the registry. The late Rafindadi who was the first governor of Sokoto State was the registrar. He suggested I join the new programme that was coming up called Town Planning in 1972 and I was wondering what it was all about but since it was a suggestion from an overall boss I decided to give it a try. After going through the programme, during graduation I was one of the best and we were supposed to travel to Canada then but it did not work out but I was compensated with employment as the best student. That was how I got into the teaching profession and worked for over 20 s years before the appointment to government. Coming to Abuja was out of necessity, they were looking for people they could use to improve the whole of Abuja and that was how I got in.
How did you meet your spouse and what endeared you to her?
Attraction to my wife I think was love at first sight. As at that time emphasis was more on achieving academically and because I was from a relatively strict Christian home I was devoid of roaming around anyhow. It was school, home, eat, farm and back home. I had just come back from school on holidays and happened to be in the same compound and she was on a visit at her elder sister’s place. I was like who was that, that just passed? And they said it was so and so person. This triggered my interest and we got talking and after a while somehow I felt this thing called love I don’t know how it comes but I think there is something related to the likeness I felt. We dated for about seven years before we got married in 1976. That is why she is like a sister to me. I can always know what she is thinking, and in every circumstance, she always knows how I will react and vice versa. Whatever decisions we take end up been united. She is a very fine Christian and we blend well. We are still together after over 40 years of marriage.
How many children do you have?
I am married to one wife and we had four children but only one is surviving. I have an adopted child who is currently in Australia. He lost his parents, and I took over the responsibility of training him in school and other areas and eventually he concluded his study over there. He found a lady over there and I encouraged him to come home for introduction and I gave my blessings. He is back in Australia with paper works completed. Of course, there are other numerous children I trained that are not biologically mine who lived with me and when they are done with schooling they can leave. Each year we have a programme assisting disadvantaged children that are bright and interested in school but lack sponsorship so we come in and take care of all that.
How is life in retirement now?
That’s an interesting question. I may not be among the category of people who will have concerns because I knew I would retire at some stage so I already planned how to work it out because I had to use my practical knowledge of planning after all I am a trained town planner. We registered our company and now go round the country to do jobs. Aside that, my father was a good farmer and he left us lots of farmland and I developed that interest too. Hence, I am into farming with a couple of farms on the Abuja-Kaduna road and at my village I now cultivate the land we shared in the family that is now mine. I also develop interest in herbal crops so much that even in my house here in Abuja almost every plant here has its role and they are medicinal.
There was a time in Parks and Recreation, the proposal I gave in China won us a prize and we came first and we tried to replicate it in parks. Though I do not know the situation now, the idea was we wanted to do a project that could be replicated which was to create a garden and whatever to be grown would be herbal in nature, food in nature and also cosmetic in nature. And so, we developed those plants we had that could give us the three. I have too much to do and we consult for people over issues related to lands, designs in terms of visibility studies and management of properties. I find myself very busy.
Incidentally our pension is yet to be paid and I retired 2011, we are still processing and are yet to receive gratuity and pension. I am too engaged that I do not remember I have some money to get. The six years I spent with FCT has been calculated and what I get as pension that comes in every month is five thousand naira so the bulk with Kaduna Polytechnic is what I am still waiting for and I don’t know when it will come. Meanwhile I survive through all I have mentioned and we do consultancy service through various governments and individuals. A person can come in and say I have an estate site, advise me and of course he would have to pay for the advice and we prepare drawings for him, make contact for him to process, tell him the due process to follow in order not to be cheated and we also have people with documents related to lands they want to either sign or process, we tell them the best way to go about it and who to see. All these have been keeping us mentally alert and financially comfortable.
What are your interests?
When I was younger, I was an active sports person. I played football in my school and represented the North Central State in athletics and in the UK we had indoor football competition. Right now, I am too old to try and break a leg but then I do a lot of church activities and training for youths because I provide them with talk shows. I do a lot of gardening, trying out new plants and I have lots of plants to reduce the heat in my residence.
In your working life, what were your challenges?
Coming in as a lecturer to work in full in the civil service and at a higher rank I had to learn the tricks of the trade to avoid being taken advantage of. I had to be smarter and learn faster. And after a while I was able to cope. Another aspect is learning to do what your boss wants you to do. Then I realised there is the professionalism and ethical aspects of office and the values and desires of your boss. Normally they want to discard these two and ask you to do what they want. So I had to find my way round it because compromising was not an option for me. This resulted in clashes in some cases. I wish our directors and other staff stand up against such. I find it sad that some of our colleagues, in order to protect their seat would do anything they were told. You went to school and learnt something therefore at all times stand by the truth. There was an instance I was ready to resign and this contributed to my leaving the office early as I could not continue with the harassment.
What challenges did you face when growing up?
Let me start with the issue of schooling, my dad had so many children to handle and he had junior brothers to contend with as he was the only viable supplier of food, and in roaming around I had to find a way to support him. In secondary school since the government was paying I had to claim someone else to pay my fees not my dad because he couldn’t and my uncle was the person responsible for my fees. The school fees I think was one pound ten or so but then we were given transport fare from school (Zaria) to Kafanchan and the amount would end up been almost the same as the school fees. Each time I got it I used some to pay my fees and used five shilling to Kaduna to stay with friends and if someone was heading for Kafanchan with a bus or pickup I took a hike. Then I would go home to farm and take care of other necessities. I remember been given a ride and at that time the road from Kaduna to Kafanchan was full of dust.
I did not think my dad was not caring enough but knew I had to help him out since he had too much. Feeding was not an easy task irrespective of what he made. Thank God, I had talent and did not have to struggle to read. I was playful and even if I stayed for two hours I catch up. In the UK they were surprised I was the only black in my class and that too was a challenge because I travelled all the way nearly 5000kms and I was not ready to go back without a certificate. In the end, I was glad I made it. I went to the UK in the late 70s and they were wondering where I learnt to speak English. Discrimination was still very high, even in the town I was living. I was in Dublin, Scotland I think you could count the number of Blacks on the street. Each time I came out of the hostel either to shop they all came out and started following the same way Nigerians would see a white man on the street and stare. But theirs is in a negative aspect, when they see you and begin to ask where your tail is and all sorts of questions because they turn you to some kind of freak. But of course, you have to endure it.
In class they cannot understand why you should beat them. I remember in one of the sculpture classes where I got distinction and they could not believe how an African, someone from a dark continent got the best marks. Similarly, there were competitions I did my best until one day a lecturer, who had taught me and worked in Nigeria as an agriculture officer, called me and said he saw my struggle to earn a first class which would not be possible. He advised I do my best and not be bothered but that discouraged me for a while, I knew I needed to still go back home to my country with good grades in order to teach so I studied. I graduated without any difficulty. Forty of us started the course but only 19 graduated. Coming back home, most of all that was to be taught was already in my head making it easy to teach my students and I am proud to say those I taught will be able to say they learnt a lot . Some tell me they now realise why I grilled them that much.
Now in retirement, what are the challenges?
After leaving office some people concocted all sorts of things and blamed it on me. I was privileged to bring about the issue of developing parks for the FCT and it was an area El-rufai said we should give out on a public private partnership otherwise they would continue to convert the space thinking it was available for use. It is a Land Use and I find it shocking when it is beng used as Land Bank. Recreational parks are part of the neighbourhood development and part of recreation needs of people for different ages and for different categories. We went ahead and encouraged people to develop because the procedures were quite elaborate we had to prepare the papers and I signed it. But just before I left office, I was moved from one department to the other. When I went back to Parks to take over before retirement, I discovered forgeries were all over the place and they were making allocations. So, I requested from the minister to do a recertification which we did and I wrote and submitted a report before I left office. I find it ridiculous because how would the government have processed my pension if I had not made proper disengagement. They now go round saying I am still signing letters and this is strange to me.
If the list is prepared, combined and submitted how would I know what sites are available for me to sign? When they are faced with challenges they put the blame on me to protect their evil. They now go ahead seizing people’s plots and giving others. They are compromised and I am aware of some because people come to report to me that they offer them money in exchange to get them another site with the excuse that papers signed by me are null and void promising to reallocate another. And when the former allotee understands this they go to court and we have all these litigations going on and they are all saying I am responsible for it. Lastly, my eyesight has suddenly gone on sabbatical and I can’t see again yet they still say I am signing and I am asking how? How will I know the document I am signing?
Apart from my cheque that I have to go to the bank, for them to see me before I get the endorsement. All these challenges prevents one from resting well because you expect people you have helped and nurtured during your time in office to realise that once an officer leaves, the decisions and responsibilities of that office is now on a new person. I never had to blame my former predecessors because they did their best, left and should be credited for whatever they did. But today, for personal interest and desire to become rich they blame others to hide their incapacity and this is unfortunate. I keep telling them the truth will always prevail even after the sufferings.I have been called to the EFCC and ICPC many times. There was an incidence someone claimed that he had paid me N10m for a particular park. We were seated there and they asked if he sees Mr Achi would he recognise him and he answered yes but he did not know who I was.
It was later they realised this is not the Mr Achi and said I must have impersonated him. All these are part of life and this challenge of not being able to see is making me view life in a different perspective. As president of the institute I travel for meetings, occasions and so on. They are wondering how I am able to achieve it because I still present papers. I have presented papers at the German embassy, the security submit in Cross River and I am expecting to do another very soon. Everything in life once it is a challenge I am willing to face it and do my best to enjoy it because I do not see anything that should be depressing and God has been my strength.
Do you have any regrets in service?
It is difficult to say I have regrets in the sense that, I see everything new as an opportunity to finding a way to address it. If I took a decision that was not proper, hard luck and that is experience now I should use it for better things. I am grateful to have served and contributed my quota in my country though looking forward to doing more. If I was to be given birth to again, I would not mind coming back as I am. I would not want to be a white man because I know he has tasted his own challenges, certainly not a rich family because they also have their challenges. Everybody has challenges.
What gives you joy when you look back?
Many things give me joy, I may not be a perfect person but I am glad I was truthful throughout and I can say that anywhere. Even if I do anything wrong and I was asked, I say the truth and I passed same teaching to my children. The truth saves one the headache of trying to protect it and it is impossible to protect it. Every area of life I had opportunity to thread on, I enjoyed it because I was always contented without regrets. There was joy in whatever I was doing and I never felt bad. I relate to people with the understanding that I am not any better than them. I am grateful for my Christian life, God has been merciful and He has helped even in very difficult situations. Nothing panics me and here is an instance: One of my late sons who was the last born, was with me preparing to travel to the UK for his masters. He had returned from Cyprus where he did his first degree in Electrical Electronics and during his NYSC, he opened up an entertainment industry and employed five people to assist him. I bought him a car and he wanted to go specialise in sound engineering. We did everything for his travel and he went down to Kaduna and we were informed of his demise on the same day. I remained calm through it all and drove down to Kaduna the following day. Why try to change something I cannot. I accept circumstances as they come and it could be the reason I am not aging quickly.
What do you have to tell the younger generation?
They have so much potential inside of them and it is a question of searching and utilising them. I am suggesting to the younger generation never to give up. There is no condition that should make them give up. I find it difficult to believe when I see them idle and they claim there is no job. In Kaduna, the environment where I live I engaged some youths in a conversation, and told them everyday people have trash cans that need to be emptied and not all these places have an organised way of dispatching refuse. Normally they could call a small chap to go throw them away and pay him no matter how small it is. Someone can decide to buy or rent a wheel barrow for a whole day and go round the area to offer service.
With this, one earns a living. I will also like to add that when they learn things, they should learn properly. It appears the syndrome these days is to just get a certificate, attain a class and not willing to go in-depth to understand. It is when you learn and know it well that you become confident to stand your ground. But when you just pick it, and when someone goes deeper you get confused. Whatever you learn to do, do it well. In education there is no limit as one has to keep renewing it. Youths spend money on Facebook, more energy on gossip than learning on the subject matter of an issue. Anything they are been asked about they check on Google due to laziness.
There are certain things they should learn themselves and keep. There are basic things they should know because it is in challenging the brain that it works better. What happens when they depend on a system and there is a virus, does that mean they would not be able to cope. There have been instances I had slides to show even at the French Embassy where I was one of their speakers and I was telling them about the planning and making of FCT for some reasons the file could not open and I had to deliver without the slides. They should improve on themselves to avoid been caught off guard.