Simon Baba-Yerima is a pioneer member of Original Inhabitants Development Association (OIDA) and also the secretary of Kpaduma communities which consist of over nine villages. In this interview with IGHO OYOYO, he speaks on the marginalisation of Abuja natives and the clamour for more federal constituencies in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The clamour for an end to marginalization of Abuja natives has been on the front burner for a very long time, is that the main challenge your people are experiencing?
We have numerous challenges as natives of Abuja. Tracing down to the period of relocating the Federal Capital City (FCC) from Lagos to Abuja, our farmlands have been taken from us without proper compensation. We started having that challenge when the influx of people from other parts of Nigeria to Abuja to seek greener pastures increased drastically. We also faced what I call tactical denial of access to education from the city. It is obvious that you do not see most of our children in tertiary institutions, this is because most of our farmlands which were sources of livelihood were taken over as a result of development of the new capital city. The financial capability to educate our children or even gain admission into tertiary institutions became a major challenge for us. Also, we are faced with a lot of intimidations, threat to live, harassment and constant humiliation from land allottees who invade our communities, claiming that our ancestral lands are allocated to them by the government. So it has been a big challenge trying to take possession of the land where we originally reside. It may be surprising to say that the same government who knows about our existence in our God-given ancestral land are the same people taking our land from us to give to other Nigerians without any consultation or negotiation for compensation or resettlement. This is clear injustice to us, that is why most of our communities have gone to court to get justice.
But some of your people believe that the government has been fair to the natives of Abuja in other ways?
If you recall during the tenure of Mallam Nasiru el-Rufai as minister of the FCT, he improved on the compensation of our economic trees and some other agricultural crops. However, when you talk of the major demands from the FCT indigenes, we cannot say that. But, we cannot deny the fact that we enjoy the social amenities such as electricity, good road networks, security of lives and properties amongst other developmental packages, which are the only benefits we are enjoying from the elite around us. The government still needs to do a lot to help us.
There is this notion that the natives are not enlightened or educated enough to hold ministerial or serious ambassadorial positions. What do you make of it?
It is erroneous to think like that. It is an uncivilized statement to think that we are not qualified to hold ministerial positions. I will like to let Nigerians and the global community know that in the FCT, we have nine indigenous tribes with qualified, competent, skillful, professionals as well as experienced personalities that can comfortably hold any leadership position in Nigeria, if given the opportunity to serve. It is an error for anyone to say that an FCT indigene is not qualified to hold a ministerial position or any other federal political positions in Nigeria. We are Nigerians and we have people with qualified credentials up to PhD Levels.
What is your take on the #EndSARS protests that was condemned by some natives of FCT?
After listening and watching the news about the young man who gave the protesters 48hours to leave the streets of Abuja, I was not comfortable with that at all. The assumption that our voices are not one is a very costly assumption. Because, the reality on the ground is that natives of Abuja are unique people, we have common interest and we are striving for a unified force in order to achieve our set goals. That was why I supported the agitation. I think the first group led by one Yusuf Ahmadu, that Issued the 48 hours ultimatum to peaceful protesters was too forward and highly emotional. He failed to identify the good side of the agitation of those peaceful protesters. We as indigenous people of Abuja are 100 per cent in support of good governance in Nigeria. That has been our clamour. We condemned those hoodlums that attacked and hijacked the peaceful protesters and protest. We see them as evil groups who go round vandalizing and destroying lives and properties. That can never be acceptable by reasonable or patriotic citizen of this country.
Is it true that infrastructure has been brought to the door steps of the FCT indigenes without any major contribution from them?
People need to know that original inhabitants of the FCT are the host of the seat of power, so we should be given proper recognition and not taken for granted. The indigenes should always participate in major decision making process at the federal level. We should be involved and be stakeholders in terms of Nigeria’s project. We should be celebrated for our peaceful nature, because we have peacefully endured for a long time. We have not attacked any government’s project or development, and everyone can attest to that fact. So, our traditional values and norms should also be respected.
Some people will say FCT is no man’s land. That is not true. We have been living here for ages and our existence in FCT is as old as Nigeria. We do not have any other place to call our state, so we should be recognized and be honored as landlord of the seat of power.
Why are your people insisting on integration instead of complying with government’s resettlement and compensation policy?
This is the main issue we are confronted with. The word means integration, it means to improve, to modernise, to advance and upgrade in new technology. So, in simple terms, it is to wipe away the old within the same environment, that is to say moving from the lower level to the higher level. Meanwhile, I can best describe resettlement and compensation as a disaster to us. Resettlement can only happen if there is a natural disaster in a community like flooding, fire disaster, war or probably where government want to setup an industry for the interest of all.
But resettlement as it is in the case of the FCT, is not properly defined. So, we are insisting on integration, because we know that this is our land. We have always ask; what is the cost of resettling us out of our land. For example, my own village is Kpaduma community where they carved as Federal Capital City (FCC) on top of allocations which the government said belongs to individuals for residential purposes. So, if the allocation are for residential purposes we are also residents, not intruders. Those people are not better than us and they are not of different species or different human beings. That is why we will continue to agitate for complete integration in our communities. We are not ready to be strangers in another man’s land and we cannot be like internally displaced person (IDPs) in our land.
Constitutional review is ongoing; what sections do you want to be amended as it affects your people?
We have already submitted our memorandum to the National Assembly. The constitution of Nigeria should be reviewed and done fast in regards to our interests. Let there be an enlargement in the political structure of FCT. Let more senatorial seats be added to the FCT. We only have one senatorial seat, we need more seats like other states of Nigeria, if we are practicing true federalism and democracy. Let more House of Representatives member seats be added in FCT, because the city capital is large and bigger than some states in the country. Let there be equality and equity as the constitution requires. That is our submission. Let other representatives from other states support us, because we are being crippled politically.