The ‘relationship’ between the Federal Capital Territory and one of its closest neighbours, Niger State, has, for some time now, been less than cordial.
Since 1976, when the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja was created out of the then Niger, Plateau and Kwara States, these neighbouring states have had to contend with the issues of rapid development in the capital city and the growth of urban slum at its fringes. Although these neighbouring states derive immense benefits from the spill-over of urbanisation in Abuja, they are often disturbed by some of its negative consequences.
While the FCT is enjoying the enormous glory associated with the seat of power, Niger State seems to be rather uncomfortable with the burden and liabilities Abuja imposes on the state. One of the areas of contention is the large population of federal civil servants, who work in Abuja but live in the border towns in Niger State. These civil servants pay their taxes (Pay As You Earn- PAYE) to the FCT administration, but live off the Social amenities in the neighbouring state.
Niger State, like the rest neighbouring states is angry that the population influx into its territory has not boosted proportionately its Internally Generated Revenue as expected. Rather, it has only presented more liabilities on its social infrastructure.
Inside Abuja gathered that its grudge was reinforced by the fluid boundaries and the alleged allocation of land within its territories by the officials of Federal Capital Territory.
The two major contentious territories where these grievous activities affect most are Dakwa Local Government Area of Niger State, on its borders with Gwagwalada Area Council of FCT, and Tafa Local Government of Niger State on its borders with Bwari Area Council of FCT.
Inside Abuja’s checks, showed that both housing and other economic developments in these disputed areas were triggered by relocation of Nigeria’s seat of power from Lagos to Abuja. It was also gathered that land transactions in these areas, is almost an all-comers affairs, since there are no stringent regulations.
Another reason that has over the years affected population growth in the areas is the fact that land allocation, title processing and other development levies there are people friendly.
Moves to curtail the boundary crisis
In a bid to curtail the vexatious and protracted disputes which appear to have some adverse effects on revenue collection and environmental sanitation in the contested neighbouring border towns, some stakeholders have decided to intervene on the issue.
Minister of the FCT, Mallam Mohammad Musa Bello and Niger State Governor, Alhaji Sani Bello, recently held a closed door meeting in Abuja. The meeting resolved that a committee, comprising the FCT Permanent Secretary, Niger State Secretary to the State Government and National Boundary Commission would be set up to proffer a lasting solution.
The minister, who insisted that an institutional framework was necessary to resolving the crisis, also indicated that FCT administration was ready to remit all taxes due to the neighbouring Niger State Councils that were wrongly attributed to the Federal Capital Territory.
He specifically noted that all Pay As You Earn (PAYE) taxes due to Suleja from workers, who reside in Suleja but work in Abuja, could be remitted to Niger State.
The Minister, who expressed worry that the boundary dispute had resulted in gross neglect of duties by both FCT and Niger State officials at the Zuba-Madalla axis, as well as the fringes of the Kaduna Highway, directed the Coordinator of Abuja Metropolitan Management Council ( AMMC), to immediately move in and reclaim parts of the highway that has been taken over by illegal traders.
“We discussed basically three issues. We discussed the issue of the boundary, which already there is an existing boundary committee between the two states (FCT and Niger State), which we all agreed that the committee will have to conclude its work as soon as possible.
“We discussed the need to handle environmental pollution, especially in the villages and cities around the boundary area, and that of course, arose because of population explosion. We asked all the relevant officials to really continue to work and work more, and to also ensure that this is made at community level because government cannot continue to intervene to what ordinarily is supposed to be a community activity.
“And finally, of course, we also acknowledged the fact that a lot of work is being done now at the Federal Ministry for Finance level to ensure that residents of the boundary city-town that are working in the FCT are taxed, particularly those that are on salaries pay their taxes to places where they reside. That is what the law is, and that revenue will be used by the councils,” Bello said.
On his part, Niger State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, said he approached FCT minister over the issues, because he desired peace and harmony in the disputed communities.
He noted also that claims over the border towns have remained a concern to stakeholders.
As a way forward to resolving the boundary dispute, he suggested that all developments on the disputed areas as well as land allocations by both local councils in the affected communities be suspended pending the resolution.
Bello also noted that there was the issue of waste management especially in Zuba – Madalla stretch and the issue of PAYE tax remittances due Suleja Local Government from officers working in Abuja but who reside in Suleja. He said the Chairman of Tafa Local Government would need the support of the FCT Administration in dealing with environmental sanitation and waste management in the area as facilities in Suleja are over stretched as a result of FCT workers.
“We had a very good meeting and hopefully, the matter was resolved as security in Niger State and the FCT. We did a lot to manage it. I can’t go into details now, but we are on top of it, and it’s quite challenging, but we thank God that we have been able to bring it to the barest minimum at the moment so the security issue within the state is very calm now”, he said.
Evidently, the growing bickering between the FCT and the neighbouring states has festered over the years, due to shear lack of political will by leaders of both governments to address holistically the issues of development.
However, for the benefits of the economic and socially deprived residents of these areas, who need peace and security to gather momentum in their laborious journey of survival in a justice deprived society, both government should sustain the ongoing negotiations and ensure that not only peace was achieved, but a wholesome development through joint venture efforts.
With the recent intervention, the end of the fight over the ownership of these communities and who should collect revenues and manage environmental sanitation, seems to be in sight.