By Felix Durumbah
Executive Secretary (ES), Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), Engr. Shehu Hadi Ahmad, has hailed the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and the latter’s appointee, Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Muhammadu Musa Bello, as one that has totally transformed the infrastructure in the nation’s capital to the extent that nationals from other African countries now troop to Abuja to gawk at its beauty.
Ahmad took the position while speaking in an exclusive interview with APC NewsOnline shortly after top management of the frontline e-news platform paid him a courtesy visit in his office.
He also predicted that APC presidential candidate in 2023 election, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will win the poll.
The ES gushed at the many infrastructural accomplishments of President Buhari in FCT, through the Minister, insisting that, comparatively, these are the best of times for Abuja residents.
Fielding a question on how FCDA has fared under the Buhari presidency as against its previous experiences, Engr. Ahmad said without equivocation that the regime has practically and visibly developed Abuja to rub shoulders with enviable world-class cities such as Dubai, London, New York and others.
The deliberate massive facelift given to the city’s infrastructure, he added, was the gloss that has attracted swarms of African nationals to come and savor the radiance of Abuja.
His words: ‘’And I think that as it is now, from the feedback we receive from our sister African nationals when they come to Abuja, they see Abuja as if they’re in another world. You never know what you have until some people come to tell you of it.
‘’Whereas you find some of our people having the craze to go and see other world-class cities like, maybe, Dubai, London, New York, people within the African environment are agitating to come to Abuja. And now you realize that even within this globe of world-class cities, Abuja can fit in very well.’’
Recalling FCT’s past physical state, Engr. Ahmad, who said he has lived in Abuja right from his civil service days, painted a gloomy picture of contractors shutting down construction sites due to indebtedness by the last federal administration, inability to complete key public utility projects, and other factors, stressing, however, that the Buhari government has addressed these lapses.
Earlier, speaking during the courtesy call, Managing Director (MD), APC NewsOnline, Dr Tom Ohikere, had told the ES that the management members were in his office to build partnership to promote and project the achievements of the APC-led Federal Government and its many organs ahead of the 2023 general elections.
He recalled that the e-news medium was launched by APC National Chairman, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, at the Abuja International Conference Centre recently.
Responding, Engr. Ahmad lauded the initiative, saying an online news platform would deliver instant news to reach millions fast, pledging FCDA’s assistance to the goals of the media house dedicated to coverage of APC’s activities.
*Please read full interview below:
APC NewsOnline: How has FCDA fared during the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari? What was its situation prior to this?
Engr. Ahmad: I will start by saying instantly that Mr. President has done very well. Very well in the sense that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came into being way back in May, 2015 and it came at a period when I was part of the civil service, the workforce of the FCDA, at which point I was barely a Deputy Director heading one of the divisions in one of the departments.
I know the state of our projects and programmes that period was that most of our project sites were virtually abandoned by our contractors majorly because of issues of lack of payment of their outstanding liabilities; liabilities for projects that had been delivered but not paid for.
Accordingly, there is a limit to which contractors can accommodate to continue with works on site. I’m not saying this and this contractor left site; I’m saying virtually all our sites were abandoned, shut down. On one hand, the projects had been stopped.
If you look at road projects, Outer Northern Expressway, which you call Kubwa Expressway, or by name it should have actually been Murtala Mohammed Expressway, there were a lot of spots, uncompleted segments. Even if you complete a project 98 per cent, the two per cent that remains outstanding is a necessary link to deliver that project. Such project can be considered not very functional.
Kubwa Expressway had a segment, the railway crossing bridge, at the Villa roundabout, that road comes from AYA towards Asokoro where you meet the Villa roundabout. That point, that segment of the road, had not been completed.
Around Dawakin, there is an interchange that had not been completed. Around the entry into Kubwa, there is an interchange there that had not been delivered. Then further down, the railway crossing bridge at Kagini had not been delivered.
So, you can ply some of the roads only in segments. When you have to go through, it’s normally very painful. And I think there is a military checkpoint too further down around DeiDei, that had also not been completed. This is on that side.
On the side of the Airport Expressway, there were segments. Around Lugbe, when you go further down, there are some bridges around Gosa, Sauka village and then there are some underpass bridges before you just get the turning into Kuje as well as that interchange at Kuje; they had not been completed and delivered.
And then the Bill Clinton interchange, that interchange at the terminal end of Umar Musa Yar’Adua Expressway that leads you to Bill Clinton Drive to the airport, it was virtually not done.
And I think if commuters on the Kubwa Expressway were suffering some pains, it’s just to get to work; eventually, you got to work, but you went late. But here along the Airport Expressway, you are not only suffering the problems or challenges of coming to work, but there was the issue of catching one’s flights on time. A lot of people had missed their flights because of the challenge of the condition of the road.
In itself the Bill Clinton Drive was very much in a deplorable condition. It ‘s a short strip of about 7 kilometers from the expressway to the airport, but it was in a very terrible situation. When you’re done with all the challenges of diversions, by the time you come to Bill Clinton Drive, there was also the issue of bad road.
When you look at the axis of Nyanya-Abuja-Keffi entry into Abuja city, it was a challenge also to come through there because from AYA down through to the Ecumenical Centre or CBN, there is this road project, which is the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Expressway, which had remained undone. I just have to give you the block of things for you to recall how the conditions of those infrastructure were.
From the Villa roundabout also towards Gudu cemetery, there is this expressway called the Outer Southern Expressway which was also not completed. As we speak now, the state of the road is not as if it is completed, but it has been brought to an appreciable or motor-friendly state from what it had been.
These were the conditions of so many of these road projects around the FCT.
What the administration of Malam Muhammad Musa Bello did on assuming duty—and I think it was a blessing for the FCT to have Malam Muhammad Musa Bello as Minister of FCT, even though on his own part, he came into an environment where he had to be solving problems, but FCT should see that as a blessing.
When he came, he decided that he was not going to award contract and, according to him, this was the mandate, this was the focus of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration not to engage in the award of new projects; you must complete existing, ongoing projects, especially those with direct impact on the economy and, of course, the FCT residents and on the city itself.
So, he requested for briefings from various SDAs (Secretariats, Departments and Agencies). Virtually all schools were operating below optimum because the classrooms were in a very dilapidated state; same thing for hospitals. And without having to tackle these issues, not only would economic problems in the city put people to task, but there was also the issue of insecurity especially with the closure and abandonment of site by these major contractors.
These are entities which have highly skilled personnel and who have now been denied access to their work to get means of livelihood to run their homes. Don’t forget, they are trained artisans, technicians, welders, carpenters, masons and others. So they have skills, acquired skills, which could not be put to proper use. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. They can now deploy these talents into the negative way.
Within that period, the FCT had witnessed a lot of insecurity. I’m not looking at the insecurity we have now because this is not a peculiarity with FCT, it’s national. But within that period, there were these localized challenges—all these ‘one chance’, snatching of this or that and so on were prevalent within that period.
When Malam Muhammad Musa Bello came, he said ‘ok, let’s get these projects back on course. Let’s get these contractors to get back their personnel on site, let’s see to the settlement of their liabilities.’ So, budgets of FCT from 2015 down to some period were targeted towards settlement of outstanding liabilities to get these contractors to return so that more performances can be done.
All the segments of those abandoned road projects which provide the gateway into the city—because at that time if you’re coming from Gwagwalada axis into the city, you calculate about two to three hours up to when you’re leaving, that would be your expected arrival time into the city. Same thing with Kubwa. Yes, maybe Abuja-Keffi road issue has remained…that’s because there are other issues now, but when we talk about other things that have been solved, people forget what it was, people look at what it is now.
Since this administration came, a lot has been resolved on the Abuja-Keffi. It’s just that there is additional expansion of the road which made for traffic management of that road; you now see some traffic build-up again as well as some other challenges by military checkpoints or so along that axis.
But the three entry points into the city before were characterized by heavy traffic. Now these two entry points, from Kubwa/Zuba axis, from Gwagwalada/Giri axis have all faded away, except at some peak times when you go around the City Gate you may see some; and then around Katampe axis—and some of these are caused by…sometimes, you find that road traffic officers or FRSC (Federal Road Safety Corps) personnel doing routine checks. But this has nothing to do with the state of the infrastructure.
These were the conditions or the state that the Malam Muhammad Musa Bello administration met the FCT and President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration met the nation.
And a lot has been addressed in that regard.
Ok, the other aspect I want to tell you is, when the administration came, the only source of potable drinking water for the city were two tanks. Abuja is one city that has an approved master plan and for now the one city n Nigeria that’s being developed on an approved master plan. The Abuja master plan provides for a network of infrastructure master plan. When you talk of infrastructure, you say road network, which has its planned network. Water supply has. Electrical supply has. Sewage, both for foul and storm water sewage, has. All these have plans of how they are being run, developed or so.
For the water master plan, the city was planned to have 10 storage tanks which are located on high ground to feed the entire Phases 1-3, in fact now Phase 5, of the city. Of these 10 storage tanks, only two tanks have been developed and are feeding Phase 1 because Phase 1 is presumably the area that has been properly provided and developed with infrastructure. For Phases 2 and 3, partially some of the districts have been developed. When we’re talking about partial, we’re saying not more than 10 per cent of the entire districts of Phases 2 and 3 can be said to have been developed. In a situation where we have about 38 districts of the two Phases, only about seven—that is, Jabi, Utako, Gudu, some segments of Wuye now are in progress, some segments around Kaura where you have Games Village, Gwarinpa, Life Camp or so—these are areas where you have partial development which can be said to have been done. Mbora too.
Every other district of this Phase has not been developed, but they are expecting to get water supply to them. Now, there are massive property developments in these areas. Most of the mass housing sites are within these Phases 2 and 3. Substantial developments in even the districts where the infrastructure has not been developed are already there. If you talk of Jahi which is undergoing development, there is already some property development within that district; also Katampe, Mabushi and what have you.
So, where are these districts getting their water supply if the water supply meant for those places had not been made ready? On temporary basis, the water meant for Phase 1 from these two tanks were being directed to extend to those areas since they can’t wait until…water is life. So, water which was meant for Phase 1 district of Maitama, Wuse, Garki, was being extended to aid Utako, Jabi, including Life Camp.
On the other side, it includes Gudu, Dutse, anywhere there is development that you see, it’s an extension by FCT Water Board just to serve, pending the development of the storage facility that will fit these districts. This has remained on.
Physical infrastructural development had started in the 80s; assuming we take 1982, it means that by 2015 when the Buhari administration came on board, we’re talking of about 33 years. You can imagine: the city has remained with these.
There are two other tanks which were meant to fit into Phase 2, but the distribution pipes which would bring down the water from those were not in place because the water is transferred from Lower Usuma Dam through some very large diameter pipelines to those storage tanks. And Abuja’s water is supposed to be distributed through gravity to eliminate all the issues of using mechanical means.
Now we’re saying while the tanks are there, the loops, the distribution pipes to bring down from the tanks on high ground to the city proper are not.
So what did the Muhammadu Buhari administration do when it came in? A presentation was made by FCDA through the Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, on the need to provide the distribution loops and other associated tanks that would feed Phases 2 and 3 of the city as well as other areas with substantial development.
And he took the bull by the horn. When I said water was deployed for only Phases 1 and 2, there were only seven districts. If we add Maitama Extension, which people call Maitama Aliero, if we add Guzape, we say ‘ok there are 9 districts’, but here we have about 38 districts, I’m telling you, that are not with dedicated water!
Contract for the development of the Greater Abuja Water Supply by the Buhari administration was awarded to take care of not less than 50 districts. And this is in partnership with China EximBank to see to the funding of the project. The project is assured of funding, and as we speak, when you move around the city, you see a lot of all these pipe-laying going on.
One of the covenants reached with the contractor on this project is that they will deliver substantially before the exit of this administration—and that’s why they’re working day and night. Nigeria is only funding about 20 per cent of it as counterpart funding. Eighty per cent of it is from the concessionary loan from China EximBank. This is a remarkable feat attained by this administration.
On completion of this project, we’re talking about more than 50 districts, including industrial areas, including all these areas in Karsana, Kagini or so, which will draw water, including extension up to College of Education, Zuba. They will draw potable drinking water and the tariffs from there will be used to offset the loan on this.
So, this is a remarkable feat that has been achieved.
If you remember the state of the Bill Clinton Road, as I said, it’s during this administration that the only fresh contract at that time, in the first tenure of the administration, was awarded.
And then maybe the second one was to link Apo-Karshi because the administration came and found out there is a Karshi, a satellite town, in which there is a road which has a contract for a road to be developed up to Wassa junction. At Wassa junction, you get a link to Karshi. That was not in place.
So, this administration made a case that this link road must be awarded and constructed so that instead of all Karshi-bound, Karshi-, Jikwoyi-, Orozo-bound traffic using Abuja-Keffi axis to go—and some of the congestion we see is because of that—,we do this road. If you know you’re going to Karshi or thereabouts, you don’t need to go there; you just take the Apo-Karshi road. So, some of the traffic issues we’re witnessing will soon ease by the time this road is completed.
I don’t want to go into other sectors—social services, schools, hospitals, social development, agriculture and so on—, but I know that substantial achievements have been recorded. The focus of FCDA is the physical planning and development of the infrastructure to support a world-class city that Abuja should be.
And I think that as it is now, from the feedback we receive from our sister African nationals when they come to Abuja, they see Abuja as if they’re in another world. You never know what you have until some people come to tell you of it. Whereas you find some of our people having the craze to go and see other world-class cities like, maybe, Dubai, London, New York, people within the African environment are agitating to come to Abuja. And now you realize that even within this globe of world-class cities, Abuja can fit in very well.
The road that encompasses the FCDA headquarters as well as the FCT, we call it the Southern Parkway. At the time this administration came, this road was like an earth road. It is this administration that funded it—the contract was awarded by the past administration but it was never executed; it’s this administration that made a case to see to the execution of the project. Now, we’re plying on a substantially completed road, especially the segment between the Central Bank up to Muhammadu Buhari Way and beyond up to Ransome-Kuti. These are things that we’re deploying to see to it that circulation within the city center is made much freer.
Before, when you’re coming into the city, when you reach the City Gate, the roads into the city were not developed. You only come on one-way into the city and when you’re going, you go on one-way. The Constitution Avenue on the side of Coscharis through Churchgate to National Hospital is now operating on dual mode, courtesy of this Bello administration.
We’re trying to replicate same on the side of the American Embassy axis-Bolingo Hotel-down to the city. We’re going to also make that road to operate in dual mode so that you can decide from the Airport Expressway at the City Gate whether to go right or left and in either case, you can move in dual mode.
I think a lot of effort has been made by the President Buhari administration in FCT, particularly under the watch of Malam Muhammad Musa Bello as the Minister.
APC NewsOnline: You’ve been embarking on inspection visits recently to ongoing project sites. What have you noticed so far?
Engr. Ahmad: Ok, there are two routine inspection visits that we’re doing. One, which is at the instance of the National Assembly various committees either from Senate or House of Representatives on oversight functions. Of course, oversight is for them to monitor the expenditure of budgetary appropriations for projects. And so far, we’ve not had any cause for any challenge with both committees, especially on FCT.
On our own, we normally go out on routine inspection visits as a means of monitoring and inspection to ensure control and tick in performance against what has been pre-determined to be delivered.
We’re doing that to ensure that our contractors perform on site to our standards and specification and there’s a justification when we see an invoice to be processed as evaluation certificate for that contractor; his due to be paid for the work that has been presented as a claim.
So, we normally go out to ensure that. And even just yesterday (Wednesday, 2 November), we were generally out on inspection. And as we speak today, I just came back from another site inspection. We take that as routine.
APC NewsOnline: Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the APC presidential candidate, is poised to win the 2023 presidential election. What’s your take on this?
Engr. Ahmad: By the grace of God Almighty. I think they say the expression of the mind, you take it from the face. I’m a product of the APC victory in the 2019 elections because before then, I was still a civil servant.
Arising from the return of President Muhammadu Buhari, arising from a vacancy created on the seat of Executive Secretary, FCDA, and, of course, due to the benevolence of my Hon. Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, he saw the worth in me to be invited to come as a political appointee to hold this position. And I’m proud to say that I’m the second political appointee to hold this seat; the first being in the days of Engr. Charles Dorgu who was a non-civil servant but came to serve as ES, FCDA. But, in all others, I’m the first FCDA-regularized staff that assumed office to become a political appointee to head this place. And I take this not for granted.
We hope to see; it’s not only for Tinubu to come in, but to do his 4+4 when he eventually he comes to power. We’re looking forward to that.
It’ll be a good thing because he’s to come and replicate in an extended form what he has done in the mini unit of Lagos State when he held sway. He will now have to come and extend his kind of determined leadership, focus and, of course, magnanimity in turning the economy of Lagos around; let him come and turn the economy of Nigeria. We need that.
APC NewsOnline: Can you, in few words, tell the world something about APC NewsOnline?
Engr. Ahmad: I take a hint that there are points where you reach and have to take a determination to blow your trumpet. If you don’t do that, nobody will. I see this as a very good initiative to see to it that the good works of the APC-led administration at various segments of the economy are being brought to bear to be showcased to the public to know that these are the things that are happening.
We had the belief before that our good work will show, but we have come to terms that people easily forget what was the state of the country. If you don’t remind them, bring to show that ‘this was what it was’, that ‘this is what has become of this’, they will easily forget that we have turned around the Nigerian economy, given facelift to infrastructural development and so on.
So, platforms like this, online for that matter, provide the best opportunity for people to know that, in the past when you had to send a message between Abuja and maybe, closest places such as Kaduna or Makurdi, I think you waited a month or two to get a reply; when you had to place a phone call to London or New York, you queued in NITEL Exchange then. Sometimes, the staff would give you a date to come, saying ‘’this is when you will come and make your call.’’ Sometimes, it would take about six months for you to hear from the child who is schooling abroad.
Now, the situation has come where you sit down here, we’re not just talking about just the call, we’re talking about instant action—you can call, do video call and online you can do meetings, Zoom, virtual meetings, Federal Executive Council meetings.
When there were the issues of coronavirus, we quickly swung into FEC virtual meetings. In this very room where we’re holding this interview, I have done virtual meetings with interests with various parts of the globe.
So, online is the thing of the day now. When you started talking, you say ‘this is being built not only nationwide, but round the globe’ and I think this is an initiative that should be sustained and properly sustained because it will lead to the delivery of what is being done by government.
I want to congratulate you on this and I hope God Almighty will continue to be your strength.
Engr. Ahmad (Right) Listens with rapt attention to Dr. Ohikere during the courtesy call.