Not many young people will know why I have always been very passionate about Abuja affairs. The nation’s capital is actually my second home. My journalism career grew luxuriantly like yam tendrils in the raining season, thanks to my relationship with the capital about 28 years ago when Alhaji Bukar Zarma, former editor of Sunday New Nigerian established the first newspaper The Abuja Newsday there.
I was pioneer Lagos Bureau Chief from 1988 to 1990 when I was promoted editor of the newspaper. Abuja is the place my colleagues (bureau chiefs) including the dangerously hardworking Yusuf Ali,the ever clean Sam Akpe, never-say-die Yomi Odunuga, etc named me “The Dean” of the Bureau Chiefs’ community while some others outside journalism would call me “The Mayor of Abuja”. There is nothing extraordinary about the sobriquets other than my long-standing experience as a reporter, writer and editor in the 40 years old “capital of the federation” as the constitution calls it.
This background is germane to the points at issue today in Abuja where religion & ethnicity have become political tools in the hands of our politicians. I would like to use this background to trigger some rhetorical questions later about where rains began to beat us as a nation. We are talking about a nation where the bogeyman called the national question is threatening the security of the nation again, no thanks to some emerging political mismanagement of the complex federation by some Abuja-based political leaders and their inner men
I mean that when the newspaper civilization kicked us in the face in Abuja in 1988, there was a good country where religion and ethnicity did not play so much overt role in interpersonal relationships, let alone in recruitments into private enterprises. Then Alhaji Bukar Zarma, who hails from Borno state shaped the business plans of publishing the first newspaper in Abuja with Alhaji Hassan Adamu Wakilin Adamawa, from Adamawa state. They are both Muslims. But the striking element in the story in 1988 in Abuja was that Alhaji Zarma, who advertised for vacancies for journalists in a national daily then did not consider religion and ethnicity when he hired very resourceful journalists from different parts of the country. One thing was clear then: he never asked any candidates state of origin. And so coincidentally, all the senior editors and most reporters recruited from the North and South were Christians. This is the evidence: Mr. Nick Dazang (Christian from Plateau) was the pioneer Editor; Mr. Jackson Ekwugum (Christian from Delta State) was News Editor, Mr. Dennis Mordi (Christian from Delta State) was Chief Sub Editor; Mr. Samm Audu (Christian from Kaduna State) was Sports Editor; Mr. Skekwogaza Wasah (Christian from Abuja) was Features Editor, Martins Oloja, (Christian from Ondo State) was Lagos Bureau Chief. Other notable names in the newsroom ten included Shok Jok, Camillus Eboh, Moji Olaniyan, Moji Olajide, Alex kabba, Emmanuel Obe, etc, all of them Christians.
It is significant to reveal here that when Professor Humphrey Nwosu’s National Electoral Commission was releasing piecemeal the June 12 election results then and chief M.K.O Abiola was in the lead and it was clear the Egba wealthy chief had beaten Bashir Tofa from Kano, the publisher, Zarma was quite upbeat about imminent return to democracy mood through a free and fair election. And when the result was suspended, he was very sad. Only young Nigerians would not recall that the Abiola campaigns for president was run on a Muslim-Muslim ticket of Alhaji M.K.O Abiola & Alhaji Babagana Kingibe. No Christians raised any eyebrow anywhere after the Jos remarkable primary that produced the winning ticket.
In fact, Alhaji Zarma did not know my state of origin until long after the newspaper was shut by the military junta then in the wake of the June 12, 1993 crisis in the country. It should be noted that at that time, the Chairman of the Abuja City Press Limited, Publishers of The Abuja Newsday, Alhaji Adamu was the Chairman of National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria Limited, (NAFCON).
I met him several times in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Abuja. He never asked even once where I hailed from. What is more, at that time, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) was military president (Head of State) and most of the prominent officers in the then presidency were Professor Jerry Gana, Professor Omo- Omoruyi, Professor Jonah Isawa Elaigwu, Professor Sam Oyovbaire, etc. These were Christians, among others who were quite visible in government then, although they were still in Lagos. But Professor Omo omoruyi was then in Abuja before the historic movement to Abuja on Thursday 12 December, 1991.
The point really is that as a young Nigerian, I have seen the good part of the country even in Abuja where it is now becoming increasingly difficult to associate with it as a capital of the federation. I succeeded Nick Dazang in 1990 as Editor in Abuja and I can recall that Abuja was gloriously promoted as a great city, a unity capital. In fact, our newspaper’s masthead carried a motto: A great paper for a great city. Besides, the FCT administration we were covering then had a lot of Christians, Muslims and free thinkers alike from different parts of the country. The atmosphere then was so conducive in the nation’s capital to the extent that even the land administration department then had a code of conduct in plots allocation to states. In other words, if Plot 25 in Garki was allocated to a citizen of Anambra state, for instance, Plot 26 would be allocated to a citizen of Adamawa, and not to another allotee from Anambra State. That was what led to naming Abuja “Centre of Unity” when the Federal Road Safety Corps came up with various slogans for the 36 states and Abuja then. Lagos was named “Centre of Excellence…
That is why it is sad to read in the newspapers barely 25 years after the capital relocation from Lagos that a Christian woman was killed for preaching the gospel of Christ in the same “Centre of Unity” that General Murtala Mohammed gave to unify us as a nation in 1976, 10 days before some workers of iniquity killed him. The Hurricane Murtala proclaimed Abuja as Nigeria’s capital on 3rd February 1976 and on 13 February 1976. in Lagos. Yet General Olusegun Obasanjo (a Christian from the South) who though reluctantly succeeded the fallen hero, did not annul the new-capital -of-the-federation project.
It is quite tragic today in this very toxic country where a Muslim-Muslim ticket had won a free and fair election that no political party even in the nation’s capital can organize a convention that would produce a Christian-Christian ticket for president as we did in 1993. This is a tragedy. It is really catastrophic that the nation’s capital that Justice Akinola Aguda (from Ondo state) recommended as a “centre of unity” through a Presidential Panel he headed in 1975 has become a dangerous “Centre of Disunity”. Yes, we can live with an unfortunate situation in which it can be dangerous to preach the gospel in say Yobe and Borno States today. But it is insufferable if preaching the gospel in the capital of Nigeria has become dangerous.
Our message to all our leaders at all levels is that the change they promised us did not include any hints that the capital of the federation will be a battle ground for two major religions in the country, Islam and Christianity, after all. They should seek to emulate the great General Murtala who had a dream in 1976 and General Obasanjo who fulfilled the dream when he faithfully began building immediately and General IBB who dedicated the dream in December 1991 in a blaze of glory. The people in power today should be careful not to fall on to the dark side of history. They should remove all vestiges of religious intolerance and bigotry from the nation’s capital. The starting point in all honesty is to get the FCT authorities to control noise pollution from various worship centres in the Territory as the authorities in Lagos have artfully done through the strong arm of the laws on the environment.
Inside Stuff Grammar School: Alright Vs All Right; “Due to” This school has also discovered another word commonly misused: Alright/All right. It is common on Facebook and short message service (SMS) platform where English language has been in big trouble. What most users prefer is “Alright” as an idiom in familiar speech as a detached phrase in the sense “Agreed”, or “Go ahead”. Or “O.K.” When it is used in the above context, please, write properly as two words – “all right”. “Due to” sometimes “Owing to” can be located to spoil your construction. When loosely used for through, because of, or owing to, in adverbial phrases, do not write or say it this way:
Portugal nearly lost the first game in Euro 2016 ‘due to’ carelessness. You should write or say:
Portugal nearly lost the first game In Euro 2016 because of carelessness. In proper use, synonymous with attributable to: The loss was due to carelessness.
The accident was due to bad weather. So, do not use “due to” loosely as in the first examples. Note that: Our poor grasp of the English language is due to inability to read good books of English Grammar.