Centenary City Breathes Again, Under Wike

Okey Ikechukwu
14 Min Read
Centenary City Breathes Again, Under Wike

It was a good project mired in totally avoidable controversies. Months drew on. Then years flew by, while some low-grade quibbling went on in recondite corners; here and there. While that lasted, an investor who was ready to bring an inflow of 18 Billion dollars into the country, as the biggest ever single Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) left the country in frustration.

Back in 2015, on July 12 to be exact the project was greeted with some enthusiasm on this page. Under the title, “Inside Centenary City”, we enthused: “It is easy to believe that the Centenary City Project will be a major national success story. Following the incorporation of the Special Purpose Company (SPC) that will promote and drive the investment in the city, a total of 19 companies subscribed to the company’s Articles and Memorandum of Understanding; having met the initial capital call. … The Board of Directors of the company was inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan”.

Ten years later, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, had to intervene to revive what was looking more and more like a stillborn good idea. His action on the matter was reminiscent of the mythical story of a king who was said to have summoned a perpetually quarrelling couple, locked them up in a big house and then said to them: “The only condition under which I will let the two of you out of this place, and out of my sight, is that you will leave here resolved never to quarrel or fight again”.

Glaring at the couple, as the story went, he was reported to have said: “Under no circumstance must anyone hear ‘pim’ from either of you, in the name of a quarrel or disagreement. Until that happens, and until you come to your senses, you will be locked up here till further notice. You will be supplied all the provisions you ask for, but you will not step out of this place or see the shining sun until you agree to stop disagreeing”.

Well, Wike seems to have done something akin to that, but not with the threat of damnation or anything of the sort. He simply had to make it clear to all concerned parties and stakeholders that no one should try to upstage any endeavour that serves the long-term interests of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It was as simple as that.

READ ALSO: Why Abuja’s $18 Billion Centenary City Project Remains Undeveloped

Since a Free Zone is created by a Presidential Directive that designates an area for special administration to attract FDI, create jobs, and enhance competitiveness, it was not a matter to be toyed with. Thus, for the minister, the Abuja Centenary City investment and effort was not only here to stay, but must be made to stay in the right and most sustainable way possible.

But Wike did not just roll out the tanks and the gun boats, no! He started by hosting the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA)/Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA) and Abuja Centenary City Plc. on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. Then he enquired into the issues that were considered to be bottlenecks on both sides.

Well, he got an earful. The lingering issues, the court cases, the distrust, the contrived bad blood, the mischief of those who should know better than to try to undermine the project. The narratives and narrations were legion. But the point of it all was to find a solution that everyone can live with.

It emerged that some of the obstacles being consistently put in the way of the progress and progression of the Centenary City Project rested on a fundamental misunderstanding of some legal points and other issues. Wike pointed out that a Free Zone is a Presidential Directive that creates a designated area for special administration to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), create jobs, and enhance competitiveness. To that extent, neither the minister nor any administrative institution of state can seriously, and meaningfully, contest the primacy of Mr. President’s powers in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as custodian.

The conversation dovetailed into the further clarification of some mistaken perspectives regarding the legal identity, and administrative, autonomy of a Freezone, within an overarching umbrella of national sovereignty that still allows it to voluntarily outsource such municipal and other services it feels inclined to do. The operative word is ‘voluntarily’.

Then came the advice that was more of an angry, but pleasantly couched directive: For the FCDA and Centenary City management to resolve their differences amicably and work together in the broader national interest, so that the project can regain traction and move forward. The parties were reminded that the Centenary City project aligned with the Federal Government’s economic strategy of enhancing private sector investment in tourism, and other non-oil income earners critical for boosting the country’s economy.

With very clear guidelines regarding the law and management of Free Zones, and also knowing that there is no ambiguity about the status of Free Zones, the point of showing the best roles of FCTA/FCDA within the law is simply the only reasonable option on the road to lasting synergy. The result was that the parties found accommodation for each other’s perspective and signed a Communique to express their new cooperation. The current development also announced the cessation of court cases, encroachments, name calling and sundry acts of mischief.

For the record, the idea of a new Smart City, as part of Abuja urban renewal programme came after a detailed review of the Abuja capital city concept; as a small administrative capital. It became clear from the review that the upscale provisions for recreation, tourism, shopping, urban middle class accommodation would fill a gap that should not have been there in the first place.

It was one of the Legacy Projects initiated by the Federal Government and approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), as part of the programmes and activities for Nigeria’s Centenary celebration in 2014. It was planned following the vision of a Smart Green City that would rank among the most modern cities in the world.

The concept was patterned after model cities like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Songdo in South Korea, and Shenzen in the Peoples Republic of China. Part of the expectation was that it would signpost the Nigeria of the future, by leveraging world class urban development as a tool for securing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and catalysing various aspects of social and economic indices in the country.

That probably explains the formation of Centenary City PLC (CCPLC) as a public limited liability company, with 39 local and foreign investors. This came to 100% private sector investors, without any government funding whatsoever. The owners hired a management team, secured a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) from the FCTA for the Centenary City land, and in lieu of the N3.611 billion premium on the land, it granted the FCTA, which was represented by the Abuja Investment Company Limited – AICL – , 5% of the equity of CCPLC; in addition to a Board seat. With this arrangement, the Government is part owner and part of CCPLC decision-making of the Project through the FCTA.

It was gleefully announced here in 2015 that: “The developer of the new city, Centenary City Plc., has fortunately been working with templates that guarantee both a seamless flow of activities leading to the final emergence of the city, as well as a compensation and resettlement programme for the landowners that will avoid the usual controversies often associated with compensation and relocations. The initial mischief, peddling of false information and the attempt to build a career out of spurious protests have all given way to a quiet and sustained engagement that all the parties concerned are looking at with confidence”.

The enthusiastic submission back then even went on to declare thus: “The Centenary City is the official counterpoise to the Eko Atlantic City in Lagos. Both are the two special economic cities designated as free zones by NEPZA. As a major national project, it was all woven into the centenary celebrations and offered to Nigerians as a powerful catalyst to stimulate investment – with multi-layered positive impact on the economy and the people”. Well, see where we are on the matter, after ten years. And, go and  see where Eko Atlantic City is.

With the commendable development under Wike, with the needed positive intervention from the Senate, it is hoped that the new locus of mischief, if any, will not find accommodation elsewhere. I say this because the time lag may become an excuse for mischief makers to begin new claims about ancestral lands and what not.

READ ALSO: Why we demolished buildings in Enugu Centenary City — ECTDA

This is what was said about all that, back in 2015: “Knowing the controversies that have consistently trailed practically all previous compensation programmes in the country, especially for the original inhabitants of Abuja, Centenary City Plc. deployed dialogue and patient consultations to avoid any hiccups. The clarification given early in the day by the Managing Director about the entire compensation package was difficult to fault, or reject. It showed a two-pronged drive that combined cash payment for the crops and resettlement of the displaced landowners in houses built for them by Centenary City Plc. at its own cost.”

We said, further: “The payment to the landowners covers the crops and economic trees on their land, while the resettlement will provide adequate land for the buildings and other facilities to be developed by the Centenary City Plc. for their relocation to even better developed living conditions. Under the guidance of the FCDA, Centenary City Plc. will build adequate housing with infrastructure for the displaced landowners”.

We took it further, and I am deliberately going into history, because the current gains must not get lost in some political muddle once again. Hear this, as stated here on July 12, 2015: “To ensure a scientifically verifiable basis for the deterring eligibility for compensation, the FCDA authorities did a biometric capture of all the affected communities, matching facial recognition and fingerprint scan of persons who are seven years of age and above. So far, most of the 671 beneficiaries identified for compensation have been settled. Some had no title Deed, no C of O, etc., while others had only letters of allocation and nothing more. Today, they have not only been paid, or are scheduled to be paid, for land they did not really own, but are among those to be resettled in new and better houses very soon”.

Compensation to the Original Inhabitants for economic trees/crops and other property interests falling within the Centenary City site and the Resettlement site, as diligently facilitated by the FCDA, was to the tune of N1.4 Billion back then.

The economic benefits of the Centenary City project are easily measurable. So are the social benefits, as well as the extra political mileage that would come in due course.

Let Agencies of Government come to terms with the fact that Governments regulate, and do not “supervise” private sector projects. Let us also hope that

Nyesom Wike’s courage holds out and that the FCDA and Centenary City management remain on the right track in the national interest.

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