January 28, (THEWILL) – Just when the presidency took the wind out of the sails of the opposition from the North to the relocation of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN and some departments of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, through a reassuring statement that the capital remains in Abuja, another development surfaced to ensure that the issue remains on the front burner.
According to the Katsina Elders Forum, last Thursday, contractors renovating the Yar’Adua International Airport were ordered to stop work and move their equipment to Enugu, Lagos or Calabar, all in the South.
Secretary of the Forum, Aliyu Mohammed, in a statement, said there was an indication that the Federal Government planned to move important projects from the Katsina airport to Lagos. According to him, a letter written by a contractor had suggested to the Minister of Aviation that an ongoing hangar project at the airport should be moved to places, such as Enugu, Calabar or Lagos in the South.”
Mohammed said that when he enquired, the reasons given were rather clumsy. “They mentioned things like unskilled labour, the distance between Lagos and Katsina and lack of water,” he said, adding that when the contract for the project was awarded by the Muhammadu Buhari Administration in 2022, the same contractor mobilised to site and started working in earnest.
This sudden change of things, Mohammed noted, alongside the movements of CBN offices, would affect the North economically in terms of employment, access to financial services and transport facilities.
Contacted for clarification, FAAN Director of Public Relations, Obiageli Orah asked to be sent a text message for her reaction, but she never sent a reply.
“Whatever the intention of the government on the Yar’Adua International Airport, I do not think it is proper,” Elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai, who said he was aware of the development, told THEWILL on Friday. He, however, supported the relocation of CBN offices and FAAN to Lagos.
“If the Federal Government so decides for the reasons it has given. But the Katsina thing is questionable. When Nigerians, wherever they are, feel that the decision of the government is wrong, they are entitled to express their grievances. It is their constitutional right. Government is made to serve human beings and therefore, it can be wrong. After all, they put that contract in the budget,”Yakassai said.
The Katsina airport angle somewhat resonates with the reactions of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the Northern Senators Forum and the Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume to the relocation of the FAAN and CBN offices. They chose to express their displeasure with the Federal Government’s decision, using politically loaded words, even as the agencies had given administrative and cost-reducing reasons for the action.
The CBN, in a January 12 circular issued by the director of its human resources department, had stated, “The action plan focuses on optimising the utilisation of other banks’ premises. With this plan, 1,533 staff will be moved to other CBN facilities within Abuja, Lagos and understaffed branches.”
“Our current occupancy level of 4,233 significantly exceeds the optimal capacity of 2,700 designed for the Head Office building. This overcrowding poses several critical challenges.”
For FAAN, whose offices were only just relocated by immediate past Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, the movement to Lagos, the hub of aviation business, is an “administrative decision to align FAAN with the industry it regulates,” even as it still maintains offices in Abuja.
For the ACF, the reasons adduced for the relocation policy are being “used to obfuscate sinister motives.” The NSF, among others, called on the “aggrieved northerners to exercise patience with the inconveniences they might have faced due to the relocation of the agencies to Lagos.”
Senator Ndume said that “political cartels,” within government and “Lagos boys who are thinking that Lagos is Nigeria” were misinforming and advising President Bola Tinubu wrongly.
Also, Professor of Political Economy at the Lagos State University, Odion Akhaine, told THEWILL that the reactions represent particular viewpoints about Nigeria.
He said, “To kick against the Federal Government’s action is an expression of the centrist view of the Nigerian state. Nigeria is a federation, not a unitary state. But beyond that, bureaucratic convenience requires you to locate administrative offices where the objects of administration are situated.”
According to him, the reactions show the ongoing struggle for power in the Nigeria political space, though he thinks it is misplaced, adding that there has to be an equilibrium to foster peace and progress.
THEWILL investigation confirmed Prof Akhaine’s view. Some key appointments by President Tinubu have not gone down well with many stakeholders in the North. The first is the appointment of former Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, the first of its kind since the movement of the capital territory from Lagos to Abuja on December 13, 1991 during the military regime of Gen Ibrahim Babangida (retd.).
“That appointment was a sign of things to come from the Tinubu presidency. It kept critical stakeholders up North on the edge. Afterwards, an upsurge in insecurity, which we thought had a political dimension to it, followed. But as it turns out, the increased violence may have unintended consequences as some major embassies may also think of relocating if the situation here gets out of hand,” an anonymous government source told THEWILL.
The source explained that, so far, there is nothing to show that President Tinubu is sectional in his approach to governance, but the Lagos image in the mind of his political enemies will not go away. “It is a mindset,” the official said.
Delving into history, the official recalled a similar situation in 2001 during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo when former Defence Minister, Gen Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), had to announce the relocation of the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, from Abuja to Lagos in accordance with the agency’s core mandate.
The government has initiated a ports reform programme to reduce inefficiency at the ports. The vacated Ship House of the NPA in Abuja was converted by the Nigeria Army to house its offices.
Moreover, there is also palpable fear among the political elite that Tinubu may embark on a political restructuring programme “unannounced,” according to sources and Lagos may be the fulcrum of that agenda.
In this light, the agitation for Lagos to be accorded a “special status,” has come into the calculations for many who think and fear that the President may spring a surprise on this. That agitation has gathered strength for quite some time now, but the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, took it a notch higher last October.
Sanwo-Olu made this known while presenting the 2023 Budget Estimate for the state to the Lagos State House of Assembly in Ikeja. According to the governor, Lagos experienced increased pressure on social services due to the unhindered migration of people from other parts of the country.
“It is for this reason that I always sought and I will still continue to reiterate the need for Lagos to be accorded a special status as a national asset.”
Sanwo-Olu said Lagos was too big for the country to “allow it to fail”.
He went on, “Lagos is too strategic for us not to see that its wholesomeness is the wholesomeness of this country, that the benefits of Lagos transcend one region, one part or one scope of this country.
“As a microcosm of the entire country, Lagos deserves all the support that it can get at the national level.”
Finally, there is this thing about Tinubu and his Lagos crowd, dominating South-West politics and then transferring their turf to Nigeria. It is not just northern, it is even pronounced in the South-West.
An Editor of the Tribune Newspaper puts it succinctly in a recent article on the recent appointment of Judges into the Supreme Court recently titled, Powerful Lagos and Powerless Osun. In the lengthy article, the writer, Lasisi Olagunju, questioned why Lagos State should have two justices at the apex court when there are 22 seats meant for 37 states of the federation, arguing that it must be for a reason for “investing its men in the court.”
After arguing how Osun State, which by merit and seniority ought to get a slot for the South-West, he wrote, rather poignantly: “The wisdom of Lagos here means craftiness and determination. It gets anything it wants because it is Lagos. If you do not have money, everything you have amounts to nothing, including your wisdom. Lagos is rich both in means and guile and that combination is lethal.”
Apart from the presidency, which stated that opposition to the relocation of FAAN and CBN has no political undertone and urged those championing the conspiracy theory of a calculated means to relocate the federal capital territory from Abuja to Lagos to bury the thought, a former Governor of the bank, Muhammadu Lamido Sanusi II, a former Deputy Governor, Kingsley Moghalu and a former Director, Mohammed Yakasai, have supported the relocation. They condemned attempts to ‘politicise’, the move and agreed that the massive, aluminium façade of the 23-storey office of the Central Bank of Nigeria on Custom Street in the Lagos Central Business District was built in 2013 for the sole purpose of accommodation.
The FAAN and CBN move is an “eminently sensible move,” said Sanusi II, who supervised the building of the Lagos edifice during his tenure as governor of the bank, adding that “moving staff to Lagos office to streamline operations to make them more efficient and reduce cost is a normal prerogative of management.” Those opposed to it were playing “dirty politics,” he added.
Professor Akhaine maintained that apart from the reason of convenience and cost-cutting measures adduced for the relocation of the agencies, the Federal Government should take a bold step to revisit the Oronsaye Report for the reorganisation of the federal bureaucracy, which will lay to rest the kind of opposition that has trailed the FAAN, CBN relocation exercise.
“Otherwise in this logic, you are going to have to call for the relocation of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL to Port Harcourt or Warri and Federal Accounts Allocation Committee, FACC to Lagos.”
Although he supported the move, Sanusi II has a word or two of advice for the Central Bank authorities. He urged the bank to do proper communication of its intention so as not to open the “door to mischievous representation and arbitrariness.”
Empathy, not coldness, shows shine through policy implementation, he said. Individual circumstances should be considered when moving staff. A mother raising school age children or those with medical conditions should be allowed to remain in Abuja.
Another point he made is the issue of credibility. For him, the CBN “needs to focus on exchange rate and inflation,” to earn its credibility” among Nigerians or else it would become a target and any other thing it does would become an issue of public importance.
Yakasai emphasised the need for the government or its agencies to be clear and communicative of their policies at all times. “The problem is that if policies are unpopular, the next government will change them. So, it is necessary to avoid a crisis.”