As one of the privileged journalists that covered the historic event of the proclamation of Abuja as the New Federal Capital City of Nigeria 27 years ago, the memory of the day is still fresh in my mind. On that memorable day, being Thursday, December 12, 1991, the seat of the Federal Government of Nigeria was moved from Lagos to Abuja by the then Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
The concept of a new Federal Capital City for Nigeria was mooted by the then Head of State, late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed who later commissioned late Justice Akinola Aguda panel to work out the modalities and the areas suitable for the capital city for Nigeria as Lagos was playing dual roles as state and Federal Capital cities.
After a protracted and thorough search for a suitable land throughout the Federation, Abuja was found and recommended as the new Federal Capital Territory by the panel. Consideration and recommendation of Abuja as the new Federal Capital Territory was informed by its centrality, surplus land, and a conducive climate. Above all, Abuja does not lie on the territory of the three major tribes or ethnic groups in the country, namely the Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba.
Satisfied with the panel’s criteria and recommendation, Abuja was officially declared as Federal Capital Territory on February 3rd, 1976. Subsequently, the Federal Government commissioned two renowned Nigerian architects, late Dr. Alex Ekwueme and late Chief Emmanuel Nsiegbe, an Ikwerre illustrious son, to draw the master plan of Abuja. Successive governments made Abuja a reality by putting in the necessary initial structures.
Ekwueme and Nsiegbe did not end up their service by drawing the master plan of Abuja, their companies also participated in the infrastructural development of the city. General Babangida’s government actualised Abuja’s noble concept by officially moving the seat of the Nigerian administrative headquarters from Lagos to Abuja on Thursday the 12 December 1991.
However, few days to the movement, the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, late Major General Muhammadu Gadoo, in a press conference, informed the residents of Abuja and the entire Nigerians that the much-expected movement of the seat of the Federal Government from Lagos to Abuja would commence on Thursday, December 12, 1991. He then appealed to the residents of Abuja to turn out en-masse to accord the president and his entourage a rousing welcome.
The FCT minister also directed that the city of Abuja be kept tidy and beautified for the occasion. Similarly, he charged ministries, parastatals and corporations in Abuja to ensure that their buses were provided and staff conveyed to the city gate as early as 8:00 am to welcome and cheer the head of state. Consequently, a directive was given to Julius Berger Nigeria Plc to give the city gate a befitting retouch.
On Monday, December 9, 1991, cultural troupes from various states of the federation started arriving Abuja. They were camped at the NYSC orientation camp at Kubwa Housing Estate, Abuja. It was there they carried out their daily rehearsals for the D-Day.
On Wednesday, December 11, 1991, important personalities from all walks of life began arriving Abuja. They included traditional rulers, politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats, religious leaders, military personnel and business barons. The three popular five-star hotels in the city, namely NICON Noga Hilton, now Transcorp Hilton, Abuja Sheraton Hotel and Tower and Agura Hotel were fully booked and filled to capacity. Even the commoners from the neighbouring states such as Kaduna, Niger, Plateau, Kwara and Kogi also came to witness the great event.
As early as 7:15 am on Thursday, December 12, 1991, thousands of people thronged the city gate to cheer the president and to witness the proclamation of Abuja as the New Federal Capital city of Nigeria by Babangida. Also present at the city gate to receive the president and watch the epoch-making event were the two ex-Nigerian leaders, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, General Yakubu Gowon and his wife, Victoria. Although, both Shagari and Gowon drove into the city gate in different cars, they arrived at the same time at exactly 12:02 pm. Traditional rulers were not left out. So also were the service chiefs, AFRC members, military governors, administrators, top civil servants, religious leaders etc.
Traditional rulers at the occasion were the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Ofala Okagbue, Emir of Suleja, Alhaji Ibrahim Dodo Musa, Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atunwatsi, Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Mustapha Umar Elkanemi, Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, Tor Tiv, Chief Alfred Torkula, Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Usman Nagogo, Emir of Zaria, Alhaji Shehu Idris, Emir of Minna, Alhaji Faruk Bahago, Emir of Bauchi, Alhaji Suleman Adamu etc.
The Vice President, late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, and all the service chiefs then were present. They were the Minister of Defence and Chief of Defence Staff, late General Sani Abacha, Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Salihu Ibrahim, Chief of Naval Staff; Vice Admiral Murtala Nyako, Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Nureni Yusuf, and Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Aliyu Attah. AFRC members present were Rear Admiral Chijioke Kaja, Brigadier E.B. Opaleye, Rear Admiral D.O. Makinde, Brigadier Tunde Ogbeha, Brigadier Ahmed Daku etc.
Ministers present were the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola, Minister of Transport, Air Commodore Tony Ikhazobo, Minister of Civil Aviation, Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas and Minister of Information, Chief Alex Akinyele.
Governors at the city gate were Col Tanko Ayuba of Kaduna State, Col Godwin Abbe of Rivers State, Lt Col Lawan Gwadabe of Niger State, Col Raji Rasaki of Lagos, Wing Commander Ndogesit Nkanga of Akwa Ibom State, Col John Madaki of Katsina State, Col. Herbert Eze of Enugu State, Col Joshua Madaki of Plateau State and those from Kogi, Taraba, Osun, Anambra and Yobe States were also present.
Business barons present were Alhaji Aminu Dantata, Chief MKO Abiola, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, Alhaji Shehu Mallami, Chief Michael Ibru and Alhaji Yinka Folawiyo.
Six former ministers of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were also there. They were Alhaji Iro Dan-Musa, Chief Mark Okoye, Mr. John Kadiya, Alhaji Dantoro and Air Vice-marshal Hamza Abdullahi. These were the notable personalities who witnessed the proclamation of Abuja as the new seat of the Federal Government of Nigeria by Babangida on Thursday, December 12, 1991.
Few minutes after these eminent Nigerians were seated, Babangida arrived at the city gate. He was accompanied by his wife, Maryam, and two daughters, Aishat and Halima. They were received by the FCT Minister, Major General Muhammadu Gado Nasko, and his wife, Fatima.
Speaking shortly after the master key of Abuja was handed over to him by Nasco, the president recalled the colourful roles played by Lagos during and after independence. He said Lagos had served Nigeria well and faithfully. It was from Lagos that the battle for our freedom was fought and won, he averred. “Lagos shall forever remain the gateway of our nation’s economy, our largest seaport and our most important link with the outside world. Lagos, indeed, I will miss you”, the president lamented.
On the movement of the seat of Nigeria from Lagos to Abuja, the president cautioned that it should not be seen as a gain or a loss to any section of the country. Rather, it should be seen as a gain for all Nigerians. The movement of our capital city from Lagos to Abuja, he maintained, is a manifestation of our collective resolve to live together under one nation, one destiny and one God.
27 years after, Abuja has become a sprawling and a luscious city. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Abuja is the black man’s new Eden. A luxurious city for the high and the low, for the rich and the poor, and for all and sundry.
Ogbuehi wrote in from Eagle Island, Port Harcourt.