Those who argue against a mayoralty for Abuja contend that given the character of Nigerian politics, a mayor elected on the platform of a party different from that of the party in power at the centre could be a recipe for a rancorous playing to the gallery by the different political factions of the elite. Opponents also argue that given the fact that many people registered to vote in their home states, an elected mayor for Abuja could become the monopoly of either Abuja indigenes or certain ethnic groups or special interests that could undermine the original vision of making the city a home for all Nigerians. And as if to accentuate this fear, shortly after the Senate voted to reject the proposal for a constitutional amendment to revert the administration of the FCT to a mayoralty, the Original Inhabitants Development Association of Abuja (OIDA), announced a one-million-man march to the Senate to project the rejection of the proposed mayoral status for the FCT and the non-inclusion of FCT issues for debate by the House of Representatives Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution.
Despite these concerns however, there are compelling reasons why the idea of a mayor – not just for Abuja but for many of the mega cities in the country – deserves consideration. Though there is a wide variance in local laws and customs regarding the powers and responsibilities of a mayor as well as the means the officer is elected or otherwise mandated, the belief is that the complex challenges facing big cities, especially the capitals, will be best addressed by an executive mayor. This is because quite often the central government tends to focus on core areas of the capital such as Asokoro, Maitama, Wuse and Garki in Abuja. A mayor will be more responsive to the needs of the entire city, including its sub-urban parts than a central overarching administration. It is instructive that many big capital cities in the world today such as London and Washington have since embraced the idea of mayoralty and in several of these places the benefits have been obvious.
A more compelling reason for a mayoralty in Abuja is that it makes little sense in a democracy to have a minister who holds his or her position at the behest of the President to superintend over a territory treated as a state by the Constitution and which also has elected area councillors. Considering the quantum of funds that flow to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the anomaly has led to a certain perception that the FCT is one of the most veritable sources of slush funds.
This perception of the FCT needs to change, which is why there is a crying need for an elected mayor who would run for office every four years – just like governors – and be accountable to the electorate. To checkmate abuse of power and also help improve accountability, the proposed Abuja mayoralty should have both legislative and executive councils while still maintaining its local government status. Fears by opponents that a mayoralty for Abuja could lead to domination by certain ethnic groups or special interests are unfounded. A proper delineation of responsibilities of the mayoralty would ensure that every tier og government understands it roles and responsibilities.
As the Federal Capital of Nigeria, Abuja should be a home for all-irrespective of where they come from. People who have satisfied the necessary residency requirement must be allowed to vote and be voted for available political offices. Above all, the city should be made to work and seen to be working – in all areas, not just where the elite, top government functionaries and the party apparatchiks live or own property.
The Senate should revisit its and move in a more democratic manner to return Abuja to the status of a mayoralty.