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By Magnus Eze
What many people may not know is that there are at least nine indigenous tribes in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), namely Amwamwa, Bassa, Egbira, Gade, Ganagana, Gbagyi, Gbari, Gwandara and Koro.
Last week, all of them converged at the Unity Fountain, Abuja, as one people with a common destiny in commemoration of this year’s International Day of Indigenous Peoples of the World.
The event, marked on August 9, witnessed various cultural displays from the respective groups and participants, mainly youths, joined the performing troupes, not minding whether it was their own group or not.
FCT natives used the occasion to show that even though tribe and tongue may differ, they stood united in brotherhood. This was well displayed when the contingent from Abaji, identified as Ebira Koto, took to the stage; before long, the whole arena went into a frenzy as the crowd joined in the dance.
When it was the turn of the Abawa (Ganagana), who are renowned for farming, the men, dressed in rags and wielding farm tools, especially hoes, machetes and cudgels, like the typical farmers they were, demonstrated their principal vocation.
A somewhat magical performance was put up by a man bearing two live tortoises who intermittently dipped the heads of the animals into his mouth. With a fire-eater accompanying him, the duo became the cynosure of all eyes as they thrilled the crowd.
The FCT natives also used the opportunity to present their plight as natives whose land has been converted to the nation’s capital.
Over 40 years after their land was designated Nigeria’s capital, the people still suffer culture shock occasioned by the development of the territory, which led to the removal of people from their ancestral homes and spiritual symbols such as Zuma Rock. Today, they still brood over seeing their ancestral land being referred to as no man’s land while battling with issues about adjusting to the new environment.
Prince Gbaiza, national coordinator, Greater Gbagyi Development Initiative of Nigeria (GG-DIN) had at a forum in Abuja recently, to agitate for the rights of FCT indigenes, emphasised that the issues must be redressed because, if the people are left with nothing, then the heritage of the Gbagyi man would go extinct.
The Esu of Kwali, Alhaji Nizazo Shaban III, in talking about the history of his people, also said their settlements have been destroyed by modernisation: “Sometimes, we call ourselves the missing tribes. If we do not work very hard, the Gbagyi of Abuja will disappear with time. Development will consume the Gbagyi people and we may not see them again.”
Similarly, assistant coordinator of FCT indigenes, Dalhatu Musa, told Daily Sun that it was the need to preserve their threatened identities that made them key into the global celebrations.
For him, it was a day of identity as they did not have any other place to call their own aside the FCT.
Their grouse with the government notwithstanding, he said, “We must appreciate God because we are alive; two, because we belong somewhere. There are people in refugee camps and they can’t celebrate because that is not where they belonged but have been relocated somewhere. But we find ourselves where our ancestors founded and left for us for about 600 years ago.”
Even though they are in their land, Musa added that their people were being treated as refugees: “It’s only in this part of the country that you sleep in your house and wake up the following day seeing somebody with a letter of allocation, that where you are living is his plot of land. And this person is coming from Sokoto, Lagos or other parts of Nigeria.”
He explained that the displacement of FCT indigenes from their land has affected their livelihood with attendant social problems.
Musa debunked government’s claim that the original inhabitants of the FCT were resettled, saying the Federal Government had been feeding people with lies regarding the issue.
According to the spokesman of FCT indigenes, “The wrong impression created out there is what we must correct here. The idea of FCT as capital city of Nigeria was to be that the city would be planned on virgin land. Remember the Aguda Panel was set up to note that there were people existing here; what would they do with them? Government was to resettle them elsewhere so that they would have the land left for development.
“All the names you hear in Abuja are settlements, Maitama, Asokoro, Kubwa, Jabi, Garki, Wuye and others. People have been here for ages and when government came, starting with the Shehu Shagari era, they noticed that the amount of money needed to do the resettlement was too much and they couldn’t afford it. So they started resettlement in staggered form, that’s why there is Karu and New Karu; Wuse and New Wuse.
“If you go back and check how it was carried out, you will find out that it was a caricature. They didn’t resettle the people of FCT. If they did, why do we still have the issue, would government resettle somebody and the person would still remain (on the land that) government wants to use? Why do we still have the Department of Resettlement in the FCDA?”
Asked the solution to the issue, he said the best option would be to integrate the original settlements into the Abuja master plan, since government lacked the resources to actually resettle the people: “We know that it is a whole lot of burden on government; so what is cheaper to do is integration. There is no wisdom in moving Nigerians from their base and bringing in other Nigerians.”
Various speakers at the occasion lamented the failure of government to treat the FCT as a state for them to have a ministerial slot. If not recognised as a state, they said a mayor should be appointed for the territory.
In fact, Musa reasoned that his people had been long relegated to the background not minding their sacrifice for the nation. He indicated that the whole thing would soon come to a head. Even where there were court orders restraining government from tampering with their land, he alleged that the Department of Development Control had always moved in its bulldozers to dislodge the natives.
He said, “It’s getting to a point that we’ve been pushed to the wall and we will not continue taking it; for people to continue working in aberration to court orders and think because they have money or are super Nigerians, they can just go and dislodge people from their homes. The people will fight back through any other means; some people will lose their lives as a result of this.
“You don’t keep embarrassing harmless people who have continued to be peaceful for the peaceful co-existence of this country. People will not continue to keep quiet; if they have wood, machete, whatever they have at their disposal to fight back, they will fight back, because that is their last resort.
“A person pushed to the wall will fight back; he will bite you because that is the only means left.”
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on August 9 each year to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population. This event also recognises the achievements and contributions that indigenous people make to improve world issues such as environmental protection.