Fondly called Mama Press, Dr Jumai Ahmadu is the acting director of the newly-created Department of Coordination and Service Improvement (DCSI) under the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA). The University of Jos Political Science graduate who also has a PhD in Public Policy Analysis from the University of Abuja in this interview with Taofeek LAWAL spoke about the activities of her department and how they intend to make Abuja one of the best run cities in the world.
The Department of Coordination and Service Improvement (DCSI) which you are superintending is new in the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA). What necessitated the establishment of the department at this point in time and what have you been doing?
The main reason the Federal Government sent circular to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to set up this department is to just see that services that are already being rendered are improved upon concerning the issues that are initiated by the department. It is also about the monitoring of activities from the nook and cranny of the FCT but most importantly, it is to ensure that citizens get value for all the services that the government set out to provide for them. And this is just the general idea about this department. It is to make sure that services are improved upon and the values delivered to citizens and residents of the FCT.
Since coming on board, have you noticed any changes or improvement based on what you just said now in the FCT?
The FCTA has primed us as one of the best agencies in Nigeria because our engineers are the best so also are our architects and we are not relenting; we aim for the best always. Despite this, we believe that there is always room for improvement which is why DCSI was set up. I can tell you that since we came on board, other departments are also doing their best to ensure that they maintain that level of quality service delivery that we are known for. For example, the Directorate of Road Traffic Service (DRTS), popularly referred to as VIO have really stepped up their services as far as registration of vehicle particular is concerned. This you can do in the comfort of your room and the payment is monitored by those concerned up to the director. For the FCT Water Board, the management has made it a point of duty to inform the residents ahead whenever any issue that has to do with water supply comes up. We try as much as possible to reach out to the residents to let them know why they are having issues with supply in their various homes. The registration of land in the FCT has also been digitalized and that is under the purview of the Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS). As long as you don’t have any issue with your application, anything that has to do with land will be ready within two weeks. There can only be delay only when you cannot be reached or there are issues with your application process. So for us, it is a work in progress and we will keep striving to ensure that we get to the best and achieve the best; as we all know perfection belongs to God alone. Our landmark project since we came on board is the citizens’ engagement platform that was launched some weeks back which has given FCT residents, visitors and Nigerians abroad to have the opportunity to interface with the FCT and ask any questions through the platform. The platform is a one-stop-shop where people can do whatever they want to do with the administration apart from some delicate financial transactions. Any information that has to do with FCTA is available on the platform. Individuals and groups in particular locations can open accounts so that we can know what is happening in their areas or localities and this (citizens’ engagement platform) is our flagship project.
You mentioned the VIO and the Water Board and you will agree that lately there have been a series of complaints on these two agencies. In recent times, Abuja residents have been complaining of lack and shortage of water. How is your department collaborating with these agencies and others to provide necessary services to the residents?
In the case of water shortage which we have been witnessing lately, it is as a result of some certain unscrupulous elements within us who have formed the habits of vandalizing public properties meant to serve the citizens and the water installation is not an exception. All the cases that we have had that led to water shortage are as a result of the activities of these vandals. These people went to vandalize the main trunk supplying water from the Usuma Dam to the city and fixing this will take time. I want to implore our people to be vigilant to safeguard our infrastructure so that all these problems will be nipped in the bud. It is the responsibility of the citizens to safeguard government infrastructure. I always tell people that if you see somebody vandalizing government property and you don’t say anything or report to appropriate authorities; invariably it means that you are an accomplice in the crime. The water problem is man-made and it is not that our facilities are not working. This act of vandalizing government properties has eaten deep into these vandals and it is not peculiar to water installation alone. You will notice that our traffic lights and street lights are also being vandalized everyday by people. We appeal to residents to partner us in safeguarding government property and infrastructure.
What do you have to say about the VIOs who have made life uncomfortable for motorists and how is your department collaborating with them to ensure that Nigerians move freely in the nation’s capital?
I think it is just about the manner of approach and you know we are somehow impatient on the road. I have had encounters with them and the manner of approach and how you relate with them determine how long or short you will stay with them. If they ask you to present your particulars, don’t be aggressive or harsh in your approach but show it to them. If your vehicle papers are valid, no one will delay you. Why you see them delaying some motorists is that they have software that makes them to detect fake particulars and number plates from afar. If my particulars are not okay, they can take me to their office to do the right thing but keeping people on the road for a long time should stop.
But there are reports that the VIOs have been mandated to commence operations by 10 o’clock in the morning to allow for seamless traffic to the city but you discover that they are on the road as early as possible and this is causing untold hardship to commuters and motorists alike?
I will take that up with the Director (of the DRTS) and find out why this is happening because I know that because of the complaint we received in the past and they (VIOs) were asked to be coming out by 10 in the morning so that there can be ease movement of traffic to the city centre from the satellite and adjourning towns around FCT. But again, they need to be at various interchanges to control traffic and that might be reason they come out early. I witnessed something recently at Gudu junction recently but for the intervention of the VIOs, the traffic there could have been chaotic. Sometimes, they are out to observe traffic situation before starting to check vehicles after 10am.
With what you have said so far it is certain that you will need to collaborate with security agencies to achieve your objectives and to fend off criminal elements from the FCT?
Of course we are collaborating with them through our security services department but we cannot work independent of a department that already exists. Whenever there is a problem, complaints, save-our-soul (SOS) calls or any calls that involve the security agencies, we root it to the director of security although we still have the direct numbers of the Police in case of emergency and they act swiftly to our calls. Just last Friday, there was an incident in Lugbe after the demolition in the Pyakassa area and some hoodlums took law into their hands. They started harassing innocent and unsuspecting passers-by.
The fact that it was a weekend did not stop us from contacting the police and immediately they dispatched their men to the scene and they restored normalcy to that area. This shows that we have a very cordial relationship with all the security agencies through the security services department.
You said your landmark project is the citizens’ engagement program held some weeks back but I discovered that the citizens are not really on ground there that day but only the stakeholders. Why are you not engaging the citizens properly?
No, it is not like that. The platform as I said is a robust platform that people have to come on board which is the stage that we are now. You have to create your account to tell us what is happening in your place. What we are doing now is to upload all the stakeholders’ departments so that you can know who to address your challenges to when the need arises. People are still registering and we encourage everyone and I believe you have also registered. The stakeholders have to be there including the traditional rulers from the grassroots with their pictures and names which will carry their e-mail addresses and phone numbers. The stakeholders must be available at all times so that people will know the people they are relating with, all our directors all on the platform too.
Given the fact that FCT is big and covers a big land mass, how are you reaching people in areas like Abaji, Bwari and others considering that there might be network problems in these locations?
Like I always said, I believe that in each of the Area Councils where we have 62 wards, there are councillors who I am sure in the 21st century have a phone that can be used to browse and reach the outside world. Let assume that there is no network in the councillor’s village, I am sure that by the time he comes to the local government headquarters, he will get a network. So, when his people whom he is representing complain to him, he will surely reach out to the platform to table what is affecting his people and we will get back to him. We have ways we have been interfacing with them. There is a WhatsApp group for the 62 councillors and for the 6 Area Council chairmen that will enable us to reach out to them easily to know what is happening in their various locations. And they are duty bound since they are the representatives of their people to tell the FCTA where things need to be improved upon. The Area Council Service Secretariat is bound to go and carry out a baseline survey of all the communities to know what their needs are so that they can present that as a basis to do the budget of 2022. The Minister of State, FCT has said that the baseline survey is the basis to prepare our budget. The era of some people sitting in Area 11 and preparing a budget has passed particularly for the area councils. Although these area councils have their elected representatives that should do some of these things for them but FCT intervene as a state to ensure that people enjoy government presence at the grassroots.
Have you thought of going to these area councils and have town hall meetings with them?
This we have proposed as part of our work plan for the year and the Permanent Secretary (of the FCT) said it is fine. We are definitely on this and we are going to break it down clusters by clusters so that we can reach out to everybody. The Minister of the FCT and the Minister of State, FCT will launch the maiden edition and from there we will be going out with the stakeholders’ department. Each of the meetings will be linked to a particular department to ensure that they communicate to the people or what people should expect from them.
How are your staff coping with the challenges at hand having in mind that this is entirely a new department under the FCTA?
Before now, the FCT Call Centre has been in existence for long and they have been working there. They know what is expected of them and we have carried out a series of training and it is going to be an ongoing exercise for them to get abreast with all the new development in the area of service delivery. We do comparative analysis of cities in the world that are similar things that we are doing and how best we can achieve the same bearing in mind our own peculiar environment. Abuja is not the same as Washington DC in America or the city of Sao Paulo in Brazil, but we can learn from what they have done.
What are your expectations from the citizens or residents especially as it concerns feedback?
It is a symbiotic relationship meaning it is a two-way relationship. They need to give us information which we are going to act on. The citizens have to take responsibility in the area that they need to act. For example, you have to pay your bills for the government to serve you better. If you don’t pay your tax, you don’t have the moral right to start asking government questions. But what we need in the FCT now is just basic information from the citizens when things are not going as expected especially as it has to do with security of lives and property. They should call the call centre where services are not being rendered as expected. Over the weekend, we had an incident of trees that fell on pole wire and the Parks and Recreation Department were called on to trim the trees and restored normalcy there. These are the things we expect from the citizens. They should be part of how the city is being managed and be partners-in-progress.