Economy General

El-Rufai: From Privatization To Demolition

Nasir El-Rufai, Minister FCT

Fear . . . fear and fear gripped most of the poor settlers and residents of Abuja immediately the Federal Government announced the name of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as the new Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The fear is not far fetched since the no- nonsense man is known to always accomplish his mission once he sets his target. He doesn’t allow emotion and sentiments to distract his perceived righteous task towards improvement of the nation’s economy. While he was the Director General, Bureau for Public Enterprises, he aggressively pursued the privatization of several public institutions to the admiration of even the critics of that policy because of the transparent manner the exercises were conducted.

During his sojourn at the Bureau, his commendable style of administration was rated high to the extent he was generally referred to as Mr. Privatization. Through his efforts, public institutions whose services were seemingly subsidized or near free to Nigerians were virtually privatized. A celebrated personality in the economic circle, he attempted and sometimes succeeded in the privatization of agencies responsible for tourism, electricity generation, water supply, aviation, factories, telecommunications, petroleum, financial institutions and hospitality industry. What was probably not billed for privatization is the natural air we breathe.

At the end of every bid, the major and singular beneficiaries remain the rich… indeed super-rich who some argue, might have negotiated on the prospective winner amongst themselves before the exercise, while the poor citizenry were allowed the opportunity to freely view or hear the live transaction of the make belief competitive bidding from the electronic media. Unfortunately with laudable steps taking by the Bureau in its statutory responsibilities, there was very strong odor oozing out and emitting the air about some alleged investors fronting for big personalities in buying some of the public companies.

There is also the argument that deregulation of the economy is a better alternative to privatization because the government does not need to sell its properties, including the workforce, at ridiculous give away prices, to the financiers. Examples were cited of the success of the Global System on Mobile(GSM) in the country where conducive and enabling environment were provided through the liberalization of the telecommunication sector. The successful bidders that emerged through that exercise, which was not conducted by Bureau for Public Enterprises, did not buy-off government corporations but paid the licence fees in millions of dollars, spent more fortune to bring in their equipment, recruit staff, procure lands, maintain their own security and actually provide everything from needle to bigger machineries, and yet, they make more profit. From that transparent exercise, even if these companies fronted for known big shots, the GSM operators create more employment opportunity, revitalize the economy and engage in several corporate social responsibilities without acquiring public assets. Privatization unlike deregulation is inimical to social development as workers are retrenched and services are made more costly than they were.

It must be stated that since individuals are not directly involved in the establishments of the public enterprises, their voices may be worthless against the disposal to the privileged few in the name of privatization. But the individuals would be threatened if they are deprived from their direct investment through reckless demolition of their businesses and shelter.

The appointment of Mr. El-Rufai as the custodian of the Federal Capital City may be a welcome development if only to reward the poor for their patience and perseverance in allowing the rich have their way in buying off these public utilities. The compensation for the tolerance and endurance is to give the impoverished residents of Abuja the right to maintain their businesses and shelters without harassment or intimidation over demotion of those properties. After all it would satisfy the government policy on shelter for all.

It was surprising therefore, that the new minister of the Federal Capital Territory on resumption of office, has vowed that notwithstanding the controversy generated by the planned demolition of illegal structure in the city in the past, his Ministry would go on with the exercise. No one may be against demolition of structures built to disrupt sewage system, electricity supply and road networks but it would be very wrong to demolish those settlements on flimsy excuses that may be interpreted as punishment to deprive the poor family the means of livelihood and peaceful dwelling. Excuses may be giving that relevant authorities did not authorize the settlements, but how could ordinary Nigerians get land allocation from FCDA, when the same lands that are exclusively allocated to the elites and the connected, are resold to highest bidders? Since even senior civil servants hardly obtain official allocation, those who could afford the financial risk cough out millions of Naira to procure a small parcel of land with the Certificate of Occupancy.

It may interest many to know that the popular districts approved by the government, i.e., Garki, Wuse, Maitama, Asokoro and to some degree Kubwa are occupied by only few blue blood residents who constitute the minority in the Federal Capital. The larger populace who are in the majority obtain customary consent of local chiefs to dwell in such remote settlements as Lugbe, Gwagwa, Nyanya, Idu Karimo, Kucingoro, Karimajiji, Aleta, Piya Kasa, Gosha, and Chikka etc. In fact the inhabitants of the rural habitats are mostly non-privileged civil servants who are not entitled to government quarters such as apprentices, journalists, petty and emergency contractors, labourers, traders, bankers, junior government workers, corps members, unemployed graduates and the downtrodden masses searching for livelihoods. By the time the monetisation in public service is fully implemented, most civil servants would vacate official residence to reside in the rural settlements where their allowances could afford. Surprisingly most of the landlords of the rustic communities are politicians, elected representatives of the people, top civil servants, especially staff of Federal Capital Development Authority, amongst other elites.

Unfortunately, successive previous administrators in the capital city could not make provision to accommodate the influx of large migrants of Nigerians into the capital city by providing necessary infrastructures that would cater for the residents. There was no master plan to ensure that buildings in those areas meet the minimum standard. Due to these neglects and nonchalant attitudes of the relevant authorities over those settlements, there are individual initiatives of the settlers in the provision of schools, clinics, security posts and markets, without much government participation.

Since the inhabitants of unofficial localities are considered as lower class and outcasts, security agencies hardly provide enough security for protection of lives and properties which invariably resulted to menace of prostitution, stealing, drug addiction, robbery and occasional sectional confrontations in the areas.

The single prayer in the lips of most of Abuja dwellers, though the minority voice, is for the new Minister to reward the poor for their patience during the privatization exercise where, due to their weak finances, they could not partake in the auction jamboree of public utilities. They expect him, as an acclaimed Quantity Surveyor, to provide the rural areas with social amenities, open the rural road networks and provide maximum security to the residents without disrupting the Abuja Master Plan. Any action that would result to massive demolition of houses and exacerbate the crime rate, would give the rich and political class, endless sleepless nights because the poor are fully awake over preventive deprivation.

Unlike the B.P.E. whose stakeholders are the regulatory bodies, slated companies and prospective investors, the stakeholders in the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory are the entire residents and visitors from the beggars on the street to the occupants of Aso Rock and from the electorates to the elected officials, they all have equal right to live anywhere as provided by the constitution. It is therefore the responsibility of the government to provide an enabling environment for the citizens to be adequately sheltered regardless of social status and without fear of demolition to please members of the affluent class or that of international community coming for a game. Every public officer must know the time to exhibit the traits of technocracy as experts in chosen fields and that of politicians representing the aspirations of the people. This time around Mallam El-Rufai must be a true politician that listens to the people and solves their problems.

This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Daily Independent August19, Daily Times August 28-29, Daily Trust August 29, Daily Champion September 2, New Nigeria September 9, Punch September 9, Monitor August 27,2003


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Yushau Shuaib

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