“Daddy… daddy… Six Elrufais are at Mummy’s shop!”
The young nursery school boy shouted to his father as he reached home. The father was bamboozled by the countenance portrayed on the innocent face of his child. The father wondered the authenticity of the claim. At Mummy’s Shop? He mused: could it be some people were at the shop for shopping or looting.
He couldn’t wait to probe the child further as he dashed into his car, zooming off at top speed to his wife’s shop. His heart kept on pumping with the mixture of joy and fear of the unknown. Could it be the Elrufai, the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) who was allegedly declared wanted by the court? Or could there be another popular Elrufai that a child of 4 years could easily pronounce the name like nursery rhymes for the kindergarten kids?
The only popular Elrufai is the not too tall a minister whose works in term of physical development of Abuja is as unique as the pains that goes with the restoration of the original master plan of FCT. A highly intelligent person who always has his ways on various reforms of the administration but without large followership of ardent supporters of his hard-line stance that make city dwellers give him various nicknames. He is so passionate about the master plan that he was once quoted to have expressed his personal experience that: “You do not know how painful the reclamation of Abuja master plan is until you have your family members and friends come to you in the dead of the night crying that the policy has affected him or her. Then you will feel the pain. But it is something that needs to be done.”
As dreadful as some may perceive his fearless resolve, the father of the kid believes Elrufai has a soft spot too. He witnessed an incident at the premises of FCT when some old women ambushed the minister on a Friday as he arrived from the mosque. As the official car edged into his parking lot, the women dashed forward but were restricted by his overzealous security men. Knowing the implication of not conveying their grievances directly to him, the women screamed out pleadingly. He turned towards their direction and asked the security personnel to give them access.
With fears written on their face, tears about to roll down their cheek, they attempted to prostrate before he discourage them. From a distance one could read the agony of motherhood – agony of deprivation – an agony that is usually associated with the poor. The minister was attentive, readily disposed to listen as they reeled out their predicament. Momentarily, he summoned some of his aides and gave a directive which made the women spontaneously in joyous moods. Within a few minutes the jubilant women were beaming with smile, praying and praising the minister. The compassionate disposition of the minister in tolerating and accommodating their request may therefore be borne out of two obvious reasons: either he was emotionally moved by their plights or was convinced that they would have been unjustly treated.
In recapitulation of the situation on ground, the father of the young school boy kept on ruminating on what might befall his wife or the shop. He quickly noticed a heavy presence of policemen around the Area 7 Shopping Complex, which largely accommodates stores and shops for stationeries, computers accessory, business centres and printing press in Abuja. As he attempted to park his car, his attention was drawn to six huge bulldozers menacingly stationed at the shopping complex. His heart skipped, as the presence of those giant demolishing equipments reminds one of executioners at firing square, well-armed and ready for order to strike. Probably those were what the child referred to as “Six Elrufais.”
Illegal squatters and genuine shop owners were in frenzy moving out their wares and not in the frame of mind to argue or defend their shops. Once Abuja Bulldozer visits, like popular military parlance obey-before-complain, park-out-before-complain become the order. Afterall top public officers, politicians and millionaires were not spared in the spate of demolition to restore the Abuja masterplan. The extremely rich can afford replacements not the lesser mortals who will pray to higher heaven to retain their sanity from committing suicide after such demolition, especially where one has genuine allocation.
The few that still had the gut brought out their allocation papers. Most of the papers were officially issued by past administrations with their shops indicated in the plan of the complex likewise the man’s wife too whose shop was among those strategically located at the gates that had approval and in the masterplan. So what could have been the problem?
Stories abound, like gossips that some fifth columnists, for the purpose of extortion, regularly visited the complex to intimidate owners with threats of demolition on flimsy excuses. They usually claimed that the complex was intended to be an abattoir. Through undesirable connivance with insiders, those elements receive regular generous allowance, a ridiculous monetization by spreading rumours and concocting stories to confuse owners and occupants only to extort them. In fact on the day the six-bulldozers (tagged six-elrufais) visited, negotiations and consultations were going on with speculation that once the owners play ball their shops might be spared. At another corner were some policemen, on the assignment, enjoying themselves with free meal and drinks from to-be-victims, thinking they could be their messiah. The generosity to security personnel might be a demonstration of being our-brothers’-keepers if not corruption in the day light.
The man looked at the horrific face of his spouse as she was vomiting blood…red human blood and imagined the agony many had gone through as they face a bleak dilemma which was so sudden. The assurance that her shop was legitimately acquired through appropriate authority with intervention of a highly respected former administrator of the city could not douse the apprehension of the woman.
The six bulldozers were just there with the security personnel doing nothing until the third day when their engines roared and moved like armored tanks used in destroying Iraq. They mauled all the structures on sight around the complex: places of worship, legal and illegal structures to the consternation of the new victims who must start their business afresh if they are lucky to get new capitals. Miraculously inner shops were not destroyed to the celebration of their owners who had early removed their wares.
The lessons to be learned here is that Elrufai is human like all of us and is doubtful if he has clear pictures of all the demolition taking place in Abuja especially when there is obvious existence of a systematic connivance of undesirable elements for the purpose of extorting hapless occupants of properties through threats of demolition. It also seems the poor bulldozers relish the exercise so that they are not willing to go for break or holidays few weeks to the end of the administration after all they have done. My advice is that no matter the situation, it would be worthwhile if adequate compensations or alternative arrangements are provided immediately to allow genuine and innocent victims of demolition to recover from their losses.
Lets us pray that we shall not be caught off guard like some victims of demolishers who have invested in their properties and have the right papers.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in New Nigerian April 6, Leadership April 8 and Sunday Trust April 15,2007