The Court of Appeal sitting in Kaduna will this Thursday, August 2, hear how a high court’s order failed to prevent a bulldozer from demolishing a property at No.11B Sambo Road, Kaduna, on February 20, this year. The plaintiff, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, will want to know whether Nigerian law is not meant to be obeyed by people in high places.
When the senator first got a hint that a bulldozer had attacked his house that day, he promptly notified a high court in Kaduna, which ruled that all parties maintain the status quo until the case was heard. The next day, the bulldozer returned to complete the demolition of the storey building used as the secretariat of a faction of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kaduna State; it pulled down the boys’ quarter on the same plot too.
The property’s owner obviously knew who was masked behind the bulldozer: he had earned the sobriquet “Bulldozer” as minister of the Federal Capital Territory from 2003 to 2007 because his tenure was marked by demolition of houses, residential and commercial – an act that killed many and rendered many more homeless.
Hunkuyi took to his Twitter handle to announce: “In the early hours of today, the @GovKaduna Mallam @elrufai personally drove a bulldozer accompanied by armored tanks to destroy my house at 11B Sambo Road. This is a new low and fighting dirty with such low level of pettiness is indeed unprecedented in Kaduna State.” Later in the day he followed up with another tweet: “It is on record that a few months back, @GovKaduna Mallam @elrufai marked another property of mine in Hunkuyi town for demolition but residents of the area prevented the officials from demolishing it. Today, he came well prepared with military men to destroy my house at Sambo Road.”
Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, had an axe to grind with Hunkuyi. But that was after the now demolished house had served as his campaign office when he was running for governor – Hunkuyi was an active participant in his campaigns. But the two friends started a fight over ownership of the APC political structure in the state, leading to the emergence of at least two factions.
At first, nobody accepted responsibility for the demolition. In court, the state government said it wasn’t involved. Out of court, the Kaduna State Geographical Information Service (KADGIS) said it demolished the property for alleged violations of land use and non-payment of ground rent. Few believed the agency, for non-payment of ground rent was rarely a crime punishable by demolition of a property. Using the house as an office for a faction of the APC was the actual “crime”.
The government agency claimed to have given the appropriate notice of revocation, saying it was “delivered at 28 Inuwa Wada Road, the registered address of the company that held the title to the property. The notice was also delivered to the building in question, and sent by post to the registered address of the previous title holder.”
Almost immediately after, the state government revoked ownership of the property and allocated it to another agency, the Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Agency (KASUPDA), “for the purpose of developing and maintaining a public park that will provide a green area and a serene place for recreation in that residential neighbourhood.”
With no court injunctions or sittings in sight, KASUPDA went to work, fencing the plot and building a children’s park. Work is in progress there.
Judging by his actions in the past, Governor el-Rufai or his agent may not honour the appeal court’s invitation on Thursday. As a sitting governor, he enjoys immunity from prosecution. If he did not respect court summons as a minister without immunity when he descended on Abuja residents, is it when he has immunity he would respond?
Many concerned Nigerians have advised him to desist from transferring his deeds in Abuja to his home state, for Kaduna needs builders and not destroyers. Were he less passionate about demolishing houses, he would seek to develop virgin forests found in many corners of the state and worry less about those who “tampered with government land” or failed to pay ground rent. After all, government did not pay (adequate) compensation to the original owners of Kaduna land. Certificates of occupancy and other papers are recent inventions.
One of his first acts as governor was an attempt to chase beggars off the streets of Kaduna and Zaria. Then, he sacked about 50, 000 teachers who were deemed “unqualified” because they failed or refused to take tests administered by the government. Well-meaning Kaduna people like senators Hunkuyi and Shehu Sani viewed the move as wicked, because government is expected to eradicate poverty and not to wipe out poor people. On the floor of the Senate, Sani called the governor “an affliction on Kaduna State”!
In the FCT Abuja, many are yet to forgive him for demolishing their homes and business premises along with their personal belongings. He never considered an alternative accommodation for his victims before inviting the bulldozer. And those who went to court were ignored. It was an era of impunity writ large, as he was “recovering government land”. The irony is that, 12 or 13 years later, most of the places he “recovered” still lie fallow – even those seized and handed over to the rich and the powerful (including members of his family) have yet to be developed. The Abuja master plan is yet to be restored, and there are no clear-cut rules for land administration in the FCT up to this day. Some who applied to be allocated land since 1980 have received no attention, but el-Rufai as minister freely gave out pieces of land to his wives, children, friends and relations. When some senators took him on, his defence was weak: he said his relations were Nigerian citizens and therefore deserved to be allocated land in Abuja. To him it wasn’t abuse of office!
That’s why, after he was elected governor, many wanted to see the assets he declared as well as how and when he acquired them. But he never made his assets declaration public, and he sued someone who published a list of properties he allegedly owned.
A surveyor and also a lawyer, el-Rufai ought to abide by the rule of law, learn to respect other people’s rights, and treat courts of competent jurisdiction with respect. If, however, he continues to tread on a familiar path, he should be prepared for more confrontations. In fact, the senator who has dragged him and his government to court for demolishing his property, Hunkuyi, is getting set to contest against him for governor on the platform of another political party. When he showed up at the PDP office in Kaduna a few days ago, he was welcomed with chants of “oyoyo!”
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