By Godwin Onyeacholem
Dear Honourable Minister,
As you read this letter, I have a feeling you are most likely wrapping up preparations for the commemoration of your 1000th day in office as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). If you are the type who sticks to dates, January 10, 2013, is it. Congratulations sir!
Indeed, you deserve no less. In a steadily diminishing country like Nigeria, where bootlicking and patronage determine who gets what and thus transform individual lives from poverty to criminal riches in a twinkle of an eye, you would no doubt be the object of envy. Not a few among your compatriots, including your friends and contemporaries, known and unknown, would be wishing they were wearing your shoes, in spite of the sycophantic colours with which they are painted.
For sure, a man in a very high political position such as yours, one of the very few positions which you public officers and those outside government describe as “juicy,” would have every reason to occasionally call out drummers and invite friends to come and dance and make merry as you celebrate a milestone. From the little I know of public office holders in this country, next week may witness one of such occasions for you. 1000 days in office? Not a mean feat. Please, honourable minister, correct me if I’m right (apologies Rudolf Okonkwo).
Yet the ceremony will begin as it has always been in this part of the world. In the habitual practise of appealing to divine blessings, imams and pastors will be there to offer prayers and declare the event as duly registered in heaven. And trust Nigerians. Amid the wining and dining, there would be enough massaging of your already bloated ego.
The venue will flow with streams of ingratiating speeches. The speeches would move in a triangular current of fulsome praises for you, hypocritical gratitude to God and then slimy thanks to the Commander-In-Chief and his better half for appointing you to the office some people are ready to do anything to “capture,” to borrow the word I’m quite sure is not strange to you as a top gun of the misruling People’s Democratic Party.
On that day, many would practically roll on the floor and drip saliva as they shower encomiums on you for the “good work” you are doing in FCT. Then in cue, you too, your heavily-decked jewel beside you, exhibiting royal grace and elegance, would turn and twist in your beautifully embroidered babanriga and enjoy the moment.
But as one who wishes you well and wants you to dare to be different, I would tell you the truth: it would be silly to embark on any event of self-glorification in the face of the palpable disenchantment that trails your style of governance. Honourable minister, if no member of your team has found the courage to tell you, please know today that FCT residents are very angry and disappointed at the way you have so far administered the territory.
How come it does not even prick your conscience and you do not feel a pang of guilt when you hear or see your men and women, staff of your ministry and the agencies under you brutalising fellow citizens, arresting and detaining traders and confiscating their goods, violating their rights and extorting money from them under the pretext of cleaning up the city? Even if you do not see, do you not hear stories of these assaults on the people by your foot soldiers? It is hard to believe you don’t.
Everyday under the excuse of ridding the streets of sex workers and traders, the task force you set up, which includes armed security agents, deploy a substantial amount of energy inflicting physical pain and emotional torture on helpless citizens whose only crime is fashioning and creating a legitimate response to the harsh environment enabled over the years by a chain of horrible leaders churned out by your party, PDP.
Added to these daily harassments of innocent citizens looking for their daily bread is your unconscionable demolition of houses people worked hard to erect to save themselves from shylock landlords whom you have done nothing to force to bring down the cost of rent, mainly because many of them are your friends and you are also most likely one of them.
In the midst of the criticisms and anger trailing the evil perpetrated by your men with your full backing, you have also confessed your determination to order the demolition of more estates, including the thickly populated suburb of Mpape, in spite of what the court says in the end.
Please find out, honourable minister. This method of yours of cleaning up the city or restoring its master plan has been described by Abuja residents as nothing short of officially sanctioned armed robbery and wickedness. I’m sure you know that the size of the official callousness that sparked the revolution in Tunisia which has now culminated in what is today known as the Arab Spring is very small compared to what poor traders and house owners experience in Abuja.
Perhaps, other than the Niger Delta, nowhere is the wickedness of the Nigerian state, the mindless dehumanization of its people under the noses of bemused foreign friends, more evident than in your over-promoted centre of unity. And the scruffy guys on your payroll, whether from Abuja Environmental Protection Agency or Development Control Unit are the authentic attack dogs ironically waving the ugly hammer of mayhem and dealing deadly blows to those with whom they stand counted as the oppressed majority. If you look out for the rich using the poor to mow down the poor, you won’t get a more classic scenario.
It is not a secret that nothing tangible has been done by you to improve the lot of the people. As an ardent follower of your party, I know that all the FCT ministers since 1999 have had to offer residents of the city and the satellite towns nothing but heartbreak. Therefore, I’m not surprised. For all of you, except you change your style this moment, it’s been a legacy of sorrow, tears and blood (thank you Fela).
I’ve taken my time to send you this New Year message because I consider it a big shame and a paradox of unimaginable proportions that you gave yourself up to be used by the state as an agent of oppression. How can it be said that you, Senator Bala Mohammed, who started life as a journalist, who ought to know better about protecting the poor and the terribly short-changed majority of the Nigerian people, are the one now keeping alive the abject cruelty introduced by your predecessors.
The way you are carrying on, the Aleros, the El-Rufais, the Modibbos and your friends who reap the reward of anti-people, pro-rich policies, would be happy with you. Not the shoemaker who lives in Mpape; not the fruit seller who lives in Lugbe. Yet these are the people you should serve and protect, but whom you have persistently pitilessly humiliated and abandoned.
Mr. Minister, you still have a chance to attract the positive judgment of history, if only you begin from this moment to forsake the dismal legacies of your predecessors and rediscover yourself as a friend and defender of the interest of the poor and the oppressed. No serious FCT minister, one that is worth his salt, will leave unattended the bad roads and the regrettable absence of basic infrastructure in the city and satellite towns only to waste valuable resources and time pursuing and arresting sex workers and street traders. None.
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