By Owei Lakemfa
THE stories I am going to tell in this very short piece would have been regarded as fiction except that they happen in Nigeria. They remind me of the stories by Czech writer, Franz Kafka, 1883-1924, who wrote about a world gone berserk. A nightmarish world run on misinformation with citizens crushed by blind state powers. A world of absurdity in which people are punished for crimes they are not even aware of or can comprehend.
The main story began on December 27, 2020 at 75 Kachia Road, Kaduna where a storey building eatery called Asher Kings and Queens Restaurant was situated. On that day, two truck-loads of armed policemen pulled up and without explanation, took the owner, Mrs. Aisha Mercy Yakubu, a friend and two staff to the Sabon Tasha Police Station.
There, in the cell phone of an officer, they were shown, a poster advertising a “Kaduna Sex Party.” Mrs Yakubu denied knowledge of such a party and pointed out that the advert carried no venue; it simply stated: “Pay to unlock venue.” So how could the police conclude it was her restaurant?
On a hunch, she suggested to the police, the basic step of calling the phone number on the poster. The police agreed and the name of the owner popped up on the True Caller application. The phone user was then tracked and arrested.
The suspect admitted he owns the phone and that he produced the sex party poster with two accomplices. He said he does not know Mrs. Yakubu, had never been to the Asher Kings and Queens Restaurant and does not know its address.
That should have ended the case as far as Mrs. Yakubu and her restaurant are concerned. In fact, in a civilised environment, the Police ought to have apologised to her both for the embarrassment and the needless detention of her staff, friend and customer.
A day later, on December 31, 2020, a combined team of the Police, the Army, State Vigilante and state officials arrived with a bulldozer and demolished the restaurant. The state did not give her any notice and or allow her remove any property from the structure. Apart from the building, Mrs. Yakubu said she sustained a N32 million loss and her one month pregnancy due to the trauma to which she was subjected.
The next day, the Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Agency, KASUPDA which supervised the demolition claimed it was on the orders of the State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai. In a triumphant manner, it announced that: “KASUPDA have (sic) demolished Asher Hotel in Barnawa Kaduna South…Asher Hotel was the proposed venue for the Kaduna Sex Party, the hotel was also caught contravening the COVID-19 guidelines of the state. KASUPDA will not hesitate to demolish properties used for such immoral act.”
The State government’s statement did not state how it reached the conclusion that the restaurant was the proposed venue of the sex party or that it gave the owners any notice as is provided in law.
In any case, the statement claimed the restaurant “was the proposed venue.” That means it was the planned or projected venue of a party that did not take place. So why was the property demolished? Also, the powers of the governor does not include the demolition of peoples’ property without an express court order. Again, the government lied when it claimed that the restaurant was: “caught contravening the COVID-19 guidelines” because the premises was actually under lock and key when the demolition was effected.
Four days later, after its claims against the restaurant fell apart, the State Government rather than apologise and pay compensation as a sane body should do, simply changed its story to justify its acts of brigandage.
This time, in a statement by the Director-General of KASUPDA, Ismail Dikko, it admitted that the restaurant was not demolished over the sex party allegation as it had previously claimed. Rather, Mr. Dikko said, government records “showed that the building housing Asher Lounge has neither a valid title nor development permit.” This he claimed, necessitated its immediate demolition.
Governor El-Rufai from his days as Federal Capital Minister in Abuja has a history of being fascinated with bulldozers and bulldozing just like a child is attracted to toys. When in 2018, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, he belongs to, broke into two factions, he sent bulldozers to pull down the secretariat of the rival faction. The building on 11B Sambo Road, Ungwar Rimi, Kaduna, was owned by Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi.
Although I can authoritatively proclaim El-Rufai as the Bulldozer-in-Chief of Nigeria, in fairness to him, this is a common culture among governments and federal agencies across the country in which they are the complainant, prosecutor, judge and enforcer.
On May 13, 2019, the Federal Government demolished the Caramelo Nightclub in Abuja. After initially claiming it was demolished because it was allegedly a nude club, government changed the story claiming the club was at a wrong location.
In Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike on May 10, 2020 demolished two hotels – Prodest Home and Etemeteh Hotel, for allegedly violating COVID-19 regulations. Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State in 2020 demolished houses owned or occupied by suspected cultists and kidnappers.
Bulldozing the houses of suspected kidnappers is routine in the East. Hotels where kidnap suspects lodge, are destroyed even before suspects are apprehended or tried. A N150 million hotel, Uncle P Guest House in Delta State was demolished because a kidnap suspect checked in like any other guest.
Ghana in 2020 had tried to behave like Nigerian leaders when armed men invaded and bulldozed parts of a building in the residence of the Nigeria High Commission in Accra. It quickly repented and President Nana Akufo-Addo flew to Abuja to apologise and undertake to rebuild the structure.
Now, if you want even a five star hotel demolished, all you need do is post on the internet that you intend to hold a nude party there, and like magic, the hotel comes down.
To demonstrate its even handedness, the ruling APC has bulldozed its entire party structures from polling units to the National Executive!
Nigeria needs a lot of bulldozers so we can ‘bulldoze the bulldozables’ but the problem is that we do not produce them, so the Federal Government needs to approach the IMF and World Bank for loans. As I write, the country faces a serious challenge with the advertisement of a proposed nude beach party in Yola, Adamawa State. If such a beach exists, how do we bulldoze it? How many bulldozers can we assemble to bulldoze a beach or a sea if a nude party were advertised to hold in such a place?
Welcome to the Federal Republic of Bulldozers!