by Godwin Onyeacholem
He is simply not the one he claims to be. Beneath the facade of his alluring rhetoric lies the stinking debris of pure cruelty. To many residents of the hollow universe called Federal Capital Territory, a space the perpetually dishonest ruling elite fraudulently christened CENTRE OF UNITY, it should by now be clear beyond doubt that Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed, Minister for FCT, is not in any way a friend of the poor.
To say that Nigerian leaders are incurably wicked is to risk scorn for hammering on the obvious. By this time last year, the country was about ending a standstill as Nigerians poured onto the streets, boiling with anger as they protested the withdrawal of a non-existent petroleum subsidy by an administration they had hoped would be more sensitive to their plight.
However, this time a different face of the recurrent state-inspired callousness has emerged in a section of the country (the FCT) with the banning of mini buses from entering and plying routes in the city centre. The motorbikes have long since been barred by the Nasir El-Rufai administration.
And in the absence of a well-structured and efficient means of transportation, the minibuses, which commuters in Abuja call “araba”, rank next to taxis as the only reliable means of commuting within the city, and to and fro the satellite towns.
Now, these buses, going by the new plan, can only ferry passengers from the satellite towns up to a designated point in the city and then stopped by armed security agents who order commuters out and the buses to turn back. Typical of this regrettably dysfunctional system, these security guys and FCT officials are already making brisk business, extorting bus drivers.
These designated spots have become the new bus stops, far from the city centre. Once commuters disembark, they would have no choice but to do the forbidding distance to the city on foot. The buoyant ones could take a taxi though. It is the same experience when returning. In their usual fashion of putting the cart before the horse, the initiators of this new order say they would put a large fleet of bigger, privately-run buses on the road to bring commuters from wherever straight in to the city.
With the ban, commuters and drivers of the mini buses have been launched into a new phase of suffering. Coming into the city and going out has become a nightmare, and bus owners, drivers and conductors would now have their daily income severely whittled down – that is if they manage to remain in business.
Just as in the fuel subsidy policy, the poor is also at the receiving end of this obnoxious action. For any keen observer of this polity, a feeling of deja vu is not lost. The rage and anguish that attended the removal of petrol subsidy and caused massive demonstrations in major cities across the country last January have started manifesting since this new transport plan took effect early this week. At the time of writing this piece, FCT officials were holding talks with “stakeholders” about “temporarily” shelving the plan.
The administration says it resorted to this measure as a way of decongesting the city and ensuring that Abuja “does not become another Lagos,” a reference to the perennial traffic gridlock for which Lagos is notorious.
But it is a big lie. What has just happened is the typical, well-orchestrated policy of the ruling class to take from the poor and give to the rich. This has been the style of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) since 1999. The word out there, which has been confirmed by many staff of the Ministry, is that Minister Bala Mohammed barred these small buses from the city to allow his friends, associates and party bigwigs have a sizeable share of the road transport business in Abuja.
This assertion cannot be far from the truth. Since “coming to power” – to use the more coarse, debased and bumptious language Nigerians love so much – in April 2010, the Minister’s answer to sanitizing Abuja has been to systematically deprive the less privileged and make life more difficult for them.
And in the course of entrenching this unstated policy, he shamelessly empowers the rich, the snobbish class to which he belongs, and tells the poor to go to blazes. At least he has indicated that the residents of Mpape, a suburb densely populated by the poor, whether they like it or not, their houses would go down and give way to a new settlement that would be formed by members of his own class. He has already levelled over 500 buildings in another suburb, Lugbe, and declared rather impudently that many more would be demolished in different areas occupied by the poor.
Besides farming out areas originally occupied by the poor to the rich, the Minister also demonstrates irrelevant competence in shadow-chasing by pursuing and arresting sex workers, not minding that many of the ladies who are being arrested and detained are only found walking alone and suddenly embarrassingly bundled into waiting buses and labelled prostitutes by the thugs he grouped under a bogus task force.
In Abuja, the Minister’s idea of a sex worker is not just any woman walking alone; it also includes a woman enjoying an evening stroll with the opposite sex. As a result, many girlfriends, many sisters, many wives are still being seized and abducted from their boyfriends, brothers and husbands by the Minister’s overzealous task force.
At the same time, this man directs his nastiness at street hawkers, chasing and arresting the fruit seller, the shoemaker, the okpa (a popular local delicacy among the poor) seller and all manner of hawkers. These are the same people to whom the Minister appealed to vote for PDP. This, certainly, is not the method of a man who is genuinely out to serve the people. Not even in more unkind capitalist cities does this happen.
In the face of the infrastructural and other challenges facing the FCT, such as inadequate supply of water, lack of good access roads in the interior, insufficient and ill-equipped classrooms, poor quality teaching staff in schools, dreadful healthcare delivery, pathetic work ethic in its civil service and much more, the least anyone would expect from a Minister with a background in an unequalled public service function such as journalism, is to continue to hound the poor. It’s indeed a shame.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Godwin Onyeacholem