Bulldozing the Sarakis

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SimonKolawolelive By Simon-Kolawole, Email: simon.kolawole@thisdaylive.com, sms: 0805 500 1961

When I got a call from a concerned Nigerian lamenting that Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara state had pulled down the house of Senator Bukola Saraki, I knew truth had become a casualty in the demolition drama. For the record, the house of Bukola Saraki was not pulled down. What is in contention is the political “shrine” of Dr Olusola Saraki, the father of Bukola. There was no residential building on the three-plot land — it was just a few sheds and stores for food and other materials usually distributed to the followers of the Sarakis. The land was occupied by Asa Investment Limited. At best, it can be described as family property, not Bukola’s house.

What then are the facts? There is always more than one side to a story. The state government said it acquired the land, which is next to the house of the elder Saraki (“Oloye”), in the 1970s for the purpose of building a secretariat. Kwara was created in 1967 and up till today, many ministries have no permanent offices and are still paying rent. The location of Saraki’s “Ile Arugbo” (old people’s home) was on parts of the land allocated to the secretariat. Oloye was said to have first requested for the land to be allocated to him when late Alhaji Mohammed Lawal was governor. When Bukola became governor in 2003, he gave the land to his father, according to the government.

Actually, another version of the story says it was Lawal that asked Oloye to use the land because of the inconvenience caused to the godfather of Kwara politics by his followers. They always swamped the house anytime he was in town. At times, he could not gain access to his house because of the crowd occupying every inch of his compound. Since the land next door was empty, Lawal reportedly advised Oloye to use it to host his supporters. In the process, sheds and stores were built on it. The old people usually went home with rice and vegetable oil. If any of them fell ill while waiting, they would be treated at the government clinic next door, with all expenses paid by Oloye.

AbdulRazaq says there were no documents to prove proper acquisition of the land and therefore announced a revocation after a motion was passed to that effect by the state house of assembly. Pronto, the structures on it were demolished. According to the governor, the land was in the same geographical zone as the state secretariat and that would make it easier for planning. He says he wants to build a power generating plant to supply all government offices at the location — just as Mr Babatunde Fashola did when he was governor of Lagos. It makes economic sense, therefore, to return the land to its original purpose. That is the government side of the story.

On the other side, the Sarakis are disputing the claims. To start with, contrary to the claim by the governor that there were “no documents”, a copy of the Right of Occupancy conveying approval to Asa Investment Limited “following your application” surfaced on the social media. That presumes there was an application. This document has not been disputed by the government, so I would assume it is authentic. Also, the allottee was asked to pay roughly N1 million for the land. I would guess that Oloye was rich enough to pay N1 million. If truly he did not pay, then that would be the typical impunity of the political elite in Nigeria: they do not want to pay for anything.

The tricky bit is that the Saraki family has not produced payment receipts and other necessary documents to prove proper acquisition of the land. That does not mean the documents do not exist; it could mean that they have been misplaced. The only thing they can do is to get the file from the ministry of lands; unfortunately, it would be easier for President Donald Trump to stop tweeting than for the state government to make such a file available to the Sarakis. In the absence of documents, therefore, the burdens of proof remains on the Saraki family to establish that the land was properly acquired. They shouldn’t expect AbdulRazaq to supply them with the bullets.

Without going yet into the politics of the revocation and bulldozing, I would say there are certain contradictions already on ground, no pun intended. One, AbdulRazaq said there was no document. But, indeed, there is a Right of Occupancy being circulated on social media. Until it is disputed, his claim cannot hold. Two, the governor used the word “revocation” in repossessing the land. Technically, you cannot revoke what is illegal. “Revoke” suggests that the land was properly acquired but you are now using legal means to cancel the allocation and “take it back”. In law (pardon me, my learned friends), you cannot revoke what does not exist. So there is indeed a gap there.

There are also other legal issues. The Land Use Act, which makes governors very powerful, allows for a land allocation to be revoked for “overriding public interest”. Basically, then, AbdulRazaq has not committed any offence by revoking the land. In this instance, the governor says the land has been revoked for public use, which is one of the justifications for revocation under the Land Use Act. It is definitely hard to fault the legal basis for his action. This is one of the reasons many Nigerians have been campaigning for the amendment of the Land Use Act which they consider to be regressive because it gives too much power to governors. They can do and undo.

So far, we have dealt with the facts. Let us now deal with the contradictory factors: morality and politics. I have heard a lot of people accuse AbdulRazaq of carrying out political vendetta. Having succeeded with his “O to gee” (“enough is enough”) campaign that ousted Bukola Saraki from the control of Kwara politics, AbdulRazaq appears to be going for the jugular, which many people consider to be vicious. I understand this argument, but if Kwara people think that the Saraki family, especially under Bukola, abused their position for personal gain, it will be difficult for the new government to look away and not do something. After all, they voted for a new order.

Pushing morality in public office to the corner, we can open up the second strand of argument: did AbdulRazaq revoke this land because he honestly needed it for government use? Would he have revoked the land if his father, Alhaji AbdulGaniyu Folorunso AbdulRazaq, was the beneficiary? This is an open argument but it will be difficult to argue that the revocation is not a case of political vendetta, no matter the legal arguments we try to make. It is made all the more obvious by the fact that the house of assembly passed a resolution asking that the land be revoked. Since when did that become the job of the lawmakers? That can only support the claim of political vendetta.

I now sum up. In case you are wondering where I stand, I would say I am as interested in the morality of the land allocation as much as I am interested in the legality of the revocation. I would have advised AbdulRazaq to wait for the outcome of the court case filed by the Sarakis. When a case is in court, you cannot resort to self-help to damage the “res” (the key matter). That is the crux of the Supreme Court pronouncement in Ojukwu vs Lagos State Government (1986) which is classified as “locus classicus” — a defining verdict. It is like sentencing somebody to death and he files an appeal to stay execution, but you quickly hang him before the application is decided by the court.

Finally, I’m not unaware that the Kwara state government has claimed ignorance of any court processes filed by the Saraki family. They said they were not served. However, do demolitions take place without notices? There are statutory 21-day, 14-day and 7-day notices usually served before demolitions are done. This will give the occupier time to relocate. Thus, the Kwara state government cannot convincingly claim everything they have done so far is fair. AbdulRazaq is one of the rising stars of the new generation of governors and he needs to do things decently and in order so that even if anybody wants to accuse him of bad faith, there would be insufficient evidence.

In the end, I would say AbdulRazaq was not strategic enough in his decision. It would appear he has ended up whipping up public sympathy for the Sarakis with the hasty demolition. He can go after Bukola without going after Oloye, if indeed he wants to castrate his age-old political rival. No matter what we think, Oloye is a legend in Kwara politics and he still has loyalists, even in death. More so, Gbemisola, Oloye’s daughter, is a member of APC like AbdulRazaq. She can never be pleased that her father’s property was bulldozed — no matter her personal differences with her brother, Bukola. Or is the governor preparing to fight everybody — friends and foes alike? I doubt.

 

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS

FAYOSE ‘FLEXING’
Mr Ayo Fasoye, former governor of Ekiti state currently on trial over allegations of corruption, was last month granted permission by a federal high court to travel abroad for medical treatment. However, pictures on social media showed Fayose doing “I can’t kill myself” in a foreign land — enjoying a boat cruise and dancing salsa. He has come out to defend himself, saying he only went for medical “check-up” not “treatment”. When Nigerian politicians are on trial, it is common for them to apply for permission to travel out for medical treatment. Unfortunately, these behaviours may count against those who genuinely need foreign medical attention. Irresponsible.

ENUGU BY AIR
Senator Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation, has assured Nigerians that the rehabilitation of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, will be completed before Easter. That is good news. The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) had closed the runway for repairs for safety reasons after President Buhari approved N10 billion for the work. Travelling to some parts of the south-east has become bumpy because of the closure, but it is better to be safe than sorry. I commend Mr Frank Nweke, former minister of information, who relentlessly warned against the dangers posed by the state of the airport. One tragedy and we would come to our senses! Timely.

ECO-WAR
Since Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Alassane Ouattara, the Ivorian president, announced that Francophone West Africa would ditch its 70-year-old CFA currency and adopt the ECO in its place, there has been some curiosity in Nigeria. This was worsened by Ghana’s swift response welcoming the development — even when they are not part of the arrangement. Is Ghana is trying to spite Nigeria because of border closure? Or is it the same old Anglophone rivalry? I would advise Nigeria to tread carefully over this issue. I am seeing a lot of bad blood at play. Moreover, the European Union that adopted a single currency is not laughing. Caution.

POPE’S PARADIGM
Pope Francis has been a wonderful influence on the society since his appointment in 2013. He further won my heart after publicly apologising for his moment of anger on New Year’s eve. The Catholic pontiff was clutching hands with the crowd at St. Peter’s Square when a woman grabbed his hand and pulled him to herself. That was definitely rude, but I take it that it was desperation by a star-struck woman. The pope was visibly irritated as he slapped the woman’s hand off his and walked away. “So many times we lose patience, even me, and I apologise for yesterday’s bad example,” he later told his congregation who gathered for the New Year mass. Humility.