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Restaurant demolition and tyranny in Kaduna

Published by The Nation on Sun, 10 Jan 2021

By Idowu AkinlotanThe hasty demolition of Asher Kings and Queens, a privately owned restaurant in Sabon Tasha on the outskirts of Kaduna on December 31, 2020, is one more proof that democracy and the rule of law are endangered in Nigeria. It is also one more proof, assuming one was still needed, that the atmosphere of intolerance, particularly in Kaduna, has become pervasive, if not corrosive. The state government alleged that Asher Lounge was to be the venue of a sex party on December 27 in the state by some 50 individuals. But the restaurant had no private service rooms and could barely sit so many customers. In 2018, Governor Nasir el-Rufai had signed the Kaduna State Urban and Regional Planning Law, which, among other things, stipulates how demolitions could be effected in the state. No one believes the state obeyed its own laws in demolishing Asher Lounge.With the possible exception of Kaduna State officials, every observer believed the government acted mala fide both in demolishing the said property and in charging in court suspects alleged to have conspired to hold a sex party in the state. Some religious leaders, not privy to the true state of affairs surrounding the controversial event, not to say the Director General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Segun Runsewe, emotively supported the demolition, and decried the moral turpitude and audacity of misguided youths. But the state governments account soon began to change, leaving the public with the challenge of which account to believe, and what motives to assign to the governments precipitate action. More disturbing, the clumsy investigation of the alleged crime by the police in company with other security agencies as well as the consequent demolition have consternated the public, particularly with reference to the abhorrent roles the executive branch cajoled the law enforcement agencies into playing.It is not clear who first got wind of the alleged crime, the police or the state government. But every step the police took since December 27 gave the impression that they were put up to the farce of assuming the primary role in dealing with the so-called sex party. However, not only did they fail to take the necessary steps to get to the root of the matter, and had to be coaxed by the patrons of the restaurant to investigate the affair, they also indirectly confirmed why few Nigerians still retain confidence in their impartiality and capability. The EndSARS protest drew attention to the sorry state of affairs in the Police Force, hoping that both the government and the police would summon the courage and the capacity to embark on introspection and at least strive not to make things worse than they already were. The police have sadly not changed at all, and the country will have to wait for much longer and perhaps some other triggers to make the police act with the confidence, courage, competence and integrity the law expects of them.From the sequence of events since the arrest of the patrons of the restaurant, and the cursory investigations the police claimed to have undertaken, the culprits behind the sex party prank were unmasked and detained. News of the so-called sex party was then disseminated by government officials, leading to the outrage expressed by religious leaders and some members of the public. The owners of the restaurant were let off the hook after it was discovered that they knew nothing about the party. Days later, however, the building housing the restaurant was demolished. Things thereafter took a turn for the bizarre, and the table turned against the government. The sex-party allegation as a prelude to the demolition suddenly became tenuous and even far-fetched. The public rightly judged that even if a group of customers planned to commit crime, they should be held liable, not the venue of the crime. Who demolishes State House because the governor is corrupt'So, proceeding from the weakened and discredited moral underpinnings of their argument, the state announced that the sex party affair was merely a trigger, and that the real reason for the demolition was the restaurants violation of building regulations. Rights lawyer, Femi Falana, however argued that even if the owners of the building violated regulations, they were still entitled to fair hearing going by the provisions of the same law the state tried to hide behind. The state has balked because, in Kaduna, the rule of law has long been held in abeyance, judging from the horrific and repeated attacks on Shiites, the massacre of innocent sect members, the demolition of their propertystock in trade of the state governmentand state defiance of court judgements. Alas, in Kaduna, the judiciary lacks the boldness and courage to act independently of the states budding tyrants. Owners of the Asher Lounge insist that the state did not give them fair hearing. But how can they give anybody fair hearing when the state itself was at first undecided on what to allege against the suspects' In the end, the state government incredibly and curiously alleged both offences. The state became less categorical on the sex party issue, but wove the COVID-19 violations allegation into the charge sheet, gave the public very colourful accounts of the number of people (50) who crowded the restaurant for the alleged sex party, and spoke trenchantly about how they fled the scene of crime, and how the law enforcement agents arrested the organizers, including the public relations officer of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Abraham Alberah, husband of the manager of the restaurant, Aisha Yakubu. Mr Alberah came into the picture for the first time during arraignment in court.No one can guess how the courts in Kaduna would treat the controversial and disjointed allegations by the Kaduna State Government, nor whether finally someone would find the courage to check the tyrannical disposition of the governor who has so far kept sepulchrally silent over the affair. The buck, especially when unfairness and arbitrariness are being perpetrated by agents of Kaduna state, stops with the governor. If he says anything, it will be unusual indeed; what will not be unusual is that if he speaks he will complicate the matter, insult everybody, act with self-righteous indignation, and persist in treating his state as a fiefdom, and the people as his subjects. The dismaying, dictatorial tone now rampant in some states had been set at the national level, in Abuja; Mallam el-Rufai will not be averse to reinforcing that objectionable tone at the state level. He is a politician who has never pretended to be a democrat, and a man who has never subscribed to fairness. He will thus continue to double down on the tyrannical, fundamentalist and ethnic exceptionalism foundations upon which he has brashly and foolishly anchored his politics and worldview, and upon which he has also chaotically erected the governance of his state.Mallam el-Rufai has browbeaten the judiciary in Kaduna State into sluggishness. Having spoken magisterially on the trial and incarceration of the Shiite leader, Ibraheem el-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenat, the governor has rendered the needless and infantile case against the two Shiite couple interminable. Drawing inspiration from President Muhammadu Buhari who said the Sheik could not hope to establish a state within a state, the governor has justified the mass murder of some 347 Shiite members, and inspired legislation that virtually robbed the sect of all their constitutional rights. The courts have been sluggish in reinforcing their independence; they will not be trusted to do what is right even in cases where the state has evidently exceeded its powers and veered into tyranny. But while the courts can act in anonymity, especially as some judges do get promoted to appellate courts in defiance of and contempt for their qualifications and juridical records, Mallam el-Rufai cannot act in anonymity, regardless of his contrived silence and aloofness. His blighted records on human rights, rule of law and judicial independence will be held against him in any future run for higher office.In 2017 or so, Mallam el-Rufai demolished the building belonging to the Northwest Vice Chairman of APC, Inuwa Abdulkadir, after a threat, according to the victim, and in 2018 he also demolished Sen Suleiman Hunkuyis house, which served as the factional headquarters of the APC in the state. The party had split into three factions, with one led by the combative governor himself. Mallam el-Rufai strangely and messianically sees his disputed victory in the 2019 governorship election as an endorsement of his abrasive ways and perverse interpretation of religious politics and ethnic supremacist views. He is dogmatic, bellicose and naturally illiberal. He will continue to take steps, provoke his opponents and weary the courts with needless disputes. The often preemptive cases against government opponents will, therefore, grind on in the courts, slowly and provocatively, until the judiciary is liberated. That liberation will not come during this administration in Kaduna or under the present dispensation in Abuja. Mallam el-Rufai does not possess the character of a leader, but that of a demagogue. He is unlikely to allow politicians, civil servants and judges of character to flourish in the state. For just as the state courts have drawn the ire of many Kaduna residents, the building regulatory agency, the highly politicised KASUPDA, will continue to be at the centre of many of the controversial demolitions in the state and festoon their actions with tall stories. Indeed, it will take extraordinary courage by the courts for Asher Lounge to get justice. That justice will not depend on what the law says, for its provisions are not ambiguous; it will depend on whether the courts can look the tyrant in the face and stop him dead in his tracks.
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