The demolition of Ile Arugbo
ON Saturday, January 4, the Kwara State Police Command issued a statement denying that it sent its personnel to supervise the Kwara State government’s demolition of Ile Arugbo (Home of the Aged), the structures on the revoked land reported to be where the Saraki family used to cater for the needy in Ilorin, Kwara State, on Thursday, January 2. In a statement signed by its Public Relations Officer, Ajayi Okasanmi, it said: “The command wishes to make it clear that as part of its safety and crime prevention strategies in ensuring hitch-free celebrations during the Christmas and the New Year festivities, police patrol vans were stationed at strategic points across the state, including Iloffa Road, GRA, Ilorin on 31/12/2019, being the New Year eve. Our anti-crime deployment during this period had nothing to do with any demolition exercise in the state. It is therefore shocking to the Commissioner of Police to hear the news of policemen shooting live ammunition and firing tear gas canisters at the scene of a demolition exercise.
“For the purpose of emphasis, the command wishes to immediately dispel the insinuations that the men reported to have been firing indiscriminately during the demolition exercise were deployed by the Kwara State police command. No policeman was deployed for any demolition exercise anywhere in the state and no policeman deployed for anti-crime duties during the Christmas and New Year celebrations fired a single shot of ammunition or canister during this period.” Consequently, the statement said, the CP, Kayode Egbetokun, had immediately directed a full-scale investigation into the allegation. The command did not fail to reiterate “for the umpteenth time” the irrevocable commitment of the CP to the rule of law while making police service available and accessible to the people of Kwara State.
The disclaimer recalls a similar one by the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, in the aftermath of the Kogi and Bayelsa State governorship elections last year, namely that the policemen alleged to have disrupted the polls in the states were “fake” and not the personnel officially deployed for election duties. Speaking with State House Correspondents after a meeting that President Muhammadu Buhari held with security chiefs at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Adamu stated that all security personnel who worked during the poll had “special identification tags”, adding that anyone without the tags was on illegal duty. Thus, if the Kwara, Kogi and Bayelsa scenarios illustrate anything, it is the fact that the country’s democracy is currently imperilled by the ugly phenomenon of the “unknown police,” a reincarnation of the infamous “unknown soldier” of the Anikulapo-Kuti tragic fame during the military era. The possibilities are two-fold: it is either that the Nigeria Police is actively aiding and abetting the subversion of democracy in the country or state governments are arming, funding and deploying militias for subversive ends in the name of the Nigeria Police. To say the least, neither scenario bodes well for the country’s democracy.
Instructively, the police disclaimer in Ilorin presupposes an awareness of inappropriateness in the entire episode. It seems sufficiently clear that the government needs to give clarifications on the uniformed men that supervised the exercise. So, where did the men come from and who armed them? Who were the men that allegedly shot live ammunition into the home of the Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki? The burden is on the Kwara State government to supply answers to these questions, particularly in view of its statement elaborating on how it quelled the protests surrounding the demolition.
But the foregoing is only a part of the story. Prior to the demolition, there was a viral video of old women pleading with the governor not to carry out the exercise, and backing up their position with specific claims that, as it turned out, the government did not agree with. However, regardless of its attitude to the women’s claims, the manner in which the Kwara State government acted left it open to suggestions of motives quite in dissonance from its official position. It must not only do what is right but must be seen to do what is right at all times, at least to fend off allegations of ulterior motives. In other words, even while within its legitimate rights, it must exercise restraint on matters with wide political ramifications and thus serious implications for state security. Law, beautiful though it is, is not all there is to society: there is also necessity and expediency. Even if the demolition was legal, was it expedient? Knowing the purpose to which the said property was being put, why couldn’t the government exercise restraint pending the resolution of the matter in the court of law?
Besides, if, as it claimed, its action was all about the rule of law, why not wait until the appropriate legal processes have been exhausted? The way the government has carried on suggests that the defendants can have no defence at all, yet this is something that ought to have been allowed to be decided in the court of law. If experience since 1999 is any indication, a statement is not necessarily true because a government says so. Besides, if the land was being “revoked in the public interest,” something that clearly falls within Governor Abdulrazak Abdulrahman’s powers via the Land Use Act, why the recourse to a resolution by the state House of Assembly? What is the essence of a resolution empowering the governor to exercise powers expressly granted him by the laws of the land? Besides, just how do you ‘revoke’ land that was illegally acquired in the first place? Granted that the governor said he found no evidence that any payment was made in respect of the said land, but what opportunity did it give the accused to prove him wrong?
On its part, it is shocking that the Kwara State House of Assembly chose to be part of the needless conflict. Since when did a governor require an assembly resolution to acquire land in the public interest? And why couldn’t the assembly exercise restraint given the political circumstances surrounding the ‘revoked’ property, at least until the matter has been resolved in the court of law? Without prejudice to the rightness or otherwise of its claims, we find the Kwara State government’s use of power in this instance very hasty and unfeeling. We advise it to be more circumspect in its actions going forward.