by Yusuf Lawal
Mallam El-Rufai will always be remembered in Abuja for destroying the homes and homes and lives of thousands of poor people when he was Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. As Governor of Kaduna state in May, he has now commenced demolitions in the state as well. This was after he banned hawkers and beggars in the state, after a bomb blast in Zaria.
Residents of the houses demolished in the first week of August were given just three weeks’ notice, despite the fact that some have lived all their lives in those buildings. According to El-Rufai, these buildings are being demolished because they are illegal structures on school premises and other government lands.
This was the same argument for pulling down houses when he was FCT Minister. The lands were then handed over to the rich and powerful, including E-Rufai and his cronies at giveaway prices. He has described those who built these “illegal structures” as “land grabbers” despite the fact that most of them are owned by poor working people who just want to have a home or a shop they can call theirs. The real land grabbers are the rich bosses whom El-Rufai and his likes represent.
This questionable renovation and urban planning is not limited to Kaduna state, in the northwest. The Kano State Urban Planning and Development Board (KNUPDA) has also announced plans to commence the demolition of 100 “illegal structures”. Hawking and begging have also been banned by the state government “to beautify” the city of Kano.
Nobody wants to be a street trader or a beggar. The poor people who do these are only trying to survive in a mean society that makes them hopeless and hapless. Banning street trading and begging is to attack the symptoms and not the problem, which is the exploitative capitalist system.
The state represents this system. Its laws and policies are primarily to promote the interests of the rich bosses. But we can win when we fight. In Kaduna state, artisans, traders and commercial printers along Lokoja, Gwari and Mubi roads protested when they received a notice of demolition on August 5. Some of the shop owners in those areas have been there for more than 25 years. Their lives and livelihoods are tied to their petty businesses that the state now wants to destroy.
Shehu Sani, a human rights activist and Senator representing the area has described the demolitions as “harsh and anti-people”. The trade unions, civil society organisations and socialist groups within Kaduna and Kano have to stand by the poor people living and working in those areas now being attacked by the state. There must be no further demolition without re-location and poor people whose buildings have been demolished must be compensated immediately.
Street vendors and beggars must also be provided with means of livelihood before hawking and street begging can be banned. The current inhumane and anti-poor banning of these informal sector workers will only lead to increased crime and other social vices.