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How government steals from the poor

By News Express on 24/05/2017

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Thursday, May 18, 2017 started for me in a very special way.

First, I got a distress call from a young single mum of three children who ekes out a living by hawking fresh fruits somewhere in Wuse Two, Abuja. This call came boozing in the phone at about 8am, the moment I settled into my office desk to begin the day’s work. The purpose of the call was to report that armed operatives of the Abuja Environmental Authority had seized her articles of trade and arrested her, late last night. She was forced to cough out N5,000 before she could be left off the hook; but the men went away with her entire business wares.

This lady, by name, Miss Evelyn, has a toddler she still breastfeeds in addition to the other two children who are in public school, even as she relies on the petty trading to take care of them the best way she can. She wept uncontrollably, urging that our group should intervene, so her wares could be released.

But our effort was fruitless. This is because upon our investigation, those government-sponsored armed thugs who brazenly took her wares away had gone to their various houses with the loots. We were even told that she was lucky to have escaped being dumped into the decrepit detention facility administered by this notorious agency.

Many persons languish for days before bribing their way out of these dungeons that aren’t fit for wild animals. These detention centres are scattered all over Abuja. Yet, Abuja can’t boast of vibrant non-governmental groups that thematically focus on the plight of the poorest of the poor. Not because there are no such groups, but most platforms are politically inclined.

Pathetically, we saw how even the armed operatives of the Nigerian Navy and Army, in addition to the regular Police and Civil Defence Corps were part of the squad of these Abuja Environmental Department’s staff.

Their daily routines include roaming about the streets of Abuja, chasing petty traders out of the streets, looting their wares, imprisoning them so as to extort money from those severely disadvantaged and economically deprived poor Nigerians. This is pure government-sponsored road-side armed robbery, and must stop; except governance in Nigeria is meant to rob the poor to enrich the few privileged elite. 

This was the basis for a letter we sent to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and the noisy lawmaker heading the Committee on Federal Capital Territory, Senator Dino Melaye. But, both of these men have taken no action to stop this day-light robbery that has gone on for ages. 

The current FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello – who headed the Islamic Pilgrims Welfare Board before his kinsman, President Muhammadu Buhari, redeployed him to the juicier position of FCT minister – is rated the weakest point in the executive of the current political dispensation. For two months that we sent him our letter demanding an end to this broad-day crime of harassment of petty-traders by government’s armed thugs, he has neither replied nor adopted any panacea to check this evil trend, which is making governance in Nigeria look like organised crime against poor citizens.  

We had stated that we were writing to bring to the minister’s attention, the rampant cases of grave violations of the fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed rights of struggling and financially-challenged members of the public in the Federal Capital Territory and, especially, those of them that have chosen to pursue one petty and small business or the other to survive the hard economic downturn that has bedeviled the nation. We also said we wished  to direct the political authorities’ attention to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which speak directly to the need for government to allow the citizens engage in meaningful economic and sustainable means of livelihood, especially from the chapter two and chapter four of the constitution.

Section 16 (2) provides thus: “The state shall direct its policy towards ensuring: (c) that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group”

Same grundnorm in section 34 (1) of the Constitution specifically condemns the practice of horse-whipping poor petty-traders as done on routine basis by armed security forces accompanying the Abuja environmental agents, sent from your office.

We have watched with amazement the brazen display of brutality and animosity by these task-force officials against civilian traders, just because these citizens were carrying out legitimate economic activities to ensure that their right to life is assured.

According to that constitutional provision aforementioned, “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly:

(a) no person shall be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment; (b) no person shall he held in slavery or servitude; and

(c) no person shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”

We note, however, with considerable trepidation, that those officials of the FCT environmental agency have constantly subjected poor/petty-traders to horrendous physical torture even as their only means of livelihood are usually confiscated, stolen and they are locked up under dehumanising conditions pending, a monetary induced bail.

We write to bring to your notice that from experiences we have generated over the years from numerous foreign trips, we have seen that in other jurisdictions, the authorities do not violate the fundamental rights of their petty/small business, because of the empirical evidence that small businesses hold the key to national economic advancement.

Interestingly, the current Senate Committee Chairman on FCT, Mr Melaye had recently posted photos whereby he mimicked these small business operators, even as he used his social media page to canvass for small businesses to be supported. We then wonder why petty-traders are humiliated and disgraced on daily basis in the FCT and their wares seized. We want to state that small businesses are key to the economic revival of Nigeria, and we will give you detailed research findings on this claim.

Those who know define small businesses as companies that each employs less than 100 people. Researchers that workwith are of the informed position that small businesses in the United States are key to job creation and, indeed, are credited for creating nearly 50 per cent or more of the entire jobs in the United States economy. According to them, in the USA, small business employs over half of the nation’s workforce.

Apart from the above economic facts – which states that most countries value persons engaged in the small and medium entrepreneurial businesses – most government academics believe that the essence of government is to redistribute national wealth among all citizens, and to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest percentage of citizens.  But Nigeria operates from the position of cruel primitivism whereby the national wealth is cornered by a few, while the greatest percentage wallow in absolute poverty. Only this week the UK-based group, OXFAM, disclosed that only five rich Nigerians control over $30 billion, an amount that can bring about an end to absolute poverty of the over 160 million heavily impoverished citizens. 

 These scenarios show that if the citizens are alive to their civic duties and refused to be docile, then this country is overdue for immediate and comprehensive revolution, because Thomas Paine stated correctly that, “It will always be found, that when the rich protect the rights of the poor, the poor will protect the property of the rich.”

Nigerians must demand that officials of government stop stealing from the poor. Let us demand for justice for all. Let us demand economic justice now, because we are not slaves. Let us demand the repatriation of over $400 billion of public fund stolen by government officials since Independence. Chatham House, a scholarly institution in the United Kingdom, has only recently uncovered that $480 billion of public funds have been stolen by officials of successive and current governments.

Enough is enough!

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via

Source News Express

Posted 24/05/2017 9:14 PM





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