Thursday, May 25, 2017

Nigeria: How Government Steals From The Poor

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Thursday, May 18, 2017 started for me in a very special way. First, I got a distress call from a young single mother of three children who ekes out a living by hawking fresh fruits somewhere in Wuse Two, Abuja.
This call came at about 8 am 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 seized her articles of trade and arrested her late last night. She was forced to cough out five thousand naira 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 and urged 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 loot and 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 even for wild animals. These detention centres are scattered all over Abuja and Abuja can’t boasts of vibrant Non-Governmental groups that thematically focuses on the plight of the poorest of the poor. 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 Defense Corps were part of the squad of these Abuja Environmental Department’s staff.
Their daily routines include roaming  the streets of Abuja, chasing petty traders off the streets, looting their wares, and  imprisoning them,  so as to extort  money from those severely disadvantaged and economically deprived poor Nigerians.  This is pure government-sponsored roadside 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 Abuja minister and the  Senator heading the Committee on  Federal Capital Territory, Mr. Dino Melaye, but both of these men have taken no action to stop these daylight robberies that have gone on for ages. 
The current FCT minister, Mohammed Bello,  who headed the Islamic Pilgrims Welfare Board before he was redeployed  to the juicier position of FCT minister is rated as the weakest point in this current political dispensation. Since 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 measures  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, especially those engaged in one petty business or the other to survive the economic downturn that have 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 of the need for government to allow the citizens to engage in meaningful economic and sustainable means of livelihood, especially from  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”
Section 34 (1) of the Constitution also  specifically condemns the practice of horse whipping poor petty traders as done on routine basis by armed security agents  accompanying the Abuja environmental agents sent from the minister's office.
We have watched with amazement the brazen display of brutality and animosity by these task force officials against civilian traders only because these citizens were carrying out legitimate economic activities to ensure that their  right to life is assured.
That Constitutional provision aforementioned says directly that: “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 of compulsory labour.”
We note, however, with considerable trepidation how officials of the FCT Environmental Agency have constantly subjected poor/petty traders to horrendous physical torture even as their wares are  confiscated and  stolen. They are also locked up under dehumanizing conditions pending a monetarily-induced bail.
We write to bring to the minister's 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 small  holders' businesses because of the empirical evidence that small businesses hold the key to national economic advancement.
Interestingly, the current Senate Committee Chairman on FCT,  Mr Dino Melaye,  recently posted photos in which 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 a 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 the FCT minister detailed research findings on this claim.
Those who know define small businesses as companies that each employ less than 100 people. Researchers that work with
are of the knowledgeable position that small businesses in the United States are key to job creation and, indeed, are credited for creating nearly fifty percent 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 show 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 amongst all citizens and to promote the greatest happiness for the greatest percentage of citizens. 
But, Nigeria operates from the position of cruel primitivism  in which  the national wealth is  cornered by a few while the greater percentage of the people  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 refuse to be docile, this country is overdue for immediate a change  because someone once 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  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 funds stolen by government officials since independence. Chatham House, a scholarly institution in the United Kingdom, only recently disclosed that $480 billion of public funds have been stolen by officials of successive and current governments. Enough is enough!
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human Rights writers Association of Nigeria  (Huriwa) (                                          

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