We write to congratulate you on your appointment as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There is no escaping the inevitable conclusion that you worked hard enough to earn the appointment.
Admittedly, our nation is today in a very precarious situation. A time like this certainly calls for hard work and honesty of purpose from everyone; and some time, some day, we shall overcome.
You are making a difference in your generation. For some time now, you have been in the eye of the storm – sometimes for good reasons. And that’s how it should be.
At inauguration, you were charged to hit the ground running but, hopefully, not to run the government aground.
In your usual characteristics, you are on record as one of the few Ministers who went from the inauguration venue to assume duty in your Ministry.
In essence, while most of your colleagues were yet clinging the wine glasses in celebration, you were already at work. We know of no other sign of seriousness than this.
We are writing this letter some days after your assumption of office, so that it gets to you before the bulldozers come roaring.
In the telling paragraph of your inaugural address to the staff of your Ministry, you made it clear that all illegal and unauthorised structures in the FCT shall go down.
We appreciate your determination to sanitise the FCT and make it retain its aesthetic value of being called a nation’s capital.
We have observed elsewhere that there comes a time when authorities have to embark on demolitions, particularly in the overall public interest.
But such demolitions must be undertaken very reluctantly, with a sense of trepidation and a deep sense of loss.
Elsewhere, we have observed, sadly, that Nigeria has become one nation at war with itself. Even in the face of our terrible housing deficit, when we are not busy pulling down the few buildings we have, the buildings are busy collapsing on their own. No nation ever develops that way.
The incidence of housing collapse in Nigeria has now become a case of “Another day, another collapse”.
Incidentally, you have received your first baptism here with the building that collapsed in Abuja soon after your arrival.
The problem of housing collapse in Nigeria provides a frightening glimpse, and all efforts must be directed to finding the root cause with a view to seeking a permanent solution. We cannot continue to be the Housing Collapse Capital of the world.
We see mass demolitions as the moral equivalent of war. Sometimes, the war situation may even be preferred. Look at it this way: An administration that embarks on the mass demolition of illegal structures, so-called, may have just succeeded in summarily destroying the people without knowing it – the people and their property are gone!
On the other hand, in a war situation, an entire place may be bombed; and the people’s property destroyed. But at the end of hostilities, some of the survivors may benefit from the war reparations that will be paid. What we see here is the lesser of two evils!
Mass demolition is a terrible thing and it must be approached with utmost caution. People look at illegal structures in two dimensions either that you did not build to specification or the building stands on a piece of land that is not properly allocated.
In either case, the best time to destroy a building is when it is under construction, not after it has been completed.
In just the same way that you cannot hide a farm, no building can ever be constructed as an absolute secret.
After all, every housing organisation has Town Planners and other staff charged with site and building supervision. Where were these officers in the FCT when the illegal structures were coming up? If such supervisors obtain money to look the other way, they are the ones you should go after – not the poor owner!
Demolition is never a good instrument for addressing political differences. In your particular case, Honourable Minister, you must be weary of being used as a political pawn.
Make no mistake. From a distance, we see you as an honest man who can readily chest out at any time to ensure that the right thing is done for the public good.
The political colouration in this particular case stems from the fact that today, you have one leg in PDP and the other leg out. Meanwhile, you are not in the APC and whatever you do wrong cannot be debited to the APC. They, therefore, see you as a perfect fit for the dirty jobs at no risk to them. To that extent, you may be seen as a mercenary; and easily expendable!
Honourable Minister, perhaps unknown to you, political analysts have stretched the argument to the limits. Adherents to the view of mass demolition think that it is payback time for the FCT residents who stoically denied them their votes when they mattered most.
Such people have lost their sense of history. By any means, 2023 is not the end of elections. In President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first coming in 1999, he lost abysmally in the entire South West region, including his own polling booth!
When Obasanjo came to office, he did not pay the people in their own coins. Rather, he found a way of cultivating a good friendship with them. The rest is now history.
Whatever the motivation mix, we stand on the side of restraint when it comes to the issue of house demolition.
We have seen this before. Yours Sincerely was once the Chairman of the defunct Bendel Development & Planning Authority (BDPA).
We acquired parcels of land in our five Estates at the time. Oregbeni and Ugbowo in Benin City; Igbudu in Warri; Ugborikoko in Effurun, near Warri; and Okwe in Asaba.
While we were mobilising for funds and materials to commence construction, members of the Arewa Community moved into the acquired land at Igbudu. They built their ramshackle houses in a sizable part of that land. It was outrageous; and that’s putting it mildly.
Many suggested that we reach for the bulldozer. But when the dust settled, we opted for dialogue. We invited the Community to a round table. We made them apply for the plots, and with the payment of a nominal fee, we approved the ownership of the plots for them under what is called RETENTION CASES in Estate Development. We fenced them into the Estate and they became part owners of the Estate.
Admittedly, the Estate lost part of its aesthetic value in the process. But we were able to make the best use of a bad situation.
Remember that in the end, people will be judged by what they built, not by what they destroyed. There is life after service and each man has the rest of his life to live with himself.
It is our fervent prayer that the Almighty God will continue to guard and guide you aright, so that in the end, this will be yet another successful tenure of office.
Yours in the Service of our Nation:
Hon. Josef Omorotionmwan.