By BAHIR UMAR, Abuja
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, says he has no regrets over the demolitions and evictions that characterized his four-year tenure.
Testifying before the Senate Committee probing the FCT administration since 1999, El-Rufai also insisted that all his actions were in accordance with the directive of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the resolutions of the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
He also said he made use of the Land Use Act whenever it was convenient to do so, while denying ever breaching the constitution.
Grilled for over six hours, the ex-minister, who swore to the Holy Quran instead of affirming, as his two other counterparts, Architect Ibrahim Bunu and Engineer Abba Gana, who testified before him, told the committee that he never lost sleep or feared death as minister when he was demolishing structures in Abuja because he knew he was doing the right thing.
He said he had to abandon his Law examination in London and face the committee because he wanted to set things straight before Nigerians.
“I am happy to come down and let you have my own version after having watched people give a lot of half truths and distorted information, which, in my view, is not fair to me, you and the rest of Nigerians,” he said.
Asked to explain the demolition of 75,000 houses, El-Rufai said: “When we came in, there was a specific instruction from former President Olusegun Obasanjo that we must administer Abuja in strict adherence to the master plan and hence computerize all plots in Abuja, in view of the need to take appropriate measures that would make it a befitting capital city of world standard, which brought about establishing the Abuja Geographical Information System (AGIS), which I did.”
The former minister, who said he demolished only 48,600 dwelling units and not 75,000, argued that encroachment on sewer lines, water line and power line as well overriding public interest were the principal reasons for his action, which was in obedience to the FEC and President Obasanjo.
El-Rufai told he committee that before he came into office several demolitions had been carried out and that his bulldozers were never in Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse and Garki because they had been properly developed.
He, however, stated that houses belonging to former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Col Ahmadu Ali; former Senate President, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, Senator Zwingina, Senator Evan Enwerem were wrongly built on sewer lines and had to be demolished.
In the case of Ali, he said that the FCT administration had compensated him to the tune N68 million, while Anyim was adequate compensated for one of his demolished buildings.
Anyim’s second building, he said, was pulled down because he failed to heed an instruction not to build on the plot.
“I told him to wait, don’t build, but he didn’t listen. That was why the building was removed,” he said.
On why permanent secretaries’ houses were demolished or their allocations revoked, he said they were affected by the magnetization policy.
“The Attorney General of the Federation gave his opinion that, indeed, in the constitutions the Head of Service, the SGF and permanent secretaries are political appointees, though they came in via career progression. This was the decision of the council. I do not classify who is a political officer or not. The council tells me permanent secretaries are these, I do it,” El-Rufai said.
On why he followed FEC instruction and not follow the FCT guidelines while taking important decision, he said: “These guidelines were issued by FEC and whenever there sis a lacuna I go back to the council and they amend it.”
Asked how to differentiate between FEC and President Obasanjo, he said: “Sir, the Federal Executive Council consists of the president and over 40 ministers and these guidelines are in fact, an example of the difference between the two because there is a memo, which I took to the council to ratify the approval of President Obasanjo on the sale of houses.”
He stated that FCT was mostly run with FEC instructions and “we refer to our guidelines only when we needed to borrow some rules when the need arose.”
At a point, El-Rufai turned rather argumentative, saying: “No Sir, it’s not correct, Sir,” on several occasions and Senator Ewa Henshaw had to call him to order.
The senator warned him thus: “Let me remind you that you are before the committee and you should treat the committee with respect. When we ask you to wait, you wait and we want you wait and we want you to do just that.”
Reminded that thousands of houses were demolished and billions of naira lost, including human lives, El-Rufai grudgingly apologised for alleged mistakes he could have made in the course of demolitions.
His words: “These regulations have been there. I did not just make them. Secondly, all the actions I took were based on advice and guidance, so, I’m sorry if the decisions I took really hurt somebody based on not using Land Use Act.”
Seeking on the sale of former Vide President Atiku Abubakar’s guest house, the former minister admitted that he took a memo to former President Obasanjo, who gave approval for the sale, which he, El-Rufai, eventually bought. He however, insisted that the house was not undervalued.
He said: “Atiku told me he wanted to buy one of the guest houses. I sent a form to him personally. He refused to submit it. He said he couldn’t find it. I sent another one to him; he also refused to return it. I sent a memo to the president (Obasanjo) asking for some of the guest houses to be sold, including Atiku’s.”
On the compensation on Arewa Hospital building demolition in Accra Street, Wuse, Zone 5, the former minister said: “And in the case of this hospital, as soon as building started they sent him a memo to stop the building and all titles were revoked as well since 1997. So when I saw the argument by the land department I asked why they allowed the building to be completed.
They said the system failed. We therefore, concluded that payment should be made only to the level of building when he was asked to stop building and we now found out that we overpaid Arewa Hospital, because we did valuation based on completed building; so we asked him to refund the money so that we’ll arrange to give him another place, considering his committed cost, but he went to court.”
El-Rufai denied revoking the plot of former Inspector General, Musiliu Smith, for allegedly being on sewer line and relocating it to his brother, Bashir El-Rufai.
He also blamed FCT officials for flouting court injunctions and demolishing the late Justice Sambo’s residence.
“They applied their discretion wrongly,” he said.