Beyond El-Rufai, Shehu Sani and Battle of Beggars

Countries across Europe, in desperate bid to stem the tide of terrorists attacks, have wrestled with the issue of the Muslim veil – in various forms such as the body-covering burka and the balaclavas, which covers the face apart from the eyes. The debate takes in religious freedom, female equality, secular traditions and even fears of terrorism. The veil issue is part of a wider debate about multiculturalism in Europe, as many politicians argue that there needs to be a greater effort to assimilate ethnic and religious minorities.

In June this year, at a meeting with religious leaders, Prime Minister Kalzeube Pahimi Deubet ordered the Chad’s security forces to burn all burkas sold in markets. The Chad’s government banned people from wearing the full-face veil, following two suicide bomb attacks which killed more than 33 people.

The banning order forcefully added that any clothing that covers everything but the eyes was a camouflage. The attackers were on motorcycles when they blew themselves up outside two police buildings in the capital, N’Djamena. The prime minister said the veil was used as a “camouflage” by militants and said the security forces will burn all full-face veils sold in markets. The full-face Islamic veil was also banned in May in public places in Congo-Brazzaville, to “counter terrorism”.

As a countermeasure, Governor El-Rufai ordered the ban of hawking and street begging following July 7 bomb blast at Sabon Gari Local Government Secretariat in the state that killed 25 people and left 32 others injured. A suspected female suicide bomber had sneaked into the secretariat and detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) strapped to her body on that fateful Tuesday morning while civil servants were undergoing staff verification.

The statement further warned all beggars and hawkers to stay off the streets until further notice, warning that any of them found on the streets would be arrested, until these measures are relaxed. In addition, the government reiterates that the ban on commercial motorcycles popularly known as ‘Achaba’ remains in force.

The governor hurriedly put beggars rehabilitation centre in place in Kakuri, a Kaduna suburb to cater for the immediate needs of the mendicants while further measures were drastically being work out for vocational training and skill acquisition purposes. Forward-looking countries of the world today viewed begging in modern society as backward-looking. Indian for instance, had for several decade, established 158-acre as Beggars’ Rehabilitation Centre in Magadi that includes hospital, various skill acquisition of all hues, man-made lake, and a bus terminal for BMTC, and so on.

Now, a pretty clear picture emerges – the beggars would not have any of such in Kaduna state. They are screaming blue murder and attracted the attention of a maniac Senator who was once a comrade. Even Senator Sani could not reflect on the fact that as the FCT minister governor El-Rufai established modern Beggars’ Rehabilitation Centre that accommodated and trained 20,000 beggars in various trade and skill acquisition. This perhaps accounted for the enormous support his governorship bid received in the colony of beggars.

The ill-founded outburst of Senator Shehu Sani against the banning of hawking and street begging in Kaduna State by Governor Nasir El-Rufai didn’t amuse Nigerians and international community alike, who sensed crass opportunism in the convulsive tiff. That Senator Shehu Sani appears miffed and blooded by the governor’s efforts to complement all that he Sani has been preaching over the years to reclaim the nation from the gutter did not portray the latter in positive light.

Luckily enough for Senator Sani, he slightly escaped setting the reputation he has built over the years alit. But political observes who have come to the conclusion that the survival of Nigeria state must come with the solid of ideas of people like comrade Shehu Sani may have been recoiling in horror from their earlier conviction that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It has started dawning on them that both the light and the tunnel may have disappeared, after all.

The conduct  of Senator Sani is a gross disservice to his people and downgrading of that life-engrossing occupation known as governance. The question is how did creative valuation such as genuine concern for the poor descend to such banality? Do Senator Sani know that his negative stand can thwart the expectations of the beggars? Those who say political education is lacking in most of those who pontificate may be right, all the same.

Overtly, Senator Sani’s real reason for attacking Governor El-Rufai policies has come to light. “For that reason, he has decided on his own not to even appoint people who identify with me in anyway and who are also seen to be from my camp”, Senator Sani lamented Governor El-Rufai’s governance style. It’s clear that Governor El-Rufai does no wrong whatsoever other than that Senator Sani failed to get patronages from the governor.

Now this, shall we say that Senator Sani values political grand standing more than  national well-being? Better still, shall we say he values his future political ambition more than the safety and security of Nigerians? Shall we say that it’s better to pretend to be on the side of the people so as to ride on their back to power? What would have happened if El-Rufai had ordered the banning of hijab? What purpose does political power service if it can not redirect the affairs of people and state?

Senator Sani’s attack on Governor El-Rufai lacks substance but rich in egoistic flavour: “He is a governor, I’m also a Senator. He is not bigger than me, neither am I bigger than him”. He is a technocrat, while I’m an activist and a revolutionary. So, my power base is the common people the masses who constitute my strength. They are the people I have lived with and fought for over the years”.

Senator Sani was not done yet: “Kaduna is a place I have I lived all my life and since I came out of prison in 1998, I have never been out of Kaduna for more than two weeks and I’ve never been appointed to any public office which I will live in Abuja and not know what is happening in Kaduna. So, I can tell you that within Kaduna North, Kaduna South and metropolis of Kaduna, there is hardly any street that I don’t know anybody.“

Instead of consolidating on the banning order of the governor and throw his weight behind the governor’s policies of rehabilitation, Senator Sani seek to cut the earth under the governor’s feet so as to expose him to ridicule. Such outright denunciation, rabid denigration and sweeping antagonism of a man in the same state, on the same political platform, which had clamoured for different approach to governance calls for serious introspection.

Senator Sani derisively concluded his diatribe on El-Rufai thus: “He has to take consideration of the fact that he met people that were impoverished, that were muscled, harassed and demoralized by the government of the PDP. So, first of all, they don’t need harsh policies that will further impoverish and alienate them. We need to carry them along, taking cognisance of the situation which we find them in. I fundamentally differ with him on that issue”.

I have not read of Governor El-Rufai official response to Senator Sani’s attack on him and his alleged anti-people policies against the people of Kaduna State. He has given concrete reasons earlier on why the banning of hawking and street begging is in force. He didn’t mixed words when he firmly addressed the beggars characteristically at their rehabilitation centre with an air of certitude which no one has contradicted that beggars were being used to carry out terror attacks.

Angry El-Rufai said: “From security reports, I have been told that terrorists use some of you, would   give you a bag containing explosives with the reward of N5,000 to  keep somewhere with the promise of giving you the balance when you return. But you never always return. Because they will detonate it on you and their targets”.

The solution to the prevailing crisis of destitution may well have been a mixture of muddled concern for the beggars themselves, Governor El-arufai, the Nigeria state and the world at large. I am not sure Senator Sani has appreciates the full horror of the situation! More than 90% of the 10.8 million Nigeria children of school age, susceptible to all kinds of social manipulation who are out of school according the UNESCO statistics, are those hawking and begging on the streets of Nigeria, especially in the northern part where you can find a veritable army of genuine beggars.

It’s better for Senator Sani to descend from his high horse and face the business of lawmaking that will put Kaduna State and the Country on the part of conscious development than warping his mind valiantly against the governor. Until then, Senator Sani will be reckoned with as a parochial politician who dyes his mourning weeds a deeper indigo than those of the bereaved.

Erasmus Ikhide, a Public Affairs analyst write in from Lagos, Nigeria.

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