FCT – Row Over Ban On Alcohol Sale

http://allafrica.com/stories/200803030334.html

Daily Trust (Abuja)
NEWS
2 March 2008
Posted to the web 3 March 2008

By Musa Simon Reef

The authorities of the Federal Capital Territory recently announced a ban on sale of alcohol in all parks of the capital city. The directive, announced by the Minister of State for the FCT, Senator John Akpanudoedehe, sparked off controversy between the operators of the parks and the FCTA.

The consumption of alcohol, the minister explained, was at variance with the objectives behind the setting up of such parks and gardens. He warned that continuous sale of alcohol would no longer be tolerated in all parks and gardens.

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Shortly after the announcement, operators of the parks and those who patronise the parks alleged that there was a deliberate attempt by the FCTA to enforce the Islamic Shariah legal system which frowns at the sale of alcohol and other social vices.

Special Assistant (Communication) to the FCT Minister, Mr. Diran Onifade, described such allegations as unfortunate and an act of irresponsibility. Onifade explained to Sunday Trust that before the appointment of Dr Aliyu Modibbo Umar as Minister of the FCT, the rules setting up the parks had prohibited the sale of alcohol.

“Even before the coming of the minister, the 2005 Abuja Parks and Garden Regulation Edict prohibits the sale of alcohol. We have received a lot of complaints from people residing close to these gardens on the illegal activities going on in these parks and gardens. As a responsible authourity, we have no option but to wade into the matter and investigate the issue thoroughly,” Onifade said on Thursday.

The operators of the gardens and parks had stormed the Department of Parks and Recreation in Abuja, complaining that some of their parks have been shut down, leading to economic hardship on their members.

The President of Garden Proprietors in the FCT, Mr Frank Ezika, alleged that no notice was given to them by the authourities before the closure of the gardens.

“We were surprised to suddenly see a gazette banning the sale of alcohol in the parks; the gazette was not given to us when we paid for the parks and gardens,” Ezika said.

Mr Charlie Okoye, the Manager of Orbit Garden, said the closure of the gardens was against the growth of the parks and gardens and expressed fears that banks may withdraw their support for the gardens and parks business.

According to Okoye, “When we were given allocation papers, we were asked to source for funds from banks and their responses had been encouraging, but they have threatened to withdraw the support. We are partners in business and should be treated as such. We should be given letters informing us of the ban rather than hear of it on air,” he said.

The Manager of the Victorian Park and Garden, Mr. Ofuekong Francis, said the closure would result in financial loss to operators since they took loans from the banks.

“Most of us borrowed money from the banks for investment in the parks and with the closure we might not be able to pay back the debt,” he said.

But Onifade said that there was no basis for the operators to complain about the FCTA’s planned enforcement of rules governing the operation of parks and gardens in the hospitals. Apart from complaints received from the public over the misuse of the parks, the operators, Onifade said, were given enough time to either obey the laws governing the setting up of parks or vacate the parks.

“Series of meetings were held between the FCTA and operators of the gardens. And it was agreed that everything that is prohibited in the running of these parks should be discarded. Anybody telling you that they suddenly came and discovered their gardens have been locked without any notice is not telling you the truth. The FCTA is not bothered by the campaign of the operators but we want to assure Nigerians and the Abuja residents that we are focused in achieving their target,” he said.

Director of the Parks and Recreation, Isah Shu’aibu had, in an interview with Daily Trust, accused operators of the gardens of harbouring other motives other than operating gardens and parks as provided by the law. But he said he would ensure that the right thing was done by implementing the total ban on the sale of alcohol.

“Of course the rules have been there since but I think they have not been applied but right now we are applying them and we’ll make sure that it’s applied,” Shu’aibu said.

According to the director, applicants wishing to operate a garden or park are required to pay the sum of N500, 000. That, of course, does not allow operators to operate beer joints.

“Most of these people who applied for green areas, applied to develop parks, green areas and to contribute towards the greening programme of Abuja. Those are the kind of phrases they use and to my greatest shock most of them changed all of a sudden and started operating beer parlors. Most people tricked their way into the system by telling you they want to develop green, they want to provide a place for people to enjoy, parks for children, these are just the words they put in their applications,” Shu’aibu said.

The director also said that the authorities would soon start clamping down on the activities of criminals that have found save havens in these gardens.

“There are people indulged in drug taking, alcoholism and all sorts of undesirable activities because certainly when one is intoxicated he tends to perpetuate all activities that are undesirable and these are places that you expect all manners of people both women, children, foreigners and residents alike to converge and share moments outside in the public parks but where people carry out activities that is inimical to the interest of another then it’s no longer a public park.

“That’s not the concept of a public park. Every body should feel free to go to a park without anybody infringing on their rights to a decent setting. But in the evening, you see white chairs, white tables all littered, it creates the impression that that’s all we know about recreation. But people are free in Abuja to apply for places to build bars or restaurants, it’s very okay but certainly not in public parks,” he said.

Sunday Trust was shown copies of complaint letters from several residents calling on the FCTA to wade and bring sanity to the parks.

“In a situation where parks are set up for relaxation, it is unfair for people to them turn into drinking parlors. The edict on the parks is clear and I advise the minister not to be harassed by those alleging that the ministry is trying to impose Shariah in Abuja.

“Those alleging that Modibbo is trying to impose Shariah are getting it all wrong. In Abuja, there are places you can walk into and take beer. We must no allow some people trying to work up the emotion of certain people to pursue their selfish interest,” Mr. John Luka, a resident of the city told our reporter.

Chuks Nkwocha, another resident, faults the attempt to stop the selling of intoxicated drinks in gardens. He insisted that taking beer is part of the activities expected to thrive in parks and gardens.

“My friend, why should I seek to go to a park if I cannot be given a cold bottle of beer to relax my nerves after a hard day’s job? We are operating a secular constitution and people should not try to impose their morality on others who are tired and sick of their hypocrisy,” Nkwocha said.

Looking into the provision of the law, it is obvious that the operators of parks and gardens are violating the edict which prohibits sale of alcohol. For now, the operators are still insisting on their rights to continue their business but applications by operators of parks shown to our reporter last week did not indicate whether the operators would deploy such gardens for beer joints.

A top officials in the ministry confided in our reporter that the operators of the parks are being squeezed out of business and they are fighting back.

“The unfortunate things is that they using the wrong method. The operators know that no mater what happens, they will not prevail against the law. So, let them do what they want to do; the law will have its way and they (the operators) will be vanquished at the end of the day,” the official said.

 

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