Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State exhibited the traits of a military dictator in the reckless way he supervised the demolition of Prodest Hotel and Etemeteh Hotel in the state for alleged violation of an Executive Order on COVID-19. The Executive Order 6 banned the operation of hotels across the 23 local government areas of the state throughout the period of COVID-19 pandemic.
Governor Wike did not disguise his rascality when he spoke with journalists after the demolition of one of the hotels. He argued that, “Government has no alternative but to apply the Executive Order, which I signed before the lockdown of Obio/Akpor and Port Harcourt. I called all the traditional rulers and council chairmen and told them to ensure that no hotel operates in the state. We are not saying it will be forever. This is for now, so that we know where we are, to reduce the cases and check the spread. Whether you are PDP or not, all we are saying is that nobody is above the law. If we can do this to a PDP person, then you know we are not discriminatory. Everyone must obey. Whether you are in PDP, SDP or no party, you must obey the law. If any other person does the same thing, the same rule will apply. “
It is good that the governor is doing everything possible to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Rivers State, but such actions should be within the ambit of the law. It is apparent that the governor, in implementing the Executive Order, arrogated to himself the powers of the judiciary. As it were, the Executive Order on COVID-19 should have been derived from the country’s 1926 Quarantine Act, which was amended in 1968. Going by the principles of the rule of law, if hotel owners violated the EO, Governor Wike should have instructed the Attorney General of Rivers State to initiate a legal process in a court of law to bring the hotel owners to book. As the governor and custodian of all lands in the state, Wike could have revoked the certificates of occupancy of the hotels, closed the hotels and allowed the courts to pass a judgement on the case.
From his actions and pronouncements on the issue, the governor circumvented the principle of fair hearing in handling the allegation against the owners of the hotel. Even if COVID-19 Task Force in Rivers State had investigated and discovered that the hotels violated the Executive Order and the extant law upon which it rests, the owners of the hotel should have had their day in court. Governor Wike is conversant with the rudiments in the judicial system, being a lawyer and life bencher. It is therefore, worrisome that he should be involved in the violation of a basic principle of the rule of law.
Furthermore, it is a fundamental right of Nigerians to own landed properties. Under the Land Use Act, a governor is the custodian of all lands in his state, but he should not demolish or take over anybody’s property unless he does so in public interest. Though he has argued that he would enforce the Executive Order in spite of whose ox is gored, it is an overkill, a demonstration of executive recklessness, a violation of the fundamental rights of owners of the hotels, and an act of impunity to demolish those hotels without recourse to the law. Governor Wike, by his action, has acted like an emperor or a military dictator, and in contravention of the precepts of democratic governance.
We call on the governor to rescind further unfounded punitive action against the owners of the hotel, take the owners to a court of law and allow the judicial process to decide their fate. Every evidence that COVID-19 Task Force has against the hoteliers should be tendered in a court of law where the accused persons would be made to defend themselves. The governor should not hide under the shadow of COVID-19 to perpetuate impunity and jungle justice.