From an executive order, assault on members of a government task force, arrest warrant for a political actor and heated debate amongst lawyers, Governor Nyesom Wike’s decision to demolish some hotels in Rivers State has opened a floodgate of intrigues as Daily Trust reports.
The demolition of two hotels in Rivers State recently at the instance of Governor Nyesom Wike over alleged violation of the lockdown order seems to have frayed nerves across the state.
Governor Wike himself had monitored the demolition of Prodest Hotel, Alode, Eleme, and while Etemeteh Hotel, Onne was also demolished in line with Executive Order 6, which banned the operation of hotels across the 23 local government areas of the state.
The Managing Director of Etemeteh Hotel was also arrested immediately after the demolition.
“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,” the governor said.
The Governor said that the focus on hotels is because one of the cases in the state spread the virus from a hotel.
However, politics has crept into the debate as some members of the Rivers State COVID-19 Task Force, who had earlier gone to the hotel to enforce the lockdown at Prodest Hotel, Eleme, said the PDP Eleme Youth Leader, Mr Princewill Osaroejiji allegedly led some thugs to attack them, injuring some of them in the process.
Speaking from his hospital bed, a member of the team, Friday Osaro Oloka said that when they got to the hotel, there was a party ongoing. He said that they approached the hotel manager, who sought permission to call his proprietor.
“The manager called and the PDP Youth Leader came with some boys. They beat us severely. The PDP Youth Leader asked us why we came to the hotel where he lodged. We told him we didn’t know that’s where he lodged. Despite that, he and his boys beat us until 8 pm.”
Another task force member, Samuel Ndu corroborated Mr Oloka’s account of the assault.
The doctor treating the task force members, Dr Emmanuel Ejembi of Famo Clinic said the victims suffered varying degrees of injuries, including a fracture.
However, Princewill Osarojiji, who was declared wanted by the state government on his role in the attack denied that he led thugs to attack the task force members and insisted he was being framed by his detractors who are intimidated by his rising political profile.
While the political intrigues continue, pictures of the demolished hotels flooded social media and drew angry reactions from many commenters.
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana in his reaction claimed that governor Wike is an embarrassment to the Body of Benchers and needs to be sanctioned by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA.
Mr Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in a radio interview, said, “It is unfortunate that these events are happening in Port Harcourt where the governor of the state is a senior lawyer and not just a lawyer. I’m even informed that he’s a member of the Body of Benchers; that is an embarrassment. A colossal embarrassment to the Nigerian Bar Association.
“Under our law, an emergency under the Quarantine Act does not permit the demolition of a house of an alleged offender. Whoever has breached the law will have to be tried and convicted by a court of law before a sentence can be pronounced. There is no provision for even the President to take the Law into his hands and then begin to mete out punishments to citizens without recourse to the constitution.
“We hope that the governor will be properly advised to reverse his decisions, publicly apologise and restore the properties that have been destroyed. Everyone will have to go through a judicial process. That is what the Rule of Law is all about,” he said.
The lawyer who said he had seen the executive order, which has no provision for demolishing properties, says he foresees owners of the property to take the matter to court.
While Falana was against the demolition, a former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Chief Onueze Okocha (SAN) declared that the executive orders where the governor derived his power to demolish the hotels are appropriate.
“I believe strongly that the measures taken by the Rivers State Government, particularly the Governor, are well-thought-out, well advised and I believe that they will, to a large extent, help us avoid or at least minimize, to the barest level, the spread of this coronavirus,” he said.
He noted that it was on this basis that the Rivers State Government put in place the Quarantine Coronavirus (COVID 19) and other Infectious Diseases Regulations No. 2 of 2020, which is also in line with the Quarantine Act of the Federal Government.
“It’s not everything that is going to be written law. By the authority of written law, some orders are made, some regulations are put in place and those flow naturally from the provisions of written law,” he said
“So, anybody arguing that the executive orders are unconstitutional should know his options. He should seek legal advice and if necessary, go and challenge those orders in a court of law,” he said.
Also, a former deputy governor of the state, Engr. Tele Ikuru said that the limited spread of COVID’19 cases in Rivers State is directly attributable to the long-range decision and proactive actions of governor Wike, saying the governor had shown leadership at a time “when even the Federal Government has become rudderless and unable to proffer policy direction.”
However, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, who represented Rivers South-East Senatorial District at the National Assembly, warned that the governor’s draconian measures would be counterproductive if he fails to give his policies a human face since the war against the pandemic is fundamentally about collective humanity and as such must be fought on strictly humane and just terms.
In a statement “A Dangerous Gamble” published on his Facebook page, Abe said the demolition and auction of private property, closure of all sources of survival for citizens of the state without due consideration in the name of the battle against COVID-19, are draconian measures that will prove counterproductive in the long run.
The governor’s approach, he said, “runs the risk of dividing the state into two distinct camps, those who support the governor and will justify, glorify and applaud any action taken by the government no matter how callous and ill-advised. And those who oppose the governor and will oppose every action of the state government no matter how well-thought-out or well-intentioned the action maybe”.
Also, immediate past Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr Dakuku Peterside also condemned the demolition of the hotels, saying it was done without recourse to the due process of law and natural justice that confers the right of fair hearing on the accused.