– Hotel owners question the legality and whether Eleme was part of the latest lockdown order
By Codratus Godson
Gov Nyesom Wike of Rivers State said he would auction hotels and cars that violate his latest extreme lockdown order imposed on Thursday, May 7, 2020, but he turned round to demolish them. He had later said he would demolish them.
Confusion seems to engulf Rivers State as Gov Nyeson Wike and his squad began demolishing two hotels in a part of Rivers State over alleged violation of lockdown orders.
By noon today, Sunday, May 10, 2020, cries rang out from Eleme and Onne, near Port Harcourt, where bulldozers began demolishing the hotels. A large crowd gathered at the spots. Few minutes later, social media was awash with weeping and wailing alongside photos of crumbling edifices.
It is not clear if the demolition was granted by any court as no word came from relevant government authorities that moment.
The governor had issued what he called ‘extreme measures’ ordering Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor, the tow local council areas that make up the state capital (Port Harcourt) to totally shut down. He had said in the broadcast on Monday, May 4, 2020, to auction any hotel or vehicle that violated the order.
By Thursday, May 7, 2020, while going round to enforce the order, the governor said he would demolish any erring hotel. This seemed to throw confusion especially within the leisure industry as hotel owners did not know which actually was the punishment; auction or demolition.
As this was going on, the governor declared that 20 vehicles including trucks that were impounded would be sold off the next day Saturday. He also ordered that two hotels in Eleme local council area, Prudent and Emeret (Onne) be demolished.
This increased the anxiety and confusion in the state as demolition suddenly replaced auctioning of hotels. Members of the public had through radio talks and calls pleaded for the hotels to be spared as ‘first offenders’ but this did not seem to make any sense to government.
Many seem not to come to terms that merely for violating an administrative order, their hotels would be demolished and vehicles auctioned off. This however seems to be the reality.
Reacting, however, the chairman of hotel owners in Rivers State, Mr Eugene Nwazu, said his members were adequately mobilized to comply with the order to shut down. He said: “To obey is better than sacrifice. All hotels and other hospitality related businesses were advised to shut down”.
In her reaction, the national vice president of the Nigerian Hotels Association, South-South, Pastor/Mrs Grace Maxwell Efeoghene, CEO of Prince Kin Hotel, said she was yet to be briefed by the state chairman especially to know if the two hotels so far affected are members of the association. She said she also wanted to be briefed to know if the order included Eleme LGA.
Pastor/Mrs Ofoeghene who is also a pastor said she has however communicated with the national body on the developments.
Speaking after the demolition, however, Gov Wike told newsmen thus: “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.
Sources also said the hotel demolition had much to do with a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) youth leader in Eleme (Princewill Osaroejiji) who was declared wanted on Saturday by Gov Wike. The Commissioner of Information and Communications, Linus Msirim, had in a short statement said N5m bounty was placed on his head by anyone who could give information on his whereabouts.
It was gathered that the youth leader leads a factional youth body that permitted some hotels to operate wheras another group opposed it. When the disagreement burst open, it was gathered, the governor got wind of the situation and furiously ordered the protected hotels to be demolished.