‘Spaces for Change’, allies, knock Wike over demolition of hotels

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* Demand for adequate compensation to owners

A group known as ‘Spaces for Change’ and its allies have become one of the first groups to give knocks to Gov Nyesom Wike over the demolition of two hotels in Eleme, Rivers State.

Gov Wike accused the hotels of violating his lockdown order by allegedly opening for operations.

Spaces for Change (S4C), Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC) and the Action Group on Free Civic Space in an early statement condemned what they called the sudden invasion of the two hotels, and the use of force that they said characterised the demolition exercise.

The groups said the owners of the two hotels had no opportunity at all to salvage their properties or remove some valuables before the buildings were pulled down. “Particularly distasteful is Rivers State Government’s campaign of terror over the last few weeks, ruthlessly clamping down on civic freedoms in the name of combating the spread of coronavirus.

On Sunday, 10 May 2020, bulldozers accompanied by a horde of armed security operatives acting on the orders of Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, viciously demolished two hotels, Prodest Home Services, Alode, popularly known as “Prudent Hotel, Alode” along Old Refinery Road Area, and Etemeteh Hotel, Onne, both in Rivers State, under the guise of enforcing COVID-19 lockdown measures.

The heavily-armed security operatives were accompanied by the Eleme Local Government chairman and members of the Local Government Task Force on COVID-19. They stormed the two hotels at about 11.58 a.m. on Sunday morning, forcefully evicted the occupants and demolished the buildings, including the properties inside worth millions of Naira. In the cruellest display of arbitrary executive powers, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, personally supervised the demolition of the two hotels.

In the statement signed by Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri (S4C), Fyneface Dumnamene (Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, YEAC), and an unnamed representative of Action Group on Free Civic Space, said the only whiff of notice about the demolition was contained in a press statement, dated May 9, 2020, signed by the Rivers state government, alleging that Prudent Hotel and Etemeteh Hotel flouted the state government’s directive on the closure of hotels in the state, as part of the lockdown measures to combat the spread of coronavirus in the state.

The groups said the hotels were demolished less than 24 hours after the press statement was issued. “Without giving them fair hearing and without any form of engagement with the owners of the properties, Rivers State authorities went ahead and demolished the two hotels, sparking fear and public outrage across the state and the entire country.

“When the Action Group on Free Civic Space’s COVID-19 Tracking Team visited the demolition sites and interviewed the managers of both hotels, they both denied operating and violating the lockdown orders. The manager of Prudent Hotel also denied allegations of harbouring a wanted felon in the hotel during the lockdown. Hotel owners, managers, neighbours and local residents are all in total shock after witnessing the height of executive impunity and brutality today.”

The groups said they had just opposed attempt at draconian legislation including right to demolish a property implicated in infecting people, wondering how what they opposed in Abuja has just happened without warning in Rivers State.

The groups warned against the enormous potential for executive overreach and abuse of such wide discretionary powers. “Wike’s demolition of the two Rivers Hotel provides compelling proof of what to expect when statutes enlarge governmental powers without checks and balances, in the name of disease control.

They stated; “The right to property is protected against arbitrary seizure, isolation and destruction by the Nigerian Constitution, the Land Use Act, as well as the various states urban and regional planning laws. This action amounts to violations of human rights protected under the Nigerian 1999 Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ratified into Nigerian law.”

The grouped demanded for compensation by the Rivers State government to owners of hotels already destroyed and provide relief in the form of alternative land and housing. “We specifically call on the National Human Rights Commission to launch an independent investigation into the May 10, 2020 demolitions, with a view to identifying the members of the state’s taskforce carrying out the campaign of terror in Rivers State in the name of fighting against COVID-19.

“Finally, we call on all national and international human rights groups, the media and well-meaning Nigerians to press on the Governor Nyesom Wike to discontinue his demolition policy and ensure the state-mandated lockdown has a human face.”