…its cruelest display of arbitrary executive powers
…demand compensation, investigation by Human Rights Commission
Three civil society organizations have stridently condemned the invasion and demolition of two hotels in Rivers State under the watch of Gov. Nyesom Wike amid heavy security presence.
They deplored the use of force in the demolition exercise without allowing the owners of the two hotels or the occupants to salvage their properties or remove some valuables before the buildings were pulled down.
The CSOs comprising Spaces For Change | S4C, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC) and the Action Group on Free Civic Space described as distasteful the state government’s “terror in the last few weeks, ruthlessly clamping down on civic freedoms under the guise of enforcing of COVID-19 lockdown measures’’.
The hotels are Prodest Home Services, Alode, popularly known as “Prudent Hotel, along Old Refinery Road and Etemeteh Hotel, Onne.
According to reports, 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 about 11.58 a.m. on Sunday, evicted the occupants and demolished the buildings including properties worth millions of Naira.
“In the cruelest display of arbitrary executive powers, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike personally supervised the demolition of the two hotels,’’ they said in a statement.
According to the CSOs, 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.
They 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.’’
The CSOs said when the Action Group on Free Civic Space’s COVID-19 Tracking Team visited the demolition sites, the managers of the hotels denied opening the facilities for business in violation of the lockdown order as alleged claimed by the government.
“The manager of Prudent Hotel also denied allegations of harbouring a wanted felon in the hotel during the lockdown,’’ the statement said.
Persecondnews recalls that last week, the Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives had introduced a bill entitled, “Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020’’, giving sweeping powers to the President, the Nigeria Centre for Disease and Control (NCDC) and the Minister of Health to prevent and manage the outbreak of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
The bill also proposed absolute powers to the Minister of Health to authorize the destruction of any known property or suspicious source of infectious disease for the purpose of preventing the spread or possible outbreak of an infectious disease.
However, the bill has been reportedly stepped down following a public outcry and pressure from CSOs and lawyers.
“We particularly demand the Rivers State Government to pay compensation to owners of properties 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,’’ the statement signed by Victoria Ibezim-Ohaer (Spaces For Change), Fyneface Dumnamene (Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre) and Action Group on Free Civic Space, said.
The CSOs called on national and international human rights groups, the media and well-meaning Nigerians to prevail on the Gov. Wike to discontinue his demolition policy and ensure that his lockdown measures had a human face.