The decision by Rivers State governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, to lead bulldozers into Eleme on a demolition mission of a hospitality facility, has given fillip to the recurrent conversations about the place of young people in positions of authority.
Wike’s display of strong arm tactics in executing his mandate as governor comes at a time when his colleague in Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, took a similar pathway to play the laymaker, judge and executor at the same time, by ordering the demolition of a building in his state.
Governor El Rufai came to demolition limelight during his stint as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), when he led the revalidation of the Abuja masterplan to demolish hotels and illegal structures. But his excess came on the wake of his political vendetta against his rival for the control of Kaduna State structure of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in the build up to the 2019 general elections.
Hiding behind the Kaduna State Geographic Information Service (KADGIS), the governor authorized the immediate demolition of the building located at No 11B Sambo Close, GRA, Kaduna, owned by Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi.
On Tuesday February 20, 2018, when the building was pulled down, Nigerians were aghast to the level some politicians, especially governors, could go in disdain for dissent and display for rage. Senator Hunkuyi, who represented Kaduna North in the Senate, belonged to the APC faction challenging El Rufai’s perceived dictatorial tendencies in the party.
But, although Wike reigns as the unchallenged champion of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State, his decision to destroy two hotels in the state for contravening his executive order, has continued to elicit reactions.
Independent accounts from residents of Eleme had it that although the PDP youth leader in the area, osaronwa osaroejiji was cooling off at the hotel, the facility belonged to one Princewill Osaronwa Osaroejiji.
It was gathered that when the TaskForce on COVID-19 lockdown arrived the hotel, pleas by the PDP youth leader that he should be accorded some respect to allow him round off his stay before the enforcement were not acknowledged by the taskforce men.
In the fracas that ensued, the strong boys belonging to the Youth Leader vanquished the task force officials, who took the report of their ordeal to Governor Wike. And seeing the action as affront to his authority, Wike, who was once the chairman of Obio/Akpor local government council, felt that though a shark, the youth leader deserves to know that he was a bigger shark.
It was in that moment of livid rage that he insisted on demolishing hotel Podester to serve as a deterrent to others, who may try to undermine the Executive Order he signed on May 4, 2020 as a way of containing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Opinions are divided on the potency of the Executive Order in the light of constitutional provisions guaranteeing right of citizens to own property as well as the place of separation of powers.
Questions have been raised as to why the governor did not seal off the property or prosecute the offenders instead taking recourse to self help, while some commentators held that it was right for the governor to enforce his order to quell unbridled disobedience to laid down regulations and laws by some individuals.
A Rivers State lawmaker, Hon. Kelechi Nwogu, for instance, insisted that since the Executive Order clearly stipulated that every hotel in Rivers State should suspend operation and that any hotelier that disobeys his hotel would be demolished, Wike did the right thing.
Wogu stated: “To let you know that the action of the state government has no political undertone, the young man declared wanted by the government is even the PDP youth leader in Eleme. The taskforce found him in that hotel, he immediately sent thugs to beat them up and seized the government vehicle.
“For those who are of the opinion that the buildings should have been sealed off, I want you to know that the government took that hard decision to serve as deterrent to others, because some hoteliers would deliberately flout the order if they know their hotel won’t be demolished as earlier stated.”
But lawyers have been pointing at the inferiority of Executive Orders before the Constitution, recall the case of Faith Okafor versus Governor of Lagos State and another, in which the Court of Appeal held that the directive restricting the movement of citizens and residents during the State’s monthly environmental sanitation by the governor was not enforceable.
The Court of Appeal unanimously held that the Appellant, Faith Okafor, could not be arrested or prosecuted for disobeying or flouting the Executive Order or Directive of the Governor of Lagos State, “because the appellant could only be arrested and prosecuted for an offence that is prescribed in a written law.”
Despite the thin line separating facts and law in the Rivers and Kaduna States’ instances, state governors, particularly those that got clout with the onset of the fourth republic, have not been able to set a limit to their powers as individuals and custodians of executive mandates circumscribed by law.
Recent experience in some state show that greater percentage of the existential challenges facing Nigeria’s democracy revolves around executive excesses of some state chief executives, who believe that with the state legislatures under their beck and control, they equate with the state.
However, with the enormous fiscal muscle available to Governor Wike, what he did could end up as mere political grandstanding to kill two birds with one stone, by using the demolition of property owned by PDP faithful to serve as deterrence even when he could end up replacing the physical structure.
At the end of the day, the psychological trauma to the owners could be appeased, just as the Senate mandated El Rufai to compensate Senator Hunkuyi, but the pain and distress the show of executive rascality have left on the psyches of lovers of democracy may not be erased in a hurry.