Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, took governance to a new level on Sunday when he demolished two hotels for allegedly violating an Executive Order on coronavirus. ‘Allegedly’ because it is Wike’s words against those of the owners of the hotels who were never given the opportunity to a fair hearing. And for a government that can do without encouraging small businesses to operate and to create jobs as there is an abundance of petrodollars to squander, Wike is within his rights.
There have been divided opinions about that ill-thought demolition. Many argued that haven warned that any hotel found operating without necessary approvals would be demolished, the governor did right. Other arguments centered on the premise that there is pandemic and the government has to do all within its powers to protect residents of the state. So many are of the view that since the customers of the hotels fought the state’s task force officials and injured them, the governor was right. A few others agued that other governors have done so in the past.
That demolition shows two things: that Nigeria is yet to do away with the hangover of its long years of military rule 21 years after it gained independence. With a bad constitution that has enabled weak institutions, if the victims decide to sue, it would take them years to get justice.
The other thing that demolition showed was a government that has no plan to curtail the pandemic. The governor has been honest to say that his administration lacks the capacity to fight the pandemic, especially giving the fact that he only appointed a commissioner for health in the middle of the pandemic. So, his only plan is to brutally enforce a lockdown, confiscate and auction vehicles and demolish houses. To a carpenter, the solution to everything must revolve around nail and hammer. That explains why the governor’s plans revolve around fear, intimidation, and harassment.
He had often traveled to other countries looking for investors while the companies in his domain are moving to Lagos in droves. Which investor will bring his or her money to a place where the governor wakes up and demolishes business premises for flaunting a directive without the pronouncement of a court? In business, perception is everything. That is why the governor should have been circumspect in his approach. If he had intelligent advisers, they would have advised him to only seal-off, fine or convert the place to an isolation center. Unless, perhaps, they talked and he did not listen. By his action, he has confirmed what many already knew and sent a signal to the business community that rule of law does not exist in the state, except the one that he wants as he is the lawmaker, prosecutor, and the judge.
The peoples he just rendered jobless with that demolition, probably queued on the line, in the face of military bullets to vote for him in 2019 and forcing them out of their jobs is his best way to thank them. In Nigeria, governance does not wear a human face. Those who took oaths to defend, guard, and protect often times than not, assume the wicked roles of the oppressors of the very people whose lives and jobs they vowed to protect.
The right to own property is a constitutional right and no Governor has the power to deprive anybody of such a right except as provided for in the constitution or as adjudged by a court after given the parties affected their right to a fair hearing.
Coronavirus pandemic has thrown up many emergency dictators who have thrown away the clear-cut processes of dealing with lawbreakers. Only the court can punish lawbreakers and the governor cannot assume the power of the court upon himself.
An Executive Order of a governor does not give the said governor the power to legislate, prosecute, judge, and enforce. The Constitution did not say that the Executive powers of the Executive (President or Governor) shall give it the powers to make a final conclusion on a matter. What Executive Order does mainly is that it reduces the bottlenecks in legislative processes, but not judicial processes. This is a right reserved only for a competent court of law. Any other bill, act, or law in contravention with the constitution is null and void. So the governor cannot hide under an Executive Order to perpetuate executive recklessness. The destruction of a business and property for violation of an executive order cannot be justified in law or in a democratic setting as Wike’s Quarantine Act cannot take precedence over the constitution.
At a time that governments all over the world are giving small businesses grants to keep them afloat so that people can still have jobs, a governor in Nigeria is demolishing such businesses because of ego.
Every action of a leader against the led comes with consequences. That is why leadership is given a higher expectation to think before it acts. Law is made to guide and direct the action of the leader on the led. The led as a citizen is bound to act in accordance with the law. A leader who brushes aside the law to deal with an erring citizen committed no less offence than the one he tackled.