By Kingsley Adegboye
Condemnations have continued to trail the demolition of Uncle ‘ P’ Guest House , Abraka in Ethiope East Local Government Area in Delta State by agents of the state government led by the Delta State Commissioner of Police , Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba and the Transitional Chairman, Ethiope East Local Government Council, Mr. Onoriode Sunday. The facility was demolished for allegedly harbouring a suspected kidnapper.
The guest house, owned by a retiree of Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, Mr. Pius Ogbeni was demolished on July 20, 2013 because a suspected kidnapper who lodged in the guest house for three days, confessed that he stayed in the guest house.
The flurry of criticisms came from human rights activists and Constitutional lawyers who described the demolition as an injustice which should not happen in a democratic dispensation.
Mr. Azeez Alade of the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR who spoke to Vanguard Homes & Property said the action was condemnable. “This reminds us of the military era when military men took laws into their hands and carried out the bidding of their masters.
“It was very wrong for the government to have done that using the security operatives to oppress the people they are paid to protect. Yes, government may take action to prevent a spread of crimes and criminals, especially, the issue of kidnapping, but the fact that a suspected criminal lodged in the hotel was not enough for the government agents to pull the guest house down.
“So, it was clear that this hotel demolished was a commercial operation which was registered for hosting and accommodating visitors. The only thing that was not clear was whether the hotelier had been warned about habouring the same man or other kidnappers over time. This does not in anyway justify their action to demolish the facility. No court of law has made any pronouncement of sealing the building or demolishing it because a suspected criminal lodged in it. It was completely wrong, illegal and ultra vires of the law. So, the government is liable for demolishing the property. They have to pay for damages”, Alade said.
Equally condemning the action, the chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA Ikeja branch, Mr. Monday Ubani said: “Even if it is confirmed that the man involved is an armed robber or a convict, it is only the court of law that can order the demolition of the hotel. “There must be provision in law that expressly support such action, otherwise, every step taken will be illegal and unconstitutional.
“So, the hotelier has a very strong ground for a legal action against the government and the security officials used in the operation. The action was illegal, ultra vires, and highest form of transgression by the government. They have to pay heavy damages in billions, if the owner of the hotel pursue a legal action. It is a case he has to pursue to a logical conclusion. It is necessary”, the NBA boss noted.
Mr. Ogbeni told Vanguard Homes & Property that Uncle ‘P’ Guest House which is worth N150 million was built with proceeds from his retirement benefits from Shell Petroleum Development Company which he augmented with bank loans. The retiree who said he is still shocked and devastated by the demolition declared: “the truth of the matter is that one young man lodged in the hotel on July 14, 2013.
He checked out on July 19, 2013 at about 7pm. But at about 12:30 am of the next day, the young man was brought into the hotel by the Police in handcuff and chains. The leader of the police team asked the manager of the hotel if he could identify the suspect. The manager, unsuspecting of any foul play , answered in the affirmative, claiming that the young man was a guest in the hotel and had officially checked out the previous day.
“The young man completed a form before he was allocated a room wherein he claimed to be a film maker on a shooting exercise in the area. The manager argued that as one of the hotel’s management’s security measures, no two male guests are allowed in one room, except they are a couple.
He said the young man was in the hotel without any incident till he checked out on July 19, 2013. He argued that there was no way he could have known that he was a kidnapper at the point of checking into the hotel which is a public place.
“The suspect was not arrested in the hotel. The kidnapped victim was not rescued from the hotel. If the kidnapped victim had been rescued from the hotel as being misleadingly claimed by the police, they would not have arrested and detained only the hotel manager but the entire workforce on duty at the time of the arrest. It was not established by the police that the owner of the hotel was directly or indirectly connected with the activities or actions of the kidnappers.
Reacting to the demolition, Delta Police Command said the order to demolish the property was from the state government and its role was supervisory. According to ASP Lucky Uyabeme, Delta state Police Public Relations Officer, “the demolition of the hotel was a directive from the Delta State government. “There is a law that any abode whether dwelling or commercial that a kidnap victim is kept should be pulled down. The police only carried out a standing order of the state security council by providing security for the operation”.