PORT HARCOURT: Governor Nyesom Wike’s announcement during a Sunday Church service that he would revoke the Certificate of Occupancy of one of Port-Harcourt’s most prestigious hotels may have been seen as a sacrilegious extension of politicking into God’s house.
Novotel Hotel, a four-star hotel frequented by the expatriate community and some of the city’s multinationals, had, however, recently acquired a political tint to its operations. It is also the operational base of the immediate past governor of the state and minister of transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuke Amaechi.
The governor spoke barely twenty-four hours after one of his serious antagonists in the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC; Senator Magnus Abe cried out that last Saturday’s congresses of the party were fraudulently manipulated at the hotel to his disadvantage.
Though he didn’t mention Amaechi by name in the conspiracy against him, the increasing division between the two former allies had been the butt of several political tales in the state.
Abe told newsmen after the congress that Saturday, that some party members who frowned at the manipulations had besieged the hotel to prevent the panel members sent from Abuja to organise the congress from leaving the hotel.
For several hours, that day, the hotel was literarily shut down with party members taking over every available space at the car park.
Shouts of “there must be internal democracy in APC” rented the air as the party faithful marched from one end of the car park to the other.
Governor Wike while revoking the hotel’s C of O had given two major reasons.
He first noted that the hotel had become a place where election results in the state were rigged, as he recalled that results of the last December 10 rerun elections in the state were allegedly altered at the hotel.
He secondly pointed out that if alleged acts of electoral fraud were left to go on unchecked at the hotel that they could provoke violence of immeasurable magnitude for the state to contain.
However, beyond those reasons, some were quick to allege political vendetta on the part of the governor given that the hotel is normally where the immediate past governor, Amaechi lodges any time he is in the city.
The former governor had repeatedly claimed that he had no personal house in Port Harcourt. Since Amaechi had elected to operate from the hotel, many political analysts presumed that the revocation order by the governor was targeted at him, to dislodge him from his comfort zone in the state.
Revocation of certificate of occupancy is not new in the politics of the state as past administrations had in the past taken similar actions that were also interpreted to be acts of political vendetta.
While Amaechi was governor and still belonged to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, he also revoked the certificate of occupancy of a building reportedly belonging to late Chief E.J Oriji in D Line when a breakaway faction of the party converged at the place for their meetings. The party members were even branded as cultists.
In a similar vein, the campaign office of Dr. Abiye Sekibo, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN 2011 governorship candidate at number 67 A Tombia street, New GRA was sealed on February 23, 2011, alleged failure to pay tenement rate. The move at that time was interpreted as an attempt to destabilise Sekibo who was running against Governor Amaechi then.
Meanwhile, time, Novotel Hotel was at as at press time was still functioning as officers of the hotel claimed that it had resolved its issues with the state government.
Governor Wike’s decision to revoke the C of O of the hotel has nevertheless generated mixed reactions from political stakeholders.
Among those that flayed the decision were the opposition APC, the immediate past Commissioner for Information and Communications, Dr. Austen Tam-George and the Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside.
In separate statements, they condemned the move on the basis that it would impact negatively on the economy of a state struggling to attract investors.
Peterside in his statement described the decision of the governor as despotic, saying it was unfortunate that he would take such action at a time the state needed investors to shore up its economic base. He also feared that it would send many employees of the place back to the labour market, thus aggravating the social crisis.
His words: “Wike had sworn to uphold the Nigerian Constitution without fear or favour and ill-will or malice against any citizen. It is now left to Wike and his conscience to check whether he has been faithful to his oath.
“When I heard that Wike had revoked the C of O of Novotel Hotel, I thought it was a joke until I saw a statement to that effect. In his trademark style of governance, he denied the management of Novotel any opportunity to respond to any accusation. Wike alone was the accuser, prosecutor, witness and jury in this matter.
It is sad that at a time when Rivers State needs every investment it can muster to create jobs for youths, arrest insecurity and stabilise social relationships, Wike is busy closing established multinationals, global chains and respected franchise to which Novotel belongs. “
Media aide to the governor, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu fired back, saying that the hotel was not above the law. He said the governor would continue to insist that all business investments in the state promoted the atmosphere of peace.
He said governor Wike since he came on board had attracted several multibillion dollar investments to the state as part of his resolve to grow its economy.
“While Governor Wike continues to build the framework for investments in the state, he will continue to insist that all businesses operate in line with the tenets of the law.
Novotel is not above the law. Therefore, it must face the consequences of its illegal actions.
“Tam-George more than any other person should be aware that sponsored propaganda has no effect on the Wike administration.
“The same statement credited to Tam-George was earlier released by the defeated Rivers APC Governorship Candidate, Mr. Dakuku Peterside. While groups can partner to circulate propaganda, the facts remain that a centre of electoral fraud and malpractice cannot be allowed to unleash mayhem on Rivers people without being checked.”