WE’ve had occasion to commend some state governors for their firm resolves to implement their Executive Orders aimed at securing the lives of residents in their states in the coronavirus pandemic fight.
One of such was Governor Nyesom Wike who acted proactively when Caverton Helicopters violated the order closing the land, air and sea borders into Rivers State.
Wike had led a detachment of security officers to close down the company’s premises and get the pilots who illegally brought in passengers to Port Harcourt arrested and prosecuted.
This initially pitched the governor against the Federal Government which had authorised the flight.
Unfortunately, even this strong measure failed to extract the deterrence it was meant to do. In early April 2020 when this face-off took place, Rivers State had only a couple of confirmed cases.
But as at Saturday, May 9, 2020 when the governor felt the need to demolish some hotels whose owners obstinately flouted the order to suspend operations, the case count for Rivers State had climbed to 21; by far the highest in the nine states of the defunct Eastern Region.
Reports had it that some of the hotel owners had even unleashed thugs on members of the Rivers State COVID-19 Task Force, with some of their vehicles allegedly seized; a confrontation with the state in its effort to safeguard the lives of residents of Rivers State.
We are, however, perturbed at the length the governor went in dealing with the sordid development.
The demolition of two hotels was a total overreach of power. His threat to auction the seized vehicles is also an act of impunity.
Which court granted the warrants for those demolitions, and under which law?
Demolishing a citizen’s property without legal leave is an affront on the person’s constitutional right.
Agreed, what these hotel and vehicle owners did were capable of exposing people to danger of infection. Indeed, the governor alleged that some of the confirmed cases in the state were traced to people who had lodged in some hotels.
This, and the alleged harassment of government officials with thugs and confiscation of government property, did not, however, call for self-help by the governor.
He should have invoked the full wrath of the law (not of man) against the suspects.
The hotels and vehicles could have been impounded indefinitely (subject to court authorisation) while the suspects and their handymen are prosecuted.
The demolition of those hotels means that those who made their living there will return from the pandemic without jobs.
We know how difficult it can be to get Nigerians to obey simple rules in the public interest. However, the rule of law should always be diligently followed in line with our democratic culture.