A coalition of civic groups, the Action Group on Free Civic Space, has strongly condemned the demolition of two hotels, Prudent Hotel in Alode and Etemeteh Hotel in Onne, both in Rivers State, following orders by Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, to pull down the buildings.
The Action Group on Free Civic Space represents a loose network of organisations, student unions, social movements, and active citizens across Nigeria.
In a statement made available to Daily Sun signed on behalf of the groups by Emmanuel Acha and Fyneface Dumnanmene, it noted that the demolition of the two hotels in the course of enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown in Rivers as “distasteful”.
The statement reads: “The Action Group on Free Civic Space strongly condemns the sudden invasion of the two hotels (Prudent hotel, Alode, and Etemeteh hotel, Onne) and the use of force that characterised the demolition exercise.
“The owners of the two hotels had no opportunity at all to salvage their properties or remove some valuables before the buildings were pulled down. Particularly distasteful is Rivers State Government’s campaign of terror over the last few weeks, ruthlessly clamping down on civic freedoms in the name of combating the spread of coronavirus.
“The only whiff of notice about the demolition was contained in a press statement, dated May 9, 2020, signed by the Rivers State government, alleging that Prudent Hotel and Etemeteh Hotel flouted the state government’s directive on the closure of hotels in the state, as part of the lockdown measures to combat the spread of Coronavirus in the state.
“The hotels were demolished in less than 24 hours after the press statement was issued. Without giving them a fair hearing and considering any form of engagement with the owners of the properties, Rivers State authorities went ahead and demolished the two hotels, sparking fear and public outrage across the state and the entire country.
“The Action Group on Free Civic Space is urging the Rivers State government to immediately halt all forced evictions and demolitions of private properties without recourse to due process and the rule of law. We particularly demand the Rivers State government to pay compensation to owners of properties already destroyed and provide relief in the form of alternative land and housing.
“We specifically call on the National Human Rights Commission to launch an independent investigation into the May 10, 2020 demolitions, with a view to identifying the members of the state’s taskforce carrying out the campaign of terror in Rivers State in the name of fighting against COVID-19.”
The group also warned against the passage of the Infectious Bill 2020 being proposed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
“Just last week, the speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives introduced an incredibly draconian legislative proposal, Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020, designed to enlarge the powers of the president, the Nigeria Centre for Disease and Control (NCDC) and the minister of health to prevent and manage the outbreak of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Provisions of the proposed statute granted unfettered powers to the minister of health to authorize the destruction of any known property or suspicious source of infectious disease for the purpose of preventing the spread or possible outbreak of an infectious disease.
“The Action Group on Free Civic Space warned against the enormous potential for executive overreach and abuse of such wide discretionary powers. Wike’s demolition of the Two Rivers Hotels provides compelling proof of what to expect when statutes enlarge governmental powers without checks and balances, in the name of disease control.”