WIKE: Untold stories of hotel demolition
•Task Force asked for bribe; attack on member turns fatal
•Wike ruined my hard earned investment, displaced 60 breadwinners -Prodest hotel owner
•Governor commits demolition sites to public use
•Criminal claims against Osaroejiji self indictment on Wike, PDP
•Court battle imminent
By Egufe Yafugborhi
Amidst attendant outpouring of anger, politicization of argument, legal confrontations and claims by anonymous interested parties, the talking point that has most stirred emotions over the demolitions of Prodest Home and Etemeteh Hotel, both hospitality outfits in Eleme Local Government Area, Rivers state, has been the harsh toll the ugly saga is taking on key actors.
When it started, the balance of public sympathy was tilted to the owners of the hotels and their employees whose livelihoods have been compromised. Others felt for Princewill Osaroejiji for being declared wanted with a N5 Million bounty for his arrest, aside losing his status as Eleme LGA Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Youth Leader for leading alleged violence against the Rivers State Covid-19 Task Force in defense of Prodest Home, Alode, one of the demolished hotels.
However, the Rivers State Government, on Wednesday, disclosed fatal tone to the crisis when the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Paulinus Nsirim, announced that a member of the state task force (identity withheld) had died Tuesday from injuries sustained during alleged Osaroejiji’s led attack on the Taskforce members at Prodest.
Nsirim said Wednesday, “These two hotels not only flouted the Executive Order 6, the Hotel Manager of Prodest invited wanted PDP Eleme Youth Leader, Princewill Osaroejiji, who came with thugs to unleash mayhem on Task Force operatives on ground to close down the facility.
“As we speak, one of the Task Force operatives lost his life last night. Governor Wike and Rivers Security Council took the decision to demolish the hotels in the interest of Rivers state and her people. Days before that demolition, everyone was aware the State Government sensitized the people on consequence of flouting Executive Order 6.
“Having demolished that hotel, Governor Wike has approved that a primary school be constructed at that location to serve Rivers people. The two hotels are being committed to public use. This is what a responsive government will do.”
Conflicting impact assessment
It is never in dispute that owners of both hotels have lost quite a fortune and key source of income, based on manifest level of destruction. However, measuring associated losses have also come with high emotions that provoked some conflicting impact assessment.
Gogorobari Needam, owner of Prodest Home had said, “We have more than 60 staff there. The state government should be happy I took up some responsibilities from them in gainfully engaging these persons. That investment was taking care of my family and relatives and others around me.
“There was no fair hearing. I did not violate any order. The government was supposed to do some investigations, which is the primary thing. If they found me wanting on the lockdown, other procedures should have been applied, not demolishing a structure like that.
“I don’t stay in Port Harcourt. I live in Lagos and we are talking about investments in Rivers day and night. I pulled resources together, invested in my place to take some persons off the streets. And what the State Government could do was to demolish that investment without proper investigation.”
However, Ezo Karasia, a resident in the neighborhood who claimed to have close relationship with the hotel said, “Over 15 people were working here from the data I gathered. Imagine where 15 people are working and 13 are being sent home.
“Imagine the adverse effect of that on their livelihood. Imagine the trauma, what they must be passing through now. Everybody is angry here in Alode. Even in Wuhan (China) where the virus originated, I don’t think anybody suffered demolition of property.”
Karasia made his claim on number workers affected by the Prodest demolition in presence of Edwin Onubare who had affirmed that, “Gogorobari Needam is my younger brother. He is based in Lagos and I am the one who is always here. Those who came to demolish took the manager along.”
Fate of arrested Prodest Home manager
Meanwhile, wife of Dr. Bariledum Azoroh, the arrested Prodest Home manager, is said to be helpless, nursing a newborn baby. Dae Deegbara, sociopolitical commentator and professed friend to Prodest owner said, “Azoroh’s condition and whereabouts are unknown, leaving his wife with no source to take care of herself and his new born baby.
In what appears to be internal Eleme LGA party and youth leadership crisis, it shouldn’t have ordinarily rubbed an innocent business owner and the manager into this sad situation. Dr Azoroh, an orphan from Zaakpon, khana LGA of the state has been manager of Prodest Hotel for more than five years , since the facility was built by a friend of his.
“Because unemployment is respecter of no one, with just N35,000 monthly salary, Dr Azoroh, determined not to let his background keep him aground, persevered and worked as the hotel manager till having bagged PhD in finance management.
“For a young man under 30 with a PhD, the hotel work was his only source that saw him through school, gave him livelihood and opportunity to fend for family. Not only him, I am told his cousin who came visiting was also arrested in the process.”
Deegbara added, “Quite unfortunate, the hotel owner, an enterprising young Ogoni man has become the first coronavirus casualty, the sacrificial lamb in the fight against #COVID19 in the state. This is sad, very sad.
“I know how he (owner) toiled through a lot before putting up that facility. Now without recouping his investment, he has lost all. I wonder what he could be going through now. Only God will console him.”
However, a company executive resident in Alode and familiar with the business climate at Prodest Home, said, “The hotel owner may have been innocent, but his Manager’s vexed indulgence with the PDP youth leader is what backfired and cost the owner dearly.
“The manager was negligent, believing the youth leader was above the law. He cannot claim the task force met a closed hotel. If they had close the business and dealt wit whatever consequence when the Taskforce came in, the repercussion may have been less. He mobilised in Osaroejiji who complicated his employer’s pains”
Both parties, Prodest Home, speaking through supervising Edwin Onubari, elder brother to the owner and Rivers Government, have been in agreement that Osaroejiji was alerted and rushed into the scene when the State Covid-19 Task Force visited the hotel 9 May. Onubari also confirmed that Osaroejiji did show up and commotion ensued, claiming it however happened outside the hotel.
Onubari said, “I asked, what brought you people here when we are not operating? I said this place has been locked down since Tuesday 5 May after we heard the announcement from the Governor and Eleme LG Chairman. They demanded guests manifest. I tendered it and we were arguing it.
“They said we backdated some contents on the manifest, I said no. They asked for owner of a car parked in, I said mine. They now said since we have not been operating, we should find them N100,000 and begin to operate. We declined, stressing that we don’t want to disobey the Governor and the Council Chairman.
“I don’t know who alerted the Alode Youth President. He came and called the Task Force outside. We have no idea what transpired between both parties after they left the hotel premises. What resulted from that their argument is what you see here, the ruins after the destruction of the hotel.
“Some persons were on the road. After the face off with the Youth President outside, some policemen came, arrested the people outside and claimed they were our workers, but they were not our workers. There was no guest when Task Force came.”
Speaking from his hospital bed, Friday Osaro Oloka, from the Taskforce said, “When we got to Prodest Motel, a party was ongoing. We approached the hotel manager who sought permission to call his proprietor.
“The manager called, but it was the PDP Youth Leader who came with some boys. He asked why we came to the hotel where he lodged. We told him we didn’t know he was lodged there. Despite that he and his boys beat us till 8pm.
Another Task Force member, Samuel Ndu said, “The Manager asked us to wait. Thereafter, several persons came with the PDP Youth Leader who beat us. We got Information that the hotel has been operating despite the order to close hotels.
Appollos Orr, narrated, “We were observing the guests manifest when we started hearing shouts from outside. Thereafter, we saw Princewill Osaroejiji and his thugs who beat and injured us”.
Dr Emmanuel Ejembi of Famo Clinic said that the Task Force members were brought in with severe injuries and that they said it was a case of assault, adding that they complained from fracture on right knee to pains on their neck and stomach.
Chairman of Eleme LGA, Philip Okwaraji acknowledged that the Task-force members were beaten up at the Prodest Motel by the PDP Youth Leader, affirming that the State Government issued the Executive Order on 4th May and Eleme LG issued notices to all hotels May 5 and anyone who flouts Executive Orders knows there would be consequences.
Questions over fleeing PDP Youth Leader’s past
Since being declared wanted, there has been profound reluctance among residents in Alode, Eleme at large, to speak openly on questions of alleged history of violence hovering over the PDP Youth Leader. A few anonymous sources have however flown various claims on the wanted suspect.
One of such anonymous accounts by a source claiming to be a “Strong Eleme APC member” and afraid to name self for fear of attacks claimed, “that some people behind this problem were cause of the crisis in Alode in 2017/2018 that led to over 10 deaths including that of Late Isaac Obe (Former Eleme Youth President and APC Zonal youth leader) as well as his sister, Barrister Mary Obe
“We thank God for this intervention through Rivers State as nobody dared touch them in Eleme. Any doubt as to any issue raised here, please check with security agencies in Eleme who they are and what they stand for.
Dismissing this unconfirmed allegations, equally anonymous Convener, Alode Community Development Movement, said Osaroejiji’s purported link to murder and gunrunning has since been dismissed and his name cleared based an Inspector General of Police’s investigation following a petition filed by the Youth Leader.
This source said, “The main grievance of the said anonymous, unrepentant APC informant who claims to come from Eleme, against Osaroejiji, is that Osaroejiji defected with all supporters and youths from the APC to the PDP against the plea and advice of APC party leaders in Alode Ward 2 and Eleme LGA in general.
“It is indisputable that when Osaroejiji was in APC, PDP never won any election in Ward 2, Alode, contrary to the present state where PDP clinched victory in that Ward in the 2019 elections because of his influence and overwhelming support and acceptance from Alode Youths as their president.
“The problem of Osaroejiji with the the Rivers State Task Force on Covid-19 deployed to Eleme LGA, was his resistance to the Task Force members’ demand for 100,000.00 bribe from Prodest Hotel Manager. Rivers Task Force on Covid-19 for Eleme LGA were made up of Eleme indigenes known to Princewill Osaroejiji.”
PDP’s self indictment
Among the refrains in Governor Wike’s anger and disappointment in Osaroejiji over the hotels saga has been the Governor’s affirmation that he (Osaroejiji) before May 12 expulsion from the People’s Democratic (PDP) was Eleme Youth Leader through his face off with the State Task Force.
Wike stressed, “It’s even embarrassing to me, that a PDP Youth Leader in that LGA was responsible for this, to say nobody can direct him on what to do, but he has powers, right to maim others, shoot. This person was inaugurated two days ago as PDP Youth Leader. Look at the mayhem he caused. If tomorrow those attacked die, would you say I am a responsible Governor?
He alleged, “I didn’t even understand that this boy had been declared wanted, three years ago, unknown to me. His leg was amputated three years ago. And he’s a youth leader in my party. Assuming it was another party, people would have shouted it’s because it was not their party.”
Accusing Wike and the PDP of self indicting on the fate of Osaroejiji, Dumnamene Fyneface, rights advocate, wondered, “How can a purported notorious character declared wanted for the past three years emerge PDP Youth Leader and was accepted and sworn in by leaders of the party?
“How a man allegedly involved in so many criminal activities was adopted by party leaders, including his LG Chairman who is a lawyer? It speaks to self indictment on part of the PDP and the State Government elected under the party”
The only workable resolution
As the debate rages on this hotels saga, informed opinions have remained divided, from legal arguments to CSOs appraisals and other concerned stakeholders, including the crossfire between two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana and former Nigeria Bar Association President, OCJ Okocha.
Falana, terming Governor Wike’s action, “Colossal embarrassment to the NBA”, said, “There is no provision for even the President to take the Law into his hands and then begin to mete out punishments to citizens without recourse to the constitution. We hope the Governor will be properly advised to reverse his decisions, publicly apologise and restore properties of those that have been destroyed.”
OCJ Okocha, affirming that Wike was in order, countered that, “Rivers Government passed a law recently and we also have the Federal Act, Quarantine Act and many other such regulations at dealing with safety and security and then health and well being of the people”
“So, anybody arguing that the Executive Orders are unconstitutional should know his options. He should seek legal advice and if necessary go and challenge those orders in a court of law, duly constituted”
With stakeholders also still divided on the moral justification for the demolition of hotels and the actions of other key actors, the court remains the surest route for mutual resolve of this crisis. The hotel owners and concerned persons are said to be weighting the litigation option, even as the state government has committed the demolition sites to public use.