Unlawful Destruction of Tony Kabaka’s Hotel, A Grave Threat to Nigerian Democracy – West-Idahosa
For God’s sake, our country operates a constitutional democracy. The collective provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) fizzle us any doubt about this. Section 1 of the said Constitution is clear about the Supremacy of that document and its binding effect on all authorities and persons throughout our country. By the provisions of section 6(6)(b), the judicial powers vested in our courts extend to matters between persons, or between government or authority and to all actions and proceedings relating thereto, for the determination of any question as to the civil rights and obligations of that person.
It follows therefore that where there is a dispute between a person and government, the court is the only body known to law for the determination of such a dispute. This leads me to the demolition of T. Latifa hotel by Edo State Government on 5th February 2020 or thereabout. It is common knowledge that the alter ego of that hotel and popularly known as Tony Kabaka instituted a court action against Edo State Government vide Originating Summons claiming that the hotel owners acquired the land on which it was built lawfully. Kabaka contended that he did not violate town planning regulations by building across a proposed road or building on government land. Issues were joined between Kabaka and Edo State Government in court.
After both parties concluded arguments in support of their respective positions, the court fixed Judgment for 7th February 2020. However, in an unexplained post-haste action, Edo State Government resorted to self-help and demolished the subject matter of litigation and thereby created a state of helplessness for Kabaka who rightly believed in the Constitution of our country by taking his grievances against Edo State Government to court.
The clear question that arises in the circumstances would be why Edo State Government so brazenly affronted the law? A school of thought is of the opinion that the State Government was not sure of the outcome of the case and given the political conflict between Kabaka and Governor Obaseki, the government did not want to gamble with the probability of losing the case. Even if there was such probability, there are appellate courts to seek further redress. Can a Government be so intent on destroying the property of a citizen of Nigeria that it would do so just 2 days to the delivery of a judgment without regard to the matter’s pendency in a duly constituted court of law? Is it imaginable that a Government that has itself approached the courts very often to protect its legal interests can so blatantly undermine such courts in broad daylight?
The second school of thought is that Edo State Government was so sure that the outcome of the case would be in its favour and was too excited to wait for the court’s judgment. What would give a Government such confidence that it would be led into error by the expectation of victory? I hate to push this school of thought further. I still believe in the integrity of the majority of Nigerian judges. Let us believe that if there was such optimism, it was predicated on the strength of the Government’s case against Kabaka. In any case, the Government ought to know that a litigant has the right to appeal against an unfavourable judgment within a number of days. Was it the plan of the State Government to frustrate the right of appeal of a citizen of Nigeria? Why would a Government demonstrate naked malice against a citizen of Nigeria, if that were the case? Government is a continuum. It does not end. The operators may come and go, but the Government remains.
The suggestion that the Government carried out the action to punish Kabaka for opposing Governor Obaseki’s second term bid is difficult to resist in the circumstance of this case. That will be unfortunate if it is true. There is no reason in a constitutional democracy to allow your personal interest to override the public interest of protecting the rule of law. It is a Supreme condition for democracy to survive. At a time when even the Federal Government has abandoned its claim of national security for disobeying court orders and has chosen the part of obedience of court orders, a State like Edo has no basis to romance with such throwbacks. The State is nearly homogeneous in ethnic composition and boasts of a very high level of educational standard together with huge cerebrality. Why on earth will this Government reduce our estimation in the eyes of right thing members of the Nigerian society?
If everyone resorts to self-help, where would that leave the State? Clear anarchy or back to the state of nature. God forbid!
In the Military Governor of Lagos State & Ords Vs Odumegu Ojukwu & Anor( 1986) LPELR-3186(SC), Obaseki, JSC ( who is the uncle of Governor Obaseki) had this to say;
“The Nigerian Constitution is founded on the rule of law, the primary meaning of which is that everything must be done according to law. It means also that the government should be conducted within the framework of the recognized rules and principles which restrict discretionary power…More relevant to this case in hand, the rule of law means disputes as to the legality of acts of government are to be decided by judges who are wholly independent of the executive…The law should be even-handed between the government and citizens.”
In the same case Oputa, JSC added his strong voice in support of the law;
“No one is entitled to take possession of premises by a strong hand or with a multitude of people. That has been forbidden ever since the statute of Richard II against forcible entry. This applies to the police as much as to anyone else. It applies to government departments also, and to the Nigerian High Commission. If they are entitled to possession they must regain it by due process of law. They must not take the law into their own hands. They must apply to the court for possession and act only on the authority of the court.”
From the foregoing, can it be said that Edo State Government acted on the authority of the court over the subject matter in dispute before the court? Certainly not. Kabaka’s lawyers know what to do at a time like this. They should not allow this strong hand to take over and destruction of the subject matter of litigation during the pendency of a court action go unchecked. It is in the interest of the public that such self-help be punished by the appropriate court for the survival of Nigeria’s democracy and protection of our sovereignty as a country.
God bless Edo State!
God bless Nigeria!
Dr. Ehiogie WEST-Idahosa is lawyer, policy expert and a former Member of the House Of Representatives of Nigeria.