Wike and the whelps of Eleme
KEN UGBECHIE ..Gongbeat column
It’s been all too horrid. Sticky. The matter of Governor Nyesom Wike ordering and supervising the demolition of two hotels in his Rivers State. Acting on the strength of Executive Order 6, Prodest Hotel, Alode, Eleme and Etemeteh Hotel, Onne in Eleme Local Government Area, came down in a heap. And it’s all because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
And then began the debate. Was Wike right or wrong? He was both right and wrong. He was wrong to have demolished the hotels without an order of a court of law. Just that. It’s a matter of due process of the law. The governor circumscribed the process. That’s where the wrongness ends. Flip the coin. Wike was right to defend the lives of residents of his state. To do so, he has the power to cause an Act of parliament to be enacted, issue an Executive Order or deploy any other legally permissible instrument.
In this instance, there was an Executive Order 6 (EO6) which says all hotels and other businesses should remain closed to save lives. The closure was not forever. Only for a while to allow the evil virus blow away. The Order came bundled with several penalties for offenders and defaulters. Under the Order, a property adjudged to have been used in breaching the Order can be confiscated by government, it can be demolished, remodelled and converted for use by the government for any purpose whatsoever.
The governor chose the penalty of demolition. It’s his prerogative. He did not act outside the prescribed penalty in the Executive Order. In a presidential democracy such as we have presidents and governors have used Executive Orders to address emergencies and other public issues. It’s not a newfangled tool invented by Wike. In the US, presidents and governors have at various times used Executive Orders. On July 5, 2018, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari signed Executive Order 6 to tackle issues of assets linked to corruption. It was a matter of expediency in the fight against corruption.
In the United States, President Trump has used Executive Order to redline certain category of migrants from a couple of countries from coming to America. It’s his prerogative. In the case of Rivers State, the governor is using EO6 in his sterling fight against Covid-19. Let’s do a little fact-check: Among all the commercially vibrant states in Nigeria with international airports, Rivers State stands out with the best result in terms of Covid-19 containment. Whereas, it ought to be competing with states like Lagos, Kano and the FCT in terms of number of coronavirus cases, it has the least number, placing 19th position on the log with 23 cases as at Wednesday, May 13. Lagos had 1990 cases, Kano 693, FCT 360 as at this day
Far less commercially vibrant states like Ogun, Katsina, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Edo, Kaduna have worse cases than Rivers. It’s no brainer. It’s down to the strict enforcement of the covid-19 precautionary protocol by Wike. He started the lockdown early; he was firm and resolute. And he has achieved enviable result. While other governors were busy trying to please the people and killing them in the process, Wike was willing to displease the people and save them from dying. He clearly understood that humans are the vector of the virus.
Therefore, to check its spread, you must contain the movement of people. This is the wisdom in Wike’s early closure of his state’s boundaries with other states. Some people tagged him ‘crazy’. Other governors wanting to please the mob of cheerleaders left their boundaries wide ajar. The same people they wanted to please paid with their lives. Some of those cheerleaders caught the virus and are at various stages of treatment. Not so with Wike and his Rivers State. The one they tag ‘mad’ has saved more lives than any other ‘sane’ governor of any of the top 5 busy states. And you wonder; who really is the mad one?
Back to the hotels. First, the hotel owners must either be whelps: unruly persons lacking any sense of responsibility or they are men intent on murderous mischief. They chose to break the law to pad their purses rather than obey the law and save lives. They chose commerce over life. By their act, they diminished humanity. By their deed, they pandered to pecuniary persuasion. They exhibited a predilection to lawlessness; a morbid inclination to fatalism. And they are supposed to be part of the elite class who should teach the proletariat the mores of nobility and responsibility. They acted otherwise, exhibiting the cruelest type of contemptible irresponsibility.
Wike did not demolish the hotels based on political configuration. No show of primeval partisanship. The owner of one of the hotels is one Princewill Osaronwa Osaroejiji, a Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Youth leader; Wike’s party man. The governor could have looked the other way, but he chose not. It’s about human life; it’s about the law. The decision to demolish was the last option. Entreaties had been made. Emissaries had been sent to persuade the hoteliers to think life and safety. Attempts to seal the hotels were rebuffed. Reports say members of the task force on enforcement duty were clobbered until they beat a retreat. If the hoteliers had behaved well and shown remorse, perhaps their facilities would only have been sealed like other businesses. Instead, they opted to grandstand. They wandered the path of abhorrent showmanship.
It’s convenient to criticize Wike for exacting extreme penalty. But we’re talking about putting the lives of over 5 million people at risk. One life saved is worth more than a skyscraper. We all have to be alive to do business. Yet, if you ponder that 8 out of the barely two dozen cases recorded in Rivers were associated with hotels, then you will appreciate why hotels should be in the forefront of those obeying the containment rules. Most of the covid-19 cases in the state were found in hotels. The officially documented Covid-19 death in Rivers was at Mingi Hotel in the Rumumasi area of the state. This singular case triggered seven other cases. So there is a strong link between covid-19 cases in the state and hotels.
Any person who has the presence of mind and the means to establish a hotel or any other commercial venture should also muster the capacity to behave responsibly. In their classic non-fiction book, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, Turkish-American economist Daron Acemoglu from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and British political scientist James A. Robinson from the University of Chicago chronicled the reasons why some nations outperform others. At the core of this is the place of lawlessness. Nations with a culture of lawlessness flounder behind nations where laws are obeyed. Nigeria is a classic example. We obey laws outside the country but turn to an unruly mob when we are in our country. When we make a law, we should all obey it. Wike simply enforced the law except that he, too, erred in his zeal to do so. A case of two wrongs but the greater wrong is with those hoteliers who want us dead.
**First published in Sunday Sun