•I saw only the photocopy, not court order, says commissioner
From CHUKS ONUOHA, Umuahia
The recent demolition of a multi-million naira shopping centre, Micro Plaza, situated by the junction of Ariaria International Market, Aba, by the Abia State Government despite a standing court order, restraining them from doing so, has been attracting condemnations. Many are wondering why a democratically-elected government should destroy the property of her citizens without regard to court order. Micro Plaza was built over 10 years ago by the traditional ruler of Ezimba Ogbaeruru Autonomous Community in Orlu area of Imo State, Eze Michael Igwenma.
But between August and December last year, the complex was demolished by the Abia State Government despite a standing court order against such action.
The action affected over 1000 persons, including traders and apprentices. Since then, the traditional ruler has not been seen. Eze Igwenma is said to have either gone into hiding, following threats to his life after the demolition, relocated to another state or has been flown abroad for medical treatment due to shock. His lawyer, Mr. Chris Nwadigo, condemned the action of the government, describing it as a misapplication of power in an orderly society.
Nwadigo, who is also representing the traders, said the action of the government undermines the powers of the judiciary and reduces the order of court to a worthless piece of paper, even in a democratic society. The Aba-based human rights Ddfender and the President of Peoples Rights Organisation, described the action as jungle justice, anti-human rights and anti-democracy. But in a swift reaction, the state Commissioner for Commerce, Chief Samson Orji, denied the knowledge of any court order, restraining the government from carrying out the demolition. He, however, agreed that he spotted a photocopy of such document during the demolition exercise. “No order was served on me as a person, commissioner or ministry,” he stated.
“The only time I spotted such document was when the demolition was going on and it was a photocopy. And that order was at the post of the actual demolition and the order itself was vacated 14 days after it was issued, which should have been sometime in September. Even if I had sighted it and it was a subsisting order, notwithstanding whether I believed it or that it was a photocopy, I would have still honoured it because I am a civilised member of the society.”
Describing how the plaza was demolished, Orji said: “We came on a Saturday and finished 10 days after. The property we brought down was not exclusively that of Micro Plaza; they included all properties that were within a 47-metre clearance from the highway, from the middle right and left.
And this is not my idea; it is the Federal Government’s guide, rule and law.” He stated that the main reason why government demolished the plaza was because it was turned into a market. “There were so many other structures. Our interest was because the structures were turned into a market. The activities overflowed into the expressway and obstructed free flow of traffic and in some cases led to ghastly accidents.
“For us, we wouldn’t have been interested if it had not been turned into a market. Government has an international market and you establish an individual market. We had told them to relocate or go into the market and they refused. He cannot claim to have been victimized.” Speaking earlier, Nwadigo said the action of the government was purely a display of raw and naked power. “The traders have been denied of their means of livelihood which is an integral part of life.
The problem we have here is that some politicians are still living in the era of the military, having not seen themselves in a new democratic dispensation where the rule of law is the ultimate for an orderly society. They still wear the garment of military mentality with a despotic cap to match. Demolishing the plaza on a holy day without regard to the powers of the court is absolute arbitrariness and misuse of power,” Nwadigo said. He called on the Human Rights Commission to investigate the matter.
He also called on those that demolished the plaza to resign from the government for placing personal interest above the interests of innocent Nigerians and their families. “The action also paints a picture that reduces a court order to a worthless piece of paper, and this is capable of eroding confidence in the court. This is a crime against humanity,” Nwadigo said. Ndubuisi P. Ochonma, another lawyer to Eze Igwenma described the incident as a flagrant disobedience of a court order by the Abia government and its officials, particularly the Commissioner for Commerce. “It is regrettable that the commissioner personally supervised the act of disobedience of the court order. His attention was duly drawn to the order of this court but he intentionally ignored the order,” Ochonma alleged. Narrating the genesis of the incident, Nwadigo said that Micro Plaza has block A, B and C.
He said in August last year, the Chairman of Ariaria International market, Francis Eze Duru and his personal assistant, Chief Agbawodikeizu, with the connivance of Chief Samson Orji demolished the Block A part of the plaza. “Their action affected over 200 traders.
The owner of the plaza, Eze Michael Igwenma, got an injunction from an Osisioma Court on August 15, 2012, restraining the government, Francis Eze Duru, Agbowodikeize and Chief Samson Orji, and others from further demolition of the B and C parts of the plaza. “The tenants in the plaza briefed us on the clandestine plan of the government and its cohorts to demolish the B and C parts of the plaza. On their behalf, we went to court on August 27, 2012.
The vacation court presided over by Hon Justice C. O. Onyheabor adjourned to September 10 for hearing of the motion. On that day, the defendants did not come. But Duru and Agbawodikeizu, on their own, locked up the B and C part of the Plaza, stating that it was sealed by the Ministry of Commerce.
“The matter was incidentally assigned to the Court of Justice Adiele on October 9. It was later adjourned to October 16 for hearing of our motion on notice for a mandatory injunction on the sealing of over 300 shops at Micro plaza. “On that date, counsels to Duru and Agbawodikeizu moved a notice of preliminary objection and we responded, and the court consolidated both motion on notice. On October 29, the court in suit No 55, gave a ruling mandating the defendants to unseal those shops within 48 hours or the Area Commander, Aba would unseal them.
“The traders opened their shops and started business in accordance with the order of court, and on December 15, the matter came up. The Ministry of Justice brought a motion application that the court set aside the ruling it gave on the unsealing of the shops. The court then adjourned the matter for January 23, 2013 for hearing of the motion from the Attorney-General’s chambers. As we were looking forward to that date, on Saturday, December 8, the defendants, acting underground, came to Bloc B and C to demolish it with a bulldozer. “I personally came and informed them that it was lawlessness embarking on the exercise when the matter was in court. Because of the crowd they met at the site, they left with their bulldozer only to come in the early hours of Sunday, December 9, when people had gone to church.
They stormed the plaza and demolished the B and C part. I asked the commissioner if he was aware that there was an order of court restraining the demolition of the plaza.
His PA tore the order I was showing him. They were on the verge of fighting me and I wriggled out and left the place. “Over 300 traders were rendered jobless with their means of livelihood taken from them. That was raw use of power. They left the traders dehumanised, traumatised, impoverished, confused, helpless and hopeless on account of their wicked deeds. Can we call this type of thing democracy?”