‘Small’ Demolition Of A ‘Giant’ Legal Breach (2) Hannatu Musawa By Hannatu Musawa

So many Nigerians lost their lives in celebration of the change that had come to liberate them from what they considered the nauseating impunity of the People Democratic Party. Little did they know that though political parties may bear different names, politicians remain who and what they are! Today, some of those who anticipated change at the grass-root level, are searching with microscopic lens to see the change they were promised beside the fact that their humble abodes are being demolished through means that are not being entirely applied in the way, manner and due process of which the law requires. The specific governments are justifying their actions by saying they are ameliorating an illegality. However one illegality cannot be used to quash another illegality.

Certain government officials come across as people with high taste for aesthetic splendor of their environment. They don’t seem gun-shy to demolish any obstacle to achieve the best. In the past their excellence in regions where they displayed their worth now wear an improved value, courtesy of their tenure as the executive officials. Few in this country can argue of their brilliance and achievements; few can dispute that their performance towers above that of all others who tried and failed in their wake. However, putting the beauty and aesthetics of the territories under their stewardship aside, the big question is; can one tell that fallacy to the family that lost its bread winner as a result of cardiac ailment arising from the demolition of his house? What about those who left the Federal Capital Territory to their villages without a single belonging despite the years and effort they put into providing for their families? Have we thought of the adverse economic effect, bearing in mind those who obtained facilities from finance houses to build or acquire those demolished houses and cannot pay their creditors? The adverse effects are legion.

As we watch the demolition culture make a ‘giant’ (pun intended) comeback in some states, the people are being fed with the same ingenious dribble of getting the public to understand this revolutionary demolition course. Some reasons why demolitions must take place include, recovering school and hospital plots of land that where illegally acquired by some people and to prevent encroachment on schools and hospital land. Hearing that reasoning alone, who on earth would not support such a worthwhile initiative by any executive? However, one thing that must be borne in mind; and that is that the law remains what it is and no amount of political alluring spiel changes it!
The rights or interest of the people in the land cannot be taken away arbitrarily without affording them an opportunity to be heard, and fairly too, in accordance with section 36 of the constitution.

When such a hearing is conducted, it may in some cases reveal that the state allocated the land to those in possession and as such they have a Right of Occupancy over the land. Others may come up with claims that the land is their family land and the government built the schools and hospitals thereon without compensating or resettling them. There could be other reasons and distinct legal consequences will apply to the various legal issues. The mere mention of schools and hospitals has become the magic wand in the hands of the governments in question, to render citizens of Nigeria homeless without anything more. Assuming without conceding that the victims had no right to occupy the land and houses, due process of the Law must still be observed in evicting them for as long as they claim a right over the land or premises. Self help is forbidden under any of our Nigerian laws.

Another serious issue that should agitate the mind of any serious government in the North is that, with the ornery of horror created by the insurgency and the attendant flurry of fury by all Nigerians, should demolition of houses top the priority of any government policy now? We have so many Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp spread all over Nigeria. Government is planning on how to restore these people back to their places of abode and build houses for those who have lost their houses to the destructive tendencies of the insurgents. What do we say about government adding to the sorrows of Nigerians at this time that we expect succor from the new administration?
There is continuity in government and what the present administration considers the sins of the past administrations in the state must not be visited on the innocent people of the relevant States. It is too early in the day for the people of the affected States to begin to see this ugly side of the change promised giving their massive support for the APC.

As the demolitions continue, it may just be that some of the more overzealous governments have inadvertently opened a floodgate of litigation in the courts. And they may just have to be prepared incase the courts enforce the judgments against the State.

…I encourage every person affected by the mass government demolitions of houses and property going on in certain states to immediately seek legal counsel in order to know if they are one of the oppressed people the law protects.