By Louis Odion
At the temple of justice on Monday, the Oyo State government’s lawyer apparently feared the wrath of the law named ‘contempt’. So, the senior advocate sought the easiest getaway by telling a lie whose incredulity can only be likened to the futility of seeking to hide behind a finger.
When confronted on the effrontery of his client to demolish a property when the case was already being heard by the court, the learned counsel, without batting an eyelid, casually replied that the Oyo State government under Abiola Ajimobi knew nothing about the bulldozer that sneaked behind Music House, sheltering Fresh FM station along Ring Road in Ibadan, to wreak havoc in the small hours of last Sunday.
But just before the rest of us began to wonder if extra-terrestrial creatures had actually infiltrated the nation’s space and transmogrified into the motorised beast that tore into Yinka Ayefele’s property that dawn, came a statement by the State government more or less disowning its own attorney, suggesting that the falcon could no longer hear the falconer.
Without mincing words, the Oyo State government claimed responsibility, citing the refusal of the petitioner to regularise the building plan. The owner of Fresh FM is accused of making additions to the design originally approved in 2008; that the distortion now constitutes an environmental hazard, which the government claims was responsible for motor accidents recorded in the vicinity in recent times; and that the deadline issued the station to regularise its title fell on deaf ears.
Fine argument, at least from the point of due process, if not sophistry. But in making a strong pitch for the sanctity of regulation, Governor Abiola Ajimobi and his people appear to have conveniently turned a deaf ear to a higher calling: Submission to the rule of law. Nothing but bad faith is implied when a government proceeds with a demolition action in spite of an ongoing court case. Especially given that the petitioner is insisting that he has all the necessary building permits from the state authorities.
Sitting in Ibadan penultimate Monday, an Oyo State High Court presided over by Justice I. S. Yerima, had ordered the hearing notice and necessary processes be served on the State government at the hearing of a motion ex-parte filed by Ayefele, the property owner, who is a popular musician.
It is a moot point in law that any action was to be suspended by the defendant in the circumstance.
It is therefore strange indeed that Ajimobi would still proceed in his avowed quest to correct a perceived illegality, only to commit another illegality.
On that basis alone, it becomes difficult for anyone to defend the government’s action, however public-spirited the stated intention might have been.
So, what could possibly be the justification – if not ungodliness and impunity – for the government’s mad haste in deploying the bulldozer when the case was already being heard in court, at the hour of a Sabbath Day when all true Christian believers should be preparing for morning worship in the temple?
Again, what this episode has invariably put in focus is the propriety or otherwise of making citizens pay for what would seem the fruit of the dereliction of duty of civil servants. Assuming that Fresh FM actually infringed on the rule as argued by OYSG, there is no way the accuser itself can shirk vicarious responsibility. Where were the relevant government agencies when the disputed additional structures were being erected? Why was the owner not stopped along the way?
Coming when fascism is still being read to the police detention of the PREMIUM TIMES reporter recently for nothing more than performing his professional duty within constitutional provisions, the latest action against Music House is bound to heighten the fear of a possible epidemic of official intolerance in the land. Behind the facade being strenuously made by the Oyo State government of an alleged breach of extant building regulation, is indeed something quite unspeakable: Weighty charges of malice and prejudice against the State’s chief executive.
Only recently, the governor himself had given hint of being under partisan pressure from within his cabinet to hurt the station for being adversarial. While featuring on a live programme of the same station, Ajimobi disclosed he had shunned such, prompting the belief that Fresh FM could change and become his supporter one day.
Now, what came into circulation shortly before the demolition exercise was a strongly-worded memo purportedly written earlier by the state attorney general ordering the radio station to not only retract a comment made by a guest on one of its programme that was considered offensive to the administration but to also tender an unreserved apology to be broadcast intermittently for seven days.
Against this backcloth, there is therefore enough circumstantial grounds to link the station’s refusal to cower to what is evidently an unreasonable demand by the government, as the trigger for this fascist action. While the government has reason to be offended if anyone had erroneously linked Ajimobi to having commercial interest in an abbatoir concern, it is clearly beyond its remit to make such prohibitive demand on the station. The station is only a platform. It is ludicrous indeed to expect it to retract or apologise for someone else’s comment.
What is reasonable in the circumstance is for the government to take advantage of the next available opportunity on the same platform to make its own case in exercise of the conventional right of reply.
We are yet to hear if such demand was ever made but spurned. If nothing at all, the spontaneous public protest in Ibadan and the widespread condemnation across the country should tell Ajimobi that he has chosen the wrong target and time to flex his gubernatorial muscle. Assuming he ever won the legal argument, it is doubtful if he can also sway the court of public opinion.
Let us face it – Ayefele is a cultural icon in his own right. What makes his legend outstanding is the very circumstance of its making. Here is a man who refused to resign to self-pity after a serious motor mishap. By uncommon human will and sheer industry, he thereafter parlayed his God-given talent in music to achieve celebrity and material success. Although now confined to the wheel-chair, he has created a pulsating sound that has been moving the nation on the dance-floor in the last two decades. By that, he has become the people’s hero.
So, when a government chooses to deploy a bulldozer cowardly in the night to pull down the monument erected by such an idol, especially under circumstances that appear malicious, sheer wickedness is what the crowd sees.
Ajimobi ought to know that, though his bulldozers may have succeeded in disfiguring the physical house Ayefele built, it is simply impossible to completely overrun his shrine – at least in the minds of the people.
However, it is not too late in the day for the governor to make amends. The most dignifying step forward is to immediately work out a compensation package to include allocation of a suitable parcel of land and a reasonable sum to enable Ayefele resettle and move on.
Louis Odion is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE).
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