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Demolitions and constitutional powers of governors

Lawyers have criticised state governors who order the demolition of properties without exhausting legal options, arguing that such abuse of power is mostly informed by…

Lawyers have criticised state governors who order the demolition of properties without exhausting legal options, arguing that such abuse of power is mostly informed by political reasons.

They further submitted that whether the process of acquisition and development of a property was legal or not, state governments cannot take over or demolish it arbitrarily.

The latest demolition was carried out by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State on December 31, 2020 at Asher Kings and Queens Restaurant in Kaduna over allegations that the eatery was intended to be used for a ‘sex party’.

The demolition, carried out through the Kaduna State Urban Planning and Development Agency (KASUPDA) at its location in Barnawa, was alleged to have been conducted despite proof that the management of the restaurant had no knowledge about the purported ‘sex party’.

Also, the state government was alleged to have unlawfully demolished houses around Alhudahuda College in Zaria in August, 2015.

Similarly, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State on Friday August 14, 2020 pulled down a twin duplex belonging to one Jonathan Emejulu two days after he demolished the perimeter fence of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport.

The man was said to have dared the government in erecting the fence near the airport, with the Minister for Aviation, Hadi Sirika condemning the encroachment on the airport fence.

Also in May 2020, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State demolished two hotels, Edemete Hotel and Prodest Home, over allegations of breaching COVID-19 lockdown.

In May 2014, the Governor Willie Obiano-led Anambra State government demolished three houses belonging to dreaded kidnappers in the state, including a N17 million bungalow at Aguleri in Anambra East Local Government Area.

This followed a similar demolition of a house alleged to belong to a kidnap kingpin in Ihiala, Uli Local Government Area as was in other locations of the state.

Section 43 of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 provides that every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria.

Beside other conditions in which a property is taken over by government, Section 44 further provides thus: “No moveable property or any interest in an immovable property shall be taken possession of compulsorily and no right over or interest in any such property shall be acquired compulsorily in any part of Nigeria except in the manner and for the purposes prescribed by a law.”

Reacting, the Executive Director of Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), Frank Tietie, said the proper procedure before demolition is to issue notice, which is a fundamental condition precedent before a demolition process is initiated.

“The purpose of notice issued by the authorities to any land occupant is to allow all affected persons time to make representations about any legal or equitable interest they have on the property in the principle of fair hearing,” he said.

Tietie added that arbitrary demolitions such as have been witnessed in the country are driven by abuse of political power and to punish political enemies.

Speaking in the same vein, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq said the procedure for demolition, even where the person in possession lacked valid documents, was to serve notice to enable the individual evacuate his property.

He added that limitation applied in many states under the limitation laws, which prevent government from taking over land from a person in occupation for 20 years.

“Therefore, in this regard, any demolition of any structure on such land belonging to the occupant is illegal, null and void, since the occupant has by the limitation of the law become the owner having occupied the land for a continuous period of 20 years,” he said.

Also speaking, E.M.D. Umukoro Esq listed the conditions which must be fulfilled before a land is demolished or taken over by the government to include: notification in a conspicuous part of the building, reasonable time given to the affected person, and compensation.

He said the underlining consideration, whether under the Land Use Act or Regional Planning Laws, must be for overriding public interest such as for projects like school, mass housing, construction of roads, railway etc.

He added that where the property poses danger, public health, or the property encroaches on government land, the government will be right to demolish such property following the above procedure of notifying the would-be affected citizen and getting a court order.

The lawyers, however, recommended that victims of illegal demolition should pursue legal action.

Tietie said; “victims of illegal demolitions must seek compensatory orders in court.

“We must ensure that courts are urged to further award exemplary damages personally against any official, not government, that is directly responsible for any illegal demolitions.”

For his part, Umukoro said “any victim has the legal right to approach the court and get justice for such arbitrariness done by the government.

“If the government wakes up one morning and demolishes a citizen’s property it is the height of irresponsibility and wickedness.”

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