By Femi Aborisade
The demolition by the Oyo State Government of the Music House, opposite ConOil, Lagos Bypass, Challenge, Ibadan, which is owned by Mr. Yinka Ayefele in the morning hours of today, 19th day of August 2018 is not only tyrannical, it is also unconstitutional and unlawful from the point of view of the Suit instituted by Yinka Ayefele challenging the threatened demolition.
In a previous interview granted by the Oyo State Governor, Senator Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi, which is currently posted on Youtube by SaharaReporters, the Governor had disclosed that Cabinet members of the Oyo State Government had been prompting him to demolish the Music House on the ground that Mr Yinka Ayefele and his Fresh FM Radio Station have been critical of the APC controlled Government of Oyo State. Therefore, the official reason given for the demolition, that the building contravenes the originally approved building Plan, is nothing but a smokescreen. The real reason is political – that the Oyo State Government is highly intolerant of criticisms.
However, the more disturbing aspect of the demolition is the utter contempt in which the Oyo state Government holds the judiciary, in a long line of cases. From online reports, it is established that Mr. Yinka Ayefele had served on the Oyo State Government an application, seeking interlocutory orders of the Court restraining the Government from giving effect to its threats to demolish the building. Contemptuously, the Oyo State Government went ahead to demolish the building contrary to the principle of law that once a party is aware of a suit against it, even where no orders have been granted, it is not allowed for that party to resort to self-help in an arbitrary and rascally manner of gangsters.
But painfully, it has become the culture of the Oyo State Government to be lawless. At least, two previous instances of demolitions in similar circumstances of the recent demolition of the Music House can be cited:
- Temidire Plant Market was demolished despite subsisting Court orders restraining demolition and the land was allocated to private developers.
- Bodija market abattoir was demolished during the pendency of a law suit involving the abattoir.
THE LAW IS GAINST SELF-HELP
In The Military Governor of Lagos State & 2 ors v. Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt. 18) 621. The apex court, as contained in Ratios 9-12, p. 623 held that:
9. Once the Court is seised of a matter, no party has a right to take the matter into his own hands.
10. The essence of the rule of law is that it should never operate under the rule of force or fear.
11. After a defendant has been notified of the pendency of a suit seeking an injunction against him, even though a temporary injunction be not granted, he acts at his peril and subject to the power of the Court to restore the status wholly irrespective of the merits as may be ultimately decided.
12. No one (including Government) is entitled to take the law into his own hands.
The Supreme Court, at p. 636, paras B-E, held further that:
“In the area where rule of law operates, the rule of self help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being one of the countries in the world even in the third world which proclaim loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self help by force to operate. Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the court, thereby invoking the judicial powers of the state, it is the duty of the government to allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course. The action the Lagos State Government took can have no other interpretation than the show of the intention to preempt the decision of the court. The courts expect the utmost respect of the law from the government itself which rules by the law.”
NIndeed, the Supreme Court, in the same case of The Military Governor of Lagos State & 2 ors v. Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (supra), at 637, paras B-H, went ahead to review courts decisions in England and United States of America to restate the law against self-help after a defendant becomes aware of a suit. In the words of the Supreme Court, per Obaseki, JSC:
“…We briefly review the decisions:
‘In Daniel v. Ferguson (1891) 2 Ch 27- CA; suit had been brought to restrain the defendant from building so as to darken plaintiff’s lights. Notice of motion for a temporary injunction to be made upon a designated date was served on the defendant. After receiving notice, the defendant put on a large number of men and proceeded with his building running a well up to a height of about 39 feet from the ground before the injunction was granted. The court without regard to the ultimate rights of the parties held that the wall thus run up by the defendant should be torn down at once, as an attempt to anticipate the order of the court. A like situation was presented in Von Joel v. Hornsey (1895) 2 Ch 774- C.A. In that case, the evidence showed that the defendant had repeatedly evaded attempts to serve him with process, and in the meantime had gone on with the building. Again without regard to the ultimate rights of the parties, the court directed the defendant to pull down that part of the building thus erected. The Supreme Court of Pensylvania in several cases has followed the same rule. Clark v. Martin 49 Pa 289, 298) 299; Easton, S.E. & W.E. Pass R. Co. v. Easton 133 Pa. 505, 519, 19 A 486; Cooke v. Boynton 135 Pa. 102, 19A. 944; Meigs v. Millingan 177 Pa.66, 72, 76, 35A. 600; Fredricks v. Huber 180 Pa. 572, 572, 37A 90…”
The conclusion to be drawn from all the cases is that after a defendant has been notified of the pendency of a suit seeking an injunction against him even though a temporary injunction be not granted he acts at his peril and subject to the power of the court to restore the status wholly irrespective of the merits as they may be ultimately decided I High, Inj. 4th ed 5(a). We hold the principle of this rule to be applicable to the present case. When the proceedings were instituted by the Commission and the registrant was called upon to show cause why a stop order should not be issued, the practical effect was to suspend, pending the enquiry all action of the registrant under the statement.”
ORDINARY PEOPLE, INCLUDING LAWYERS WHOSE PROFESSION IS BEING DESTROYED BY CONTEMPTUOUS ATTITUDE OF RASCALS IN POWER MUST INTERVENE BY PEACEFUL PROTESTS AGAINST INJUSTICE
We are not helpless in the face of tyranny. Fresh FM of Yinka Ayefele has come under attack because it has been asking questions on behalf of ordinary people and acting as the voice of the voiceless. This is the time for ordinary people to tell Fresh FM that it is not alone. This kind of solidarity in struggle can be built by peaceful mass actions to protest the wicked and unconscionable demolition of Fresh FM which also has the implication of throwing members of staff and other freelance journalists who broadcast programmes from that Station into economic agony.
I call on the masses of our people to organize and join peaceful mass actions, demanding that the Oyo State Government should fully compensate Fresh FM/Yinka Ayefele for demolishing the Music House in an attempt to render whatever the decision of the court nugatory. Lawyers, individually and collectively through their associations, must join and/or lead mass actions in defence of the judiciary against rascals, gangsters and misfits in the corridor of power. Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, guarantees the right of peaceful mass action for the protection of interests and sanity in the governance process.
We also call on the judiciary in Nigeria as a whole and in Oyo State in particular, to protect the challenge to the authority and jurisdiction of the Court in dispute resolution to prevent anarchy and total breakdown of law and order, which would result when parties demonstrate utter disrespect for the judicial process. The politicians should not be allowed to continue to ridicule the judiciary. We must insist that Nigeria must be built as a country of laws, not a lawless society.
As the apex court, per Ignatius Chukwudi Pats-Acholonu, JSC, held in Jombo v. Petroleum Equalisation Fund (Management Board) & 2 ors (2005) 14 NWLR (Pt. 945) 443 at 459-460, paras E-D:
“…The Court should always see itself as knight errant in a shining armour brandishing its sword to help the hopeless and evenly seen not to collaborate with forces that choke and asphyxiate the rights of people thereby forcing them into limbo of disillusionment and frustration…”
Justice for Fresh FM! Justice for Yinka Ayefele! No to tyranny! No to disregard for the judicial process!!
*Femi Aborisade is a Human Rights Activist and renowned legal practitioner.