By Louis Odion, FNGE
At the temple of justice on Monday, the Oyo government 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 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 motorized 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 government claimed responsibility, citing the refusal of the petitioner to regularize 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 environmental hazard, which the government claims were responsible for motor accidents recorded in the vicinity in recent times; and that the deadline issued the station to regularize 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 necessary building permits from the state authorities.
Sitting in Ibadan penultimate Monday, 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 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 action, however public-spirited the stated intention might be.
So, what could possibly be the justification – if not ungodliness and impunity – for the government’s mad haste to deploy 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 civil servants. Assuming that Fresh FM actually infringed on the rule as argued by OYSG, there is no way the accuser themselves 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 police detention of Premium Times reporter recently for nothing more than performing professional duty within constitutional limit, the latest action against Music House is bound to heighten fear of possible epidemic of official intolerance in the land. Behind the facade being strenuously made by the Oyo Government of alleged breach of extant building regulation is indeed something quite unspeakable: weighty charges of malice and prejudice against the state 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 by the same station, Ajumobi disclosed he had shunned such prompting believing Fresh FM could change and become his supporter one day.
Now, what came into circulation shortly before the demolition exercise was a strong-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 its programm considered offensive to the administration but also tender 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 apologize for someone’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 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 all, the spontaneous public protest in Ibadan and the widespread condemnation across the country should tell Ajimobi 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 God-given talent in music to achieve celebrity and material success.
Though now confined to wheel-chair, he has created a pulsating sound that has been moving a nation on the dance-floor in the last two decades. By that, he has become people’s hero.
So, when a government chooses to deploy a bulldozer cowardly in the night to pull down the monument erected by such idol, especially under circumstances that appear malicious, sheer wickedness is what the crowd see.
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.