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.
Ricardo At 60
It was a difficult time that aroused the best and the worst in men. MKO Abiola was clocking two years in Abacha’s gulag then in 1996, with family and political associates desperate to secure his freedom.
Worst still, his Concord newspaper group, where I worked at taht point was locked in what was proving a titanic legal tango with Supreme Court justices over a libel suit.
Exercising poetic license, Weekend Concord had termed the Mercedes Benz limousines presented to their lordships by the military dictator General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) as a “political bribe”.
Naturally, opportunists, in turn, sought openings to make personal gains.
As judiciary editor with Concord newspapers then, Richard Akinnola (aka Ricardo) came under pressure to recant a report.
Wheeling-dealing Godwin Daboh was aghast that he was referrred to as an “ex-convict”, after being found guilty of a 419 charge in the 1970s. The piece featured in the “Celebrated Cases” column published by Sunday Concord then edited by Tunji Bello.
The controversial politician and known collaborator of the Abacha junta let words circulate that he was ready to talk his bossom friend, Abacha, into releasing Abiola, but on the condition that Ricardo retracts that description.
While not disputing his conviction as a fact of history, Daboh claimed the Buhari regime had granted him pardon shortly before being toppled in 1985.
About the same time, Ricardo also came under pressure to reach out to his personal friend and townsman, the legendary Gani Fawehinmi, to back-pedal in his fireworks against the Supreme Court justices in the libel case in which he was standing in Concord’s corner pro bono.
The calculation was to deny the justices any excuse to recuse themselves from entertaining a bail application filed on MKO’s behalf. Without them, it would have been impossible to form a quorum to hear MKO’s case.
In both instances, Ricardo stoutly refused. He considered acquiescence as mortgaging both his professional integrity and moral conviction.
While physically telling Daboh off at the stormy meeting at the Concord headquarters that day, he challenged the Benue-born politician to tender proof of being pardoned.
Volunteering to resign if proved wrong, Akinnola could almost swear no government printer anywhere had a memo hinting at such, let alone a gazette to that effect.
With the blackmail failing like a pack of cards, it was a humbled Daboh who soon pulled himself off the swivel chair and slouched to the car park that fateful day.
Again, that Ricardo opted not to be part of the emissaries to talk Gani into backing down did not come as a surprise to those who knew him intimately.
You could almost tell where Akinnola would stand whenever and wherever the issue of professional integrity and the pursuit of truth and justice comes up.
That he is easily considered in the nation’s media circles today as one the foremost authorities in jurisprudence journalism is undoubtedly an acknowledgement of his passion for rigour and abiding fidelity to facts.
He turns 60 tomorrow. Here is wishing him happy birthday.
Olukoshi’s Sterling Example
At a time the country’s image is daily soiled abroad by a few unscrupulous elements through sundry iniquities like 419 and credit card fraud, it is heart-warming that some Nigerians are still engaged in exploits that stoke national pride.
One of the latest good examples is Dr. Dayo Olukoshi, principal of Brampton Manor Academy School in East London.
His school has been in the news lately for extraordinary academic performance. His leadeship inspired the academy to come tops in the A’Level result this year.
A whopping 100 of the the Sixth Form students obtained the ‘A’ distinction, thus securing places in ‘Ivy League’ universities like Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics.
One of the reasons this is considered significant is because BMAS is not a private school, thus bouying public confidence in public schools in the U.K.
The lesson: with the right infrastructure and environment, the Nigerian ingenuity springs forth.