The management of Little Palace Hotel, Ishawo, Ikorodu, Lagos State, has accused the Nigerian Army of forcefully taking over its facility.
It alleged that the manager of the hotel, Friday Imhanzuria, was arrested and detained for over two months at the Nigerian Navy Base, Apapa, for demanding the reopening of the hotel.
The counsel for the hotel, Moses Okosun, said although the incident happened sometime in July 2015, efforts by the management to seek audience with the military authorities did not yield result until February 2017, when the Army said the Lagos State Government authorised the use of the hotel.
Okosun said when he wrote the government seeking explanation, the state denied knowledge of authorisation, demanding proofs that it gave the order.
He said the hotel was considering suing the government for damages, adding that losses running into millions of naira had been incurred.
PUNCH Metro gathered that Little Palace was one of the two hotels on Tapa Street, Oke-Oko, Ishawo, a community under militant siege.
It was learnt that as the clash between security operatives and the militants intensified, many residents fled their homes, just as the two hotels in the area were shut sometime in June 2015.
Our correspondent was told that when the military entered the community, the two hotels were occupied and used as military bases. However, the owner of the second hotel met the authorities after a month and his property was vacated by soldiers.
The manager of Little Palace Hotel, Imhanzuria, said when he approached the military as well, he was arrested.
He said, “The hotel was opened in November 2014 and the owner, Mr. Ehioze Aimuan, is based in Italy. He asked me to manage the hotel. When the clashes between the militants and security agents increased and some DSS officials were killed, people fled their homes. We also shut the hotel.
“But the Nigerian Army broke the door and turned the place into a base for its soldiers. We waited for a few months, thinking they would leave, but they didn’t leave. My brother advised that I approach them.
“When I got to their barracks at Odogunyan, Ikorodu, I was arrested. I spent 24 hours at the barracks before I was transferred to the Nigerian Navy Base, Apapa. I spent over two months there. They alleged that vandals stayed in my hotel and I must produce them.
“I denied the allegation. They kept me there for over two months and later released me without any charge. I was told that my family spent overN250,000 before I became a free man.”
Imhanzuria said while the military continued to stay in Little Palace, they returned the second hotel to the owner, who had political connections.
The hotel lawyer, Okosun, told PUNCH Metro that the soldiers, after converting the hotel into their operational base, consumed assorted wines and food stored in the facility.
PUNCH Metro sighted correspondences among Okosun, the Nigerian Army and the state government over the matter.
Okosun, in a letter dated February 7, 2017, and addressed to the General Officer Commanding, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, called the attention of the GOC to the invasion, saying the hotel management needed an explanation.
The Army, in a letter dated February 23, 2017, and signed by one Colonel S.J.A. Ilori for the GOC, said soldiers had been withdrawn from the facility.
“I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your letter. I am further directed to inform you that the military personnel deployed in the Little Palace Hotel nicely withdrew for some administrative purposes. Consequently, I am to add that you forward all enquires with regard to the hotel to the Lagos State Government who authorised the use of the facility for the soldiers for the conduct of their operation accordingly,” the letter read in part.
Okosun, in a letter to the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Lagos State, demanded investigation into the occupation of the hotel.
“The said hotel is still under lock and key despite the ‘nice withdrawal’ of the soldiers. Our client does not know the person or agency in possession of the key to the premises,” he said in the letter, dated March 7, 2017.
The state government, in letters dated April 4 and 11, acknowledged the receipt of the March 7 letter, saying it was receiving attention.
But in a response dated April 27, 2017, one Mrs. Akhidime Monisola, a principal state counsel who wrote on behalf of the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, said the government could not confirm it handed over the facility to the military.
She said, “In your letter, it was alleged that the Lagos State Government authorised the use of the hotel for soldiers for the conduct of their operation, but there was no reference to the particular ministry, department or agency of the Lagos State Government involved.
“I am directed that you forward all relevant documents to sustain the allegations levelled against the state government to the Office of the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice.”
Okosun, in his reply, dated May 16, 2017, berated the government for the illegal occupation of the hotel.
He said, “We find it ridiculous and utterly preposterous that our client, who is a victim of the illegal and unconstitutional authorisation granted by the Lagos State Government, is the one being asked to provide documents evidencing the illegality of government’s action.
“The assertion was categorically made by the highest echelon of the Nigerian Army in Lagos. Rather than engage or confront the military authority that made the assertion, you now require our client to provide the documents. If we may ask, was our client privy to the request of the state government to the Nigerian Army for internal security support?
Was our client a party to the arrangement to confiscate his private property for the use of the Nigerian Army? Has the army denied authorship of the letter we forwarded to you?
“We are amazed that the Lagos State Government can perpetrate such illegality and reprehensible act as confiscating the property of a private citizen in a constitutional democracy.
Such brazen acts of illegality were unknown even when Nigeria was under the jackboots of martial governance. It is shameful and utterly reprehensible that the present administration, a civilian regime, can authorise such illegality.”
He said the hotel had suffered losses in excess of N50m since the incident occurred.
He lamented that letters addressed to the Governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode; Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, had gone unreplied.
When our correspondent contacted the spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, 81 Division, Major Sydney Mbaneme, he promised to call back, but had yet to do so as of press time.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde, did not pick his call and had yet to respond to a text message requiring his response to the invasion.
By Samson Folarin