The Rivers State Government did not demolish any completed building being used as a mosque, findings by PREMIUM TIMES show.
However, an uncompleted structure, which was still at the foundation stage, was demolished by the government.
The Rivers government and the Muslim community in the state are contesting a piece of land in Port Harcourt, the state capital, which the Muslims want to erect a mosque on.
The Imam at the centre of the controversy, Muhammad Harun, told PREMIUM TIMES they were yet to erect a mosque on the disputed land.
“We fenced it, and we have built the foundation to a certain level before they came and destroyed it,” said Mr Harun, Sunday evening.
“You know, as a Muslim, anywhere we stay to pray is a mosque.”
When a PREMIUM TIMES reporter visited the disputed land at Trans-Amadi, Port Harcourt, on Friday, broken concretes littered the place, giving credence to the claim by the Imam that the agents of the Rivers government may have “destroyed” the foundation works that had been done in the place.
The incident has been misrepresented via social media comments and some unverified news reports as though Governor Wike pulled down a completed building used as a mosque.
The rumour prompted the governor to visit the site, accompanied by some journalists, on August 26.
“You’ve seen with your eyes, where is the mosque here? At least, when there’s a demolition where there’s a structure, you’ll know there was a structure here,” Mr Wike told journalists, pointing to the almost bare land.
“With what you are seeing here, does it show there was a structure?”
Mr Wike said the land belongs to the Rivers government. He said the government even won a court case on it against the Muslim community.
The governor said the government warned the Muslim community against building a structure on the land, but that they refused.
“They merely came here to try and erect a structure, and the people said, ‘you can’t do this, stop it’! And then they went and told the world that a mosque has been brought down.”
It’s our land – Muslim community.
The Imam, Mr Harun, said they bought the land from a vendor who has passed on, and that Muslims around the neighbourhood have been holding their prayers on the land for about 10 years now.
The vendor, he said, won a court case against the Rivers government in 2002.
“Because the man who sold the land to us won the case against the Rivers government, we didn’t bother to go to court to challenge the government on the ownership of the land; we only went to the court, asking the court to compel the government to pay us compensation for destroying our property,” Mr Harun said.
Mr Harun said they lost the court case to the state government last year.
“We have appealed against the judgment,” he said.
Mr Harun said the past administration of Rotimi Amaechi also disrupted their attempt to build a mosque on the disputed land.
“No, the land belongs to Rivers government!”
The Secretary to State Government (SSG), Dammy Danagogo, in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Monday evening, faulted Mr Harun’s claims on the disputed land.
Mr Danagogo said the place, known wholly as Rainbow estate, is owned by the Rivers government.
He said “the whole place” later became a slum, before the administration of Peter Odili chased the slum dwellers away and demolished the structures.
“It is not something anybody can controvert. Every land around there belongs to the Rivers State Government, so how can a small part of it belong to somebody else?” Mr Danagogo said.
“In 2010, when they tried to encroach on the land, the government stopped them. Then, I was the commissioner for local government, chieftaincy and community affairs during the Amaechi’s administration.
“Then in 2012, I was the commissioner for urban development, still under Amaechi’s administration. They came back, they wanted to build again. The matter was reported to the state government, and we had to stop them.
“I led the delegation that met with them and told them the land belongs to the government.
“In 2012, they went to court to challenge the right of the Rivers state government over the land and asked for the court to allow them to use the land. The judgment came out last year, 2018, and they lost,” the SSG said.
When told of the claim by the Imam that the vendor who sold the land to the Muslim community won the land case against the Rivers government in court, the SSG said if that were to be true, then the Imam should have presented such document in the case which they lost to the government.
“We have never seen any judgment from any court that the man took the government to court and won,” the SSG said. “That kind of judgment does not exist, to the best of my knowledge”.
“When I met them in 2012, they didn’t show me any court document; what they showed me was a deed of conveyance from one Amadi.”
However, the Imam, Mr Harun, said he and his Muslim community have never met Mr Danagogo before as claimed by the SSG.
“The only person who invited us for a meeting when Amaechi was governor was one SA (special assistant) to the governor, and the meeting did not hold when we went to his office. They did not allow us to enter his office, he said the governor did not tell him what to tell us.”
Who Owns The Land
PREMIUM TIMES has seen a copy of the court document mentioned by the Imam.
The case was filed in 2002 by one Lyndon Amadi against some officials of the Rivers government.
Apart from dismissing the counterclaim (s) of the defendants, there were no explicit court orders on the disputed land.
“It got to a time, they (the government agents) said they cannot continue with the case, and requested the court to strike out the case. The judge said no, the court cannot strike out the case, the court instead struck out the counterclaim by government,” Mr Harun said.
PREMIUM TIMES asked Mr Harun what the government’s counterclaim was all about.
“I used to follow the lawyer to court. When I asked the lawyer, he said the government were telling the court to declare them the owner of the land.”
PREMIUM TIMES also pointed out to the Imam that there was no place in the court papers where the court specifically said the land belonged to Mr Amadi who the Imam said sold the land to the Muslim community.
“Yes, Amadi took them (the government) to court that they should stay clear from his land. So, we bought (the land) from Amadi,” the Imam said.
“I cannot really explain the case because I am not a lawyer,” he added.
Rights Groups Speak
Despite the Rivers government’s denials that a mosque was pulled down, some Muslim groups have continued to attack Governor Wike over the issue.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), an Islamic human rights organisation, issued a statement last week calling the governor “a liar”.
“A mosque is a mosque, whether it is a completed structure, half or quarter completed. Muslims congregate there and worship,” the director of MURIC, Ishaq Akintola, said in the statement.
“There are uncompleted mosques all over Nigeria where Muslims worship daily. The case of Trans-Amadi Mosque cannot be isolated.”
Another group, the Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria, on Monday demanded the Rivers government pay compensation to the Muslim community and allow them to build a mosque on the disputed land.
But the Rivers SSG, Mr Danagogo, said the continuous accusations and attacks on the state government means that “some people somewhere are trying to blackmail and arm-twist the government”.
“No responsible government anywhere in the world would want to give in to blackmail,” he said.
Rivers government, Muslims should dialogue – Dakuku Peterside
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside, over the weekend appealed to the Muslim community and the Rivers government to explore peaceful means to resolve the land dispute.
Rivers State is open and free to all religions, regardless of faith, tribe, and background, said Mr Peterside, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who ran for governor against Mr Wike in 2015.
“I want to appeal to my Muslim brothers to explore all options for a peaceful resolution. Rivers people are very accommodating, loving and caring. We have several Rivers people who are also Muslims.”
Mr Peterside advised Mr Wike to meet with the Muslim community.
“Governor Nyesom Wike should immediately meet with the Muslim community and explain the government’s position. This is no time for grandstanding and blame game. All religions are free to practice in the state.
“Some of the comments being circulated around could have been avoided if both parties had mutual understanding and trust. The governor must move quickly to douse the flames and offer reassuring words, that is why he is the governor,” he said.