The recent demolition of the Eke Ukwu Owere market by the Imo State government has assumed a legal dimension.
The Owerri community, host of the demolished market, has taken Governor Rochas Okorocha to court, for pulling down the market.
The plaintiffs are demanding N100billion in damages.
The community, through 12 representatives, is challenging the illegal removal of traders from the market despite a subsisting suit and a restraining court order.
It is praying the state high court to order the defendants to pay it N100 billion as exemplary damages for ?the unlawful and unconstitutional acts.
Okorocha, the House of Assembly and the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice are the defendants.
The suit was filed by Chief T.O.S Oparaugo and 11 others (for themselves and on behalf of Owerri Community).
The community is represented by Chief Unoruka Udechukwu (SAN), who is leading a team of lawyers including two other Senior Advocates of Nigeria – K.C.O Njemanze and? N.A. Nnawuchi.
In the originating summons, the plaintiffs want the court to declare that? their forceful removal from the market and its demolition despite the pending suit and a restraining court order, without any enabling judicial order, constituted an act of executive impunity and grave violation of the provisions of Sections 6 (1)(2)(3), 36(1), 188(11) and 287(3) of the 1999 Constitution.
The community members also asked the court to declare that? by virtue of Sections 6(6)(a) & (b), 36(1), and 272 of the 1999 Constitution, the court has the constitutional power and vires to reverse the government?’s action.
The plaintiffs say they are entitled to compensation to be determined by the court for injuries and damages caused to them by the Imo State government.
?The plaintiffs asked the court to determine whether their removal from the market and its demolition despite the subsistence of a pending suit, and a restraining order, and without any enabling judicial order, does not constitute an act of state executive impunity and grave violation of the 1999 Constitution.
The community also wants the court to determine whether by virtue of Sections 6(6)(a) & (b), 36(1), and 272 of the 1999 Constitution , the court has the inherent and constitutional power and vires to reverse the governor’s action.
The plaintiffs asked the court to hold that they are entitled to compensation for injuries and damages caused to them by the governor through his agents.
The suit, filed on September 13, is yet to be fixed for hearing.
On the morning of August 26, bulldozers accompanied by a horde of armed security operatives, acting on Okorocha’s orders, stormed Eke-Ukwu Owerri Market, and forcefully evicted the traders, demolished their shops and destroyed wares worth millions of naira.
Military men from the 34 Artillery Brigade, Obinze, deployed to maintain law and order during the forceful demolition of the market, shot indiscriminately into the air to prevent any resistance to the demolitions.
In the process, operatives allegedly shot a 10-year-old boy, Somtochukwu Ibeanusi, who was reportedly trying to assist his parents to evacuate wares trapped inside their shop.
Thousands of traders lost their livelihoods.
Okorocha denied reports that at least one life was lost.
In a press statement by his chief press secretary Sam Onwuemeodo, the state government denied any death.
It described reports of death as “wicked rumours”.
The statement read: “It has come to our knowledge, the deliberate and concerted effort being made by some elements who do not love progress to use the relocation of the Ekeukwu Owerri market, to blackmail the government of the day and perhaps cause undue tension in the state.
“These people who have refused or failed to appreciate the good of relocating Ekeukwu market Owerri to a more acceptable area have been dishing out rumours upon rumours including rumours of people being shot dead. These are wicked rumours.
“The truth is that the market is government’s property and it is the decision of the government to relocate it to a better place and such action could not have led to such incident.
“The security personnel around the market were there to ensure peace and they played that role professionally.
“We are also aware that before now the hoodlums who have been using the market and environs as areas of their operations have been threatening fire and brimstone over the government’s decision to move the market.”