Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), a human rights organization that has been monitoring human rights violations within the context of COVID-19 in the Niger Delta in coordination with other organizations in Nigeria and keenly following and reporting rights abuses associated with the demolition of hotels in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State on May 10, 2020 has rejected the report in a Statement released by the Rivers State Government on May 24, 2020 that the Manager of Prodest Hotel, Bariledum Azoroh, Ph.D. is COVID-19 Positive.

Our rejection of Dr. Azoroh’s COVID-19 status became necessary because it is evident that from the beginning of the alleged violation of Executive Order Six till date, the fate of the hotel Manager had depended on the whims and caprices of the Rivers State Government including this Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)/Government report that he is COVID-19 positive. Besides, from inception to date, the exercises of both executive and judicial powers over the hotel, its management and staff for the alleged violations had remained at the mercy of the State Government without an opportunity for open trial. Dr. Azoroh had alleged the violations of his constitutionally guaranteed fundamental Human Rights, lack of transparency in the trial process, absence of fair-hearing, denial of access to charge sheets and record of proceedings as well as legal representation on May 18 as he was convicted in the absence of his lawyer who was not granted movement permit to the Court to defend his client during the total lock down of Obio/Akpor and Port Harcourt City Local Government Areas.

(Bariledum Azoroh, Ph.D at the Detention/Isolation Centre, Port Harcourt on May 24, 2020)

We are also worried that the Prodest Hotel Manager would be singled-out of the 27 COVID-19 positive cases reported on May 24 and named by the Rivers State. We recalled that the Rivers COVID-19 index case was not named. It is also on record that the Rivers State government was angry with both the index case, the female Model for granting media interview and a radio Station in Port Harcourt (that did not also name the Model) for airing the exclusive interview. Thus, the open reference to Prodest hotel manager in the government statement is not only against the ethics of COVID-19 patients’ management of concealing their identities against stigmatization but also sends wrong signal that the Rivers State Government may be working towards scoring a “COVID-19 ACCUSATION POINT” on the hotel demolition.

On the magic of how Prodest Hotel Manager, Bariledum Azoroh, Ph.D may have contracted the virus, ADVOCACY CENTRE recalls that he was arrested and detained at the Isolation Centre also housing COVID-19 positive cases since May 10. On May 18, he was convicted by a Magistrate Court sitting at the same Isolation Centre’s premises and sentenced to remain at the same Isolation Centre for 14days after paying N50,000 fine and undergoing COVID-19 test leading to this report that he tested positive on May 24. We are surprised that he tested ‘positive’ when all those arrested in crowded trucks impounded with cattle as well as over 200 others arrested at different places and detained at the same Isolation Centre with many of them allegedly convicted have not tested positive to COVID-19 or get named as cases like Dr. Azoroh. ADVOCACY CENTRE notes that the report from the Government on Sunday, May 24, that Dr. Azoroh was COVID-19 positive came after we earlier got information same Sunday morning that the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had dragged the Rivers State government, etc. to ECOWAS Court sitting in Abuja in Suit No. ECW/CCJ/APP/20/20 on human rights abuses associated with the demolition of Edemete and Prodest Hotels, Eleme and another statement from Prodest Hotel owner, Mr. Gogorobari Promise Needam alleging threats to the life of his manager at the Isolation Centre which had also been described by many as “Rivers State Government COVID-19 Illegal detention camp”.

(Cross section of detainees at the Detention/Isolation Centre Port Hartcourt on May 24, 2020)

The developing reports on the Prodest Hotel Manager since May 10 that he was arrested, his delayed trials till he was convicted on his fourth-trial day on May 18, statement from Rivers State Government that the hotel’s landed property which had not been forfeited through a court of competent jurisdiction would be used to build primary school as well as his reported COVID-19 status makes us feel that it is a way of giving a dog bad name in order to hang it to justify Government actions on the hotel demolition, trials and extra-judicial confiscation of their landed properties.

As alleged by the hotel owner, Mr. Gogorobari Promise Needam in his Press Statement on May 24, 2020, we are also afraid that the life of Bariledum Azoroh, Ph.D is in danger of death which would be blamed on COVID-19 infection, very similar to the scenario that played out and subsequent death of late Ferry Gberegbe, Ph.D., a former lecturer at Ken Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori-Ogoni who was pronounced death at a private hospital in Port Harcourt after reports that his condition was stable and fast recovering from gunshot injury sustained during the 2019 General Elections in Bori.

(Dr. Ozoroh at the detention/Isolation Centre, Port Harcourt on May 24, 2020)

While ADVOCACY CENTRE believes that anyone can test positive to COVID-19, we are particularly skeptical about the results of Prodest Hotel Manager who is being persecuted, kept in poor and dehumanizing conditions, poorly fed, denied access to good medical care, his family, etc. since May 10 till date. We therefore call for a re-test of the Prodest Hotel manager by an independent medical team in the presence of the media and his samples sent to multiple laboratories outside Rivers State for results comparison. We further call on NCDC to start contact tracing of all those who went to Prodest hotel for demolition on May 10 including the Police Officers that arrested him, send them all to the Isolation Centre and their identities revealed after COVID-19 tests as that of Dr. Azoroh was done. We also call on the Rivers State Government to ensure the protection of the rights of Prodest Hotel Manager, guarantee his safety and those of others in its custody arrested and detained over alleged violations of COVID-19 Executive Orders in line with provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended) and other regional and international human rights instruments ratified by Nigeria and also applicable in Rivers State.

Human Rights Activist and Executive Director,
Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC).

Leave a Reply