Grief Over Development

News Introduction: 
An erosion control project which has led to the demolition of properties has caused tension in a community in Benin city. - By Victor Osehobo

The N6 billion investment by the Edo State government to deflood the state capital, Benin, which was flagged-off  city governor Adams Oshiomhole, has suffered its first casualty with the demolition of two landed properties located on what government sources say is the flood channel’s right of way.Although official sources at the state ministry of environment and that of lands and surveys, say that the plots were acquired a long time ago by the government for the project, indications are that the development is recent and many community dwellers living along or owning landed properties on the flood channel’s right of way, are in the dark about such acquisition.But according to Mr. Clem Agba, the commissioner in charge of environment, the decision to embark on the project was not a sudden one. He said that the first phase of the project required the acquisition of all lands on the right of way of the perennially-flooded streets like: Adolo College road in Ugbowo; Textile Mill and Otote road; Uwelu road; Akugbe Street and Iyoba. The Benin City flood control project, tagged “Benin City storm water project,” he said is very important to the government as it will put a final stop to the erosion and flood in major parts of the city. He did not say if and when owners of properties situated on the right of way would be compensated.But the demolition incident is generating tension in Uzebu, one of the many communities through which the flood channel will pass. Mrs. Rita Akpotaire who is a breadwinner and owns one of the properties with over 2000 blocks, says that her one storey-building which was demolished to pave way for the erosion control project, cost her over N10 million to erect.She also said that she was surprised that without any written notice from the government or Messrs Hitech Construction Company Limited, the construction company which is handling the project, deployed its bulldozers to site while work was still going on the project. Nevertheless an official at the ministry of environment said that some members of the community sympathetic to the woman, are guilty of attacking  officials who were on site over the matter.Commenting on the allegation that youths in his community beat up a government official, Mr Frank Ogundezi who is the Chairman of the Uzebu community developemnt association, said “nobody was beaten up on the site.” Ogundezi said trouble started when the government official in the company of others entered into a heated argument with a member of the community who was furious that two landed properties- one, a storey builidng under construction, and thousands of cement blocks were destroyed without prior notice to their owners. He said “when it happened we wrote to the government and the construction company informing them that their conduct was out of order because the property belonged to Nigerians who were sweating to build them.” He confirmed that Mrs. Akpotaire, the woman who owned one of the properties “even fainted when she came to meet her demolished property and we had to revive her and take her to the health centre. This is what caused the misunderstanding and argument.”He also said that though he did not meet the commissioner in charge of lands at the site over the demolished property, members of the community who were on hand only protested peacefully about the maltreatment of the owners of the landed properties which were destroyed. He said that it is the duty of government to cater for its citizens through welfare programmes. He said demolishing people’s lands and properties was not part of such an agenda.  When asked if he was aware that the land in question belongs to the Edo State government, the Uzebu community chairman said that the same land was actually given to the community in 2008 by the same government according to plan N1141 dated November 29, 2008 and signed by Mr. Martins Esewe, the surveyor general of the state.The community leader said the land is part of the Ogba Forest Reserve under the supervision of the ministry of agriculture and natural resources. He also stated that the community only moved in after the palace of the Oba of Benin, gave it clearance to be used for commercial or private accommodations. Government officials did not deny this claim.He said it is on this basis that the community has been allotting plots to its members and other members of the public who are interested to help develop the area. Adding that the proper thing was for government to give notice before demolishing and/or confiscating properties.He however pledged the support of the community for all programmes and policies of the government designed to improve the lot of  the masses through the provision of basic amenities like: roads, water and electricity.Meanwhile, Mrs. Akpotaire has taken her case to the office of the governor, hoping to get reprieve for her property, which she said was built with hard labour. She is optimistic that the governor will intervene to get her adequately compensated for her loss.

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