Land-Grabbing Akin to Domestic Terrorism, Kidnapping – Oba of Benin

Oba Of Benin Photo

… Urges action by state government

The Oba of Benin, Ewuare 11, Ogidigan, has broken his silence on the controversy trailing the demolition of over 80 houses at Ulegun village in Ikpoba-Okha local government area of Edo State, resulting in the arrest of the village head, (Enogie) Sunday Eghosasere Omoregie, and the community’s Chief Priest (Ohen), Philip Uwuoroya, who the community claimed were abducted and illegally detained at the Oba Market police station last Wednesday by some traditional chiefs, led by the Secretary of the Benin Traditional Council, BTC, Frank Irabor.

The palace is being fingered as sponsoring the demolition of the buildings on the ground that the land in dispute between the Ulegun community and its Ukhiri neighbours belong to the Oba.

However, defending the demolitions, the BTC, at a press briefing on Wednesday, described the matter as a case of land-grabbing which was being brazenly perpetrated in the kingdom based on the belief that traditionally, once buildings were erected, “the Palace of the Oba of Benin forbids such property to be brought down” hence hurried constructions on such lands. The Palace regarded land-grabbing, at the rate it was going on, as being “akin to domestic terrorism and kidnapping” and enjoined the public to peacefully resist domestic terrorism in any form.

But following a protest on Monday to the government house by the Queen Mother of Ulegun village, (Enogie’s mother), Rose Omoregie, some elders and residents of the community, the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, intervened, consequent upon which the state commissioner of police, Abutu Yaro, ordered the release of the detained Enogie and the chief priest. The protesters claimed the duo had been invited by Irabor towards finding lasting peace over the disputed land when they were arrested and detained.

According to Mrs. Omoregie, the Enogie inherited the land in dispute between the Ulegun and Ikhiri communities from his grandfather, adding that the said land belongs to the Ulegun community. She said the dispute over the land had since 1974 been settled and resolved in favour of the Ulegun community by the palace of Oba Akenzua up to the Supreme Court.

They protesters alleged that over 80 houses had so far been demolished by their “tormentors”, and called on Governor Obaseki to carry out a thorough investigation on the true ownership of the disputed lands, and arrest and prosecute those allegedly behind the heinous act.

Responding to the appeal by the protesters, chief of staff to the governor, Osaigbovo Iyoha, assured that the state government would explore all necessary constitutional means to intervene with a view to addressing their plight.

But clarifying the issue surrounding the recent incident at Ukhiri village, the Aiwerioghene of Benin Kingdom, Henry Osato Bazuaye, who spoke on behalf of the BTC, lamented that the practice of land-grabbing in Benin City and environs, had reached alarming proportions, noting that “individuals and corporate owners of vacant land in Benin City and environs often see their property encroached upon and sold off by unscrupulous community youths”. Bazuaye alleged that land-grabbing was sometimes even condoned by community leaders.

According to Bazuaye, “In Ukhiri village, the case of land-grabbing was taken to unprecedented heights. The community leader, the Enogie of Ulegun, physically attacked the neighbouring community of Ukhiri, and annexed their lands. The Enogie of Ulegun and his community youths then proceeded to sell off land of other people and corporate bodies located in Ukhiri, including land that is known to belong to the Palace”.

Regretting that several parcels of land belonging to the palace have been taken over by land-grabbers, Bazuaye posited that “The recent incident at Ukhiri happened because of the impunity of the Enogie and youths of Ulegun, and the illegal buyers who typically built up structures hurriedly to avoid the law”. He said just like in many other land-grabbing cases, both buyers and sellers were fully aware of the illegality of their action.

“The land-grabbers sell other peoples’ land knowing full well their action is illegal. Worst still, the purchasers are also often aware they are purchasing other peoples’ land illegally.
“The land grabbers and the illegal purchasers argue that once a structure is hurriedly erected on the illegally acquired property, the Palace of the Oba of Benin forbids such property to be brought down. For this reason, the practice of grabbing and developing other peoples’ property has reached such an unacceptable dimension. This practice must stop”, Bazuaye stated.

He further explained that the Palace had been inundated with cases of land-grabbing by victims who came to the Palace to seek redress, stressing that “In many cases, peoples’ farmlands are invaded and sold off to willing accomplices. In a current case, some youths in Ogheghe community destroyed the perimeter fence of church land belonging to Christ Embassy, and proceeded to sell off plots of the land. The Palace has strongly condemned this action towards Christ Embassy and supports the lawful ownership of the land by Christ Embassy”.

While therefore commending and encouraging the state government to do more in arresting “this unsavoury behavior of grabbing other peoples’ land and leaving the victims with no form of compensation or respite”, the BTC said “The Palace condemns the practice of grabbing other peoples’ land in Benin as it is against our culture.

“The Palace regards land-grabbing, at the rate which it is going, as akin to domestic terrorism and kidnapping. The only difference is they are kidnapping and terrorising the lawful owners which can lead to communal crisis and breach of the peace. This system of land-grabbing is a reconstructed form of the outlawed Community Development Association’s (CDA) notorious activities which will not be condoned. The Palace enjoins the public to peacefully resist domestic terrorism in any form”.

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