The Edo State Government on Thursday rolled out the bulldozers to demolish several houses at different stages of construction in the Irhirhi area of Benin, in a bid to repossess the land said to belong to it. The affected portion of land, which had been earmarked for the development of a new town, and measuring 1,229 hectares, is located along the Irhirhi-Obazagbon-Ogheghe Road in the outskirts of the state capital.
The government said a total of 106 structures were marked on Thursday, out of which 24 will not be demolished.
Prior to deploying bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment to the area, the state government had on Wednesday announced a 24-hour curfew from 12.00am Thursday, September 29, 2022, to 12am Friday, September 30, 2022 in the communities for the purpose of carrying out a “security exercise”.
It was a pathetic sight as the hapless developers watched as their investments were being reduced to rubbles as the bulldozers sank their teeth into the buildings, many already roofed, while some were already completed and waiting to be inhabited.
Emotions ran high as the owners broke down in tears while one or two persons who were too shell-shocked to see their efforts come into ruins, reportedly fainted.
The repossession exercise is said to be part of Governor Godwin Obaseki’s renewed campaign against land-grabbing in the state, aimed at restoring sanity in land administration.
Explaining the rationale behind the exercise, the state government, in a statement signed by Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser to the governor on Media Project, said that the land was acquired in 2017 for a new town project but had been encroached upon by land speculators. The area repossessed, the statement further explained, used to be a forest reserve at the time of the acquisition. It clarified that the 24-hour curfew imposed on the area was to make way for the demolition and repossession exercise.
Speaking on the operation in the communities in another statement, the state commissioner for communication and orientation, Chris Osa Nehikhare, said “Government officials entered the area at about 3.00 am this morning (Thursday) with the full complement of security personnel. The area was repossessed with no casualty. The exercise is going on peacefully.
“The government has taken over all the buildings within the Ogba River Forest Reserve and is removing all buildings, except for those it may use as offices. We thank all security agencies, members of the affected communities, the general public and the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) involved in the exercise for their cooperation.
“For the records, the land was acquired in July 2017 and was duly gazetted. The government had tried severally to engage the four communities involved but they have always rebuffed the government. The hostilities and widespread encroachment have made it difficult to enumerate and commence compensation assessments. Once the repossession is completed, enumeration will commence, and payment will be made to the rightful occupants who were there prior to the acquisitions.
“Total structures marked today are 106, and 24 will not be demolished. The others are being demolished and the perimetre of the site is being trenched. This is an ongoing operation, and we will continue to provide you updates as the days go by”.
Also defending the demolition, another senior government official in the know but did not want to be quoted, stated that after acquiring the expanse of land from the community and the necessary agreements signed, the government put caveat emptor signage, which those who resold the land removed.
According to him, “The government acquired the land from the community in 2017 and signed all agreements. The government left the land. We put about 24 signboards, done at over N2 million. But the community people removed the signboards and sold the land.
“Government has come back to take the land for the new town development with all modern facilities. The acquisition from the community was gazetted and only those who had structures on the land before 2017 will be compensated. Those who started building after 2017 have no claim to compensation”.