Over 200 residents of Oke Aroma, Irhirhi, Obazagbon and Ogheghe communities in Edo State have been rendered homeless as the state government embarked on demolition of houses built on government land.
The state government said the land, measuring 1,229 hectares, belonged to the government; that it was duly acquired in 2017 and gazetted. But the affected residents claim they acquired their plots of land legally.
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Daily Trust reports that both completed and uncompleted houses were pulled down by the state government in an exercise which began on September 30, 2022.
Daily Trust learnt that the exercise, which started in Oke Aroma community, affected 102 houses across the four communities.
An affected resident, John Osasuwa, said, “I acquired the plot of land I built my house on but I was surprised when the government came to destroy it, saying I built on government land.
“We got an interlocutory injunction on August 4, from a high court restraining the state government and its agents from demolishing houses in our community but they refused to obey the order.”
Another affected resident, Emokpae, said, “I bought my land from the community and built my house so that I would be free of rent. I was not aware it was government land because I have the papers. The government is not providing infrastructure yet demolishing the houses we have already built.
“They know that people can’t fight the government and that is the reason they are not respecting the law. It is absurd that a government that can’t construct roads is demolishing houses.”
On her part, Joy Abraham wondered why the government would demolish their houses where there is a vast empty land it could site a new town.
She said, “I am stranded now and I don’t know what to do. I am squatting with my relation.”
She, therefore, called on Governor Godwin Obaseki to have a human face in the development of the state.
Our correspondent further learnt that 60 plots of the land where the houses were demolished are owned by one alhaji, who sources said sold the land to the state government in 2017, when the community prevented him from developing it.
A source explained that after much trouble from the community, the alhaji pacified them with 15 plots but the community rejected them, hence he sold the land to the state government.
Speaking on the development, the Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, said the government was only taking possession of its land by dislodging land grabbers.
He said, “The land was acquired in 2017 for a new town project but was encroached on by land speculators. The area repossessed used to be the Ogba Forest Reserve.
“For the records, the land was duly gazetted in 2017. The government had tried severally to engage the four communities involved but they always rebuffed the government. The hostilities and widespread encroachment have made it difficult to enumerate and commence compensation assessment.”
He further said, said, “106 structures have been marked for demolition, and out of that 24 will not be demolished and would be used as government offices. The perimeter fence of the site is being trenched.”
Nehikhare, who explained that after the repossession of the land enumeration would commence and payment made to the rightful occupants who were there prior to the acquisitions, added that, “So far a total of 202 persons have come up for screening and their data have been documented.”
The commissioner, who noted that the land, divided into portions: A, B, C and D, said Portion A was being reclaimed at the moment, covering over 350 hectares of the forest reserve that terminated on both banks of the Ogba River.
He, therefore, called on persons who had been defrauded by criminal elements at the New Town Development Area along Irhirhi-Ogheghe road to present complaints to the New Town Development Authority office at the site for necessary action.