The demolition of Government Reservation Area (GRA) Benin homes of three frontline indigenes of Edo State while judgments were yet to be delivered on pending suits has heightened tension in the volatile state, writes South-south Bureau Chief, BISI OLANIYI.
March 23 will remain etched in the memories of frontline All Progressives’ Congress (APC) chiefs, their family members and other supporters of the party whose houses were demolished by the bulldozers rolled out by the Godwin Obaseki-led PDP government in the state.
Dr. Pius Odubu, the deputy to former National Chairman of APC Comrade Adams Oshiomhole while the latter held sway as governor; a former Secretary to Edo State Government and the member representing Owan Constituency in the House of Representatives, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, and a sports enthusiast, Mr. Mike Itemuagbon, all had their houses demolished in an exercise that remains a shock to many residents of the city.
The government had hinted at its decision to demolish the said houses when it published the revocation of the certificates of occupancy of a list of houses in the state government-owned Observer newspaper. The selective demolition of the houses belonging to APC members, however, sparked outrage among residents who interpreted the move as sheer political vendetta because other houses belonging to PDP members in the area were spared.
Governor Obaseki had defected from APC to PDP in the build-up to the last governorship election in the state to pursue his re-election bid after failing to pick APC’s ticket over issues that bordered on his certificates.
Critics of the demolition exercise wondered why Odubu’s house located directly opposite the guest house of the current SSG, Osarodion Ogie, was demolished while Ogie neither had his Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) revoked nor had his house demolished. Two of Odubu’s younger brothers, Joseph and Progress, were said to be the occupants of the house together with their wives and children at the time it was demolished.
At the time the bulldozers began to demolish Odubu’s house, Joseph’s wife, Precious Odubu, was said to have gone to nearby Osadebe Avenue while her baby was asleep in the massive and tastefully-furnished building. Rushing back home on learning about the demolition exercise, she was said to have gone down on her knees and pleaded desperately with the law enforcement agents that accompanied the bulldozers to allow her to retrieve her baby.
While the security agents granted her permission to retrieve the infant, further pleading by Precious that they should give her 20 minutes to retrieve some valuable items in the house fell on deaf ears as she was reportedly pushed out by members of the demolition team who told her that they had Obaseki’s instruction to “crush” everything in the three affected houses.
The demolition team from Government House, Benin, accompanied by fully armed soldiers, riot policemen and personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), had gained entry into the compound through the back of the house after pulling down the high fence. Without allowing any of the occupants to remove any item from the massive building, the bulldozer immediately began to bring down the building from the back.
Recalling her ugly experience, Precious said at about 4 pm on March 23, she had noticed some strange looking soldiers, policemen and NSCDC personnel in the neighbourhood, following which she politely approached them and demanded to know their mission only for her to later discover that they were there to demolish the house and render the two families that occupied the building homeless.
Odubu’s cousin, Dennis Eribo, an engineer, who our correspondent met in the demolished house when he visited, said he was living in the building before he moved to his own house in another part of the city but had to rush down to the house to see things for himself after he was told that Obaseki’s bulldozers had moved against it.
Eribo said he noticed that more than 20 riot policemen, 10 soldiers and many personnel of NSCDC accompanied the demolition team from Government House, Benin, contrary to claims earlier made by the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Edo State Police Command, Bello Kontongs, a Superintendent of Police (SP).
Eribo said the demolished house contained fully-loaded wardrobes and expensive electronics, electrical appliances, kitchen utensils and other household items, in addition to the well furnished living rooms and bedrooms.
He said: “Dr. Pius Odubu was the deputy to
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole for eight years. Everybody knows that Comrade Oshiomhole will never freely allocate government’s plots or houses to anybody.
“Dr. Odubu, as Edo deputy governor, bid for the then deputy governor’s guest house, got approval and it was gazette. He paid and got the C of O just like Ogie (current Edo SSG) and others.
“Why will APC chieftains’ C of Os be revoked while those of the loyalists of Obaseki will be spared? Surprisingly, the alloactions were approved by Obaseki himself as the Chairman of the Economic Team in Oshiomhole’s administration for almost eight years.
“The plots of land and houses of the APC’s chieftains were legally acquired and due process was followed. Ogie (SSG) and Edo deputy governor, Philip Shaibu, have their houses directly opposite Golf Course in the same GRA, which were acquired through the same process, but their own houses were not demolished and their C of Os were not revoked.
“Obaseki or Edo State Government ought to have notified Dr. Odubu and others of the planned demolition in order for the former deputy governor to inform his younger brothers and their families to vacate the property rather than crushing the valuable items. That was a display of pure bitterness and brazen impunity.”
Eribo also said at the time of the demolition, Progress Odubu’s wife was not at home but in her shop, only to be alerted and to quickly return home to see the huge destruction of their valuable property.
Oshiomhole’s former deputy, Odubu, who was earlier screened and cleared as chairman of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) but was yet to be inaugurated along with other members of the board over intrigues and power play, said the action of the state government was really unfortunate and least expected because the matter was pending before a court of competent jurisdiction.
Odubu said: “I read in the Edo State Government owned Nigerian Observer newspaper in January this year that the C of O of my property situated at Dennis Osadebe Avenue in GRA, Benin City has been revoked without prior notice given to me.
“The information came to me in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 23, 2021 that my property situated at Dennis Osadebe Avenue, Benin City had been brought down by agents of Edo State Government on the directive of Governor Godwin Obaseki.
“My younger brothers and members of their families were in the house when it was brought down and they did not give them notice or allow them to remove any of their property before destroying the house.”
At the demolished residence of Ihonvbere, which was still under construction at No. 8, Omo-Osagie Avenue, beside Morshoria Residence (No. 10) and almost opposite the mansion of Austin Alegeh, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), a security man, John Wilfred, expressed surprise that only the federal lawmaker’s house was singled out for demolition in the neighbourhood.
Wilfred also said that stern looking soldiers, policemen and personnel of NSCDC accompanied the demolition team.
Ihonvbere told our reporter on the telephone that he had left Obaseki’s matter to God over the March 23 demolition of his GRA, Benin house, stressing that it was not the end of the world.
The federal lawmaker said: “The vindictive Governor Godwin Obaseki of the PDP is behind the demolition of my house in GRA, Benin City.
“My demolished house has approved building plan, while the C of O was approved by Godwin Obaseki as the Chairman of the Economic Team in the administration of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
“When Governor Obaseki suddenly revoked the C of O of my house in January this year without giving any reason, I filed a suit to challenge the decision. The case is still pending in court but Obaseki opted to demolish my house. He will not be Edo governor forever.”
Ihonvbere, an APC chieftain, also urged his supporters to remain calm in the face of provocation.
The demolished well-furnished two-bedroom bungalow of Itemuagbon, also a chieftain of APC, is located behind Odubu’s house that was pulled down, separated by a fence. The bulldozer that demolished the house had entered through the gate of the sports enthusiast’s residence.
At the time of the demolition, according to Eribo, the building was being occupied by the sports enthusiast’s personal assistant (P.A.), Mr. Sixtus Omokhagbor, who also lost all his property while Itemuagbon’s Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), a Montero Mitsubishi with registration number Lagos LSR 568 AY, would have been crushed by the demolition team but for the pleas made by the security man, whose gate-house apartment was looted by the accompanying thugs.
Omokhagbor was not at the demolished house when our correspondent visited, while his security man declined to speak. Eribo revealed that Odubu’s two younger brothers, Itemuagbon’s P.A. and their families had been rendered homeless and were not allowed to retrieve any item from the demolished houses.
The Edo State chapter of APC, in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Chris Azebamwan, condemned what it called the brazen demolition of the GRA, Benin houses of three of its frontline leaders, which it said should not be condoned in a democracy.
The main opposition party said: “The APC in Edo State condemns the wanton, unwholesome and sacrilegious demolition of the houses belonging to citizens of Edo State by Obaseki-led PDP government.
“Obaseki, about this same time last year, demolished the private property of another APC chieftain, Mr. Tony Kabaka Adun. Unchallenged, he has taken a step further all in a bid to intimidate, suppress, hound, crush and silence his perceived enemies.
“No doubt, it is part of Obaseki’s ‘Make Edo State Great Again’ agenda to regularly and willfully demolish properties belonging to perceived opponents and dissenting or critical voices in the state, in the bid to foist a siege mentality on the citizenry.”
APC in Edo also reiterated that Obaseki had earlier this year revoked the C of Os of the three demolished houses, stressing that the demolition was carried out while the cases were still in court, describing it as unacceptable and amounting to a subversion of the rule of law.
It said: “The proper thing would have been for Edo State Government to wait for the outcome of the court processes. But apparently because it knew that it was pursuing an illegal agenda, it demolished the properties.
“We urge Obaseki to perish the idea of trying to use false claims and propaganda to justify the wicked act, as such cannot hoodwink Edo people from the truth. We also reject this constant invasion of citizen’s privacy and demolition of their property, as it is not only wicked, but cowardly. It is a direct recipe for crisis in our state.
“We caution against future action in this guise, because it is borne out of hatred and political intolerance, in furtherance of the larger plot by the PDP and its administration to destroy the fabric that binds Edo people and eventually overheat the polity.
“Edo people know now that the PDP and its government are unduly hounding, harassing and demolishing property of citizens, for daring to be among compatriots at the forefront of the quest to rescue our state from misrule and strangleholds of a cabal that does not mean well for the people.”
Obaseki, through Edo SSG Ogie, however, justified the demolition of the three houses, saying that the C of O of his plot of land in GRA, Benin, was also revoked.
Ogie’s press statement was titled “Ejection of Illegal Occupants from Edo State Government Property.”
He said: “On December 21, 2020, the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, revoked the Certificates of Occupancy (C of O) of eleven government properties within the GRA (Benin), which were allotted to former political office holders, companies and private individuals, as parting gifts on the eve of the exit of former Governor Adams Oshiomhole from office.
“One of the properties was allocated to Governor Obaseki and was also revoked.
“The property have been revoked and recovered and therefore automatically belong to the original owner, which is the Government of Edo State. Therefore, the persons occupying the said property are doing so illegally and are trespassers.
“The action taken by the Edo State Government on Tuesday, March 23, 2021, was to evict the trespassers and squatters from the property and effectively take possession of the assets. Therefore, the claims by the affected persons that their personal properties were demolished are false and baseless.”
Edo SSG also stated that one of the properties in question, according to him, to which Odubu laid claim, was actually the official lodge of the SSG, claiming that all SSGs after Oshiomhole’s administration would not have an official residence.
He said: “Some of those affected, including a former governor, have now resorted to media blackmail, when in fact they forcefully (sic) ejected senior academic staff of the University of Benin (UNIBEN) from the government property, only to convert them to their own private use.
“Contrary to insinuations that government embarked on the recovery of the property out of vendetta, the truth is that these are the only remaining property in the GRA that belong to the state government. If they are allowed to be taken over by these private individuals, it means that when government wants to embark on any project within the GRA, it will have to resort to purchasing from the open market.”RESPONSIVE IN-ARTICLE