Demolition: Anguish as bulldozers roar in Rivers
• Owners Of Demolished Buildings Demand N5b Compensation From Govt
On August 16, 2017, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, supervised the demolition of a building along Trans-Amadi-Elelenwo Road in Port Harcourt, to pave way for the ongoing construction dualisation of the road.
The governor’s physical presence at the scene of the demolition, The Guardian gathered, was as a result of refusal of the owner of the property to accept the compensation offered by the state, in order for work to continue on the road.
Former Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Lands and Survey, Anugbum Onuoha, said it was for overriding public interest that Wike had to personally supervise the demolition of the structure, which had been impeding the progress of work.
“We have valued the place and compensation paid to owners of structures. In fact, what is delaying the work there is because the owner of a building rejected what was offered to him. We have paid every other person, but he rejected his. Note, what we are doing is for public interest and has no political undertone at all. The government is not witch-hunting anyone. So, we cannot continue to be waiting for him, if he is not satisfied, I think the next step is for him to take a legal action,” said Onuoha.
Though Onuoha declined to mention the compensation offered by the state, it was gathered that some of the property owners whose homes were demolished, considered the compensation to be meagre. A resident of the area, who pleaded anonymity said lots of those whose property were demolished feel the compensation offered them was too small.
“Due to the recent expansion of Port Harcourt, and the high cost of land, as well as, building materials, a lot of people whose property have been earmarked for demolition, have always considered compensation paid to them as very little, and insufficient for them to acquire plots of land elsewhere and build new homes,” he said.
Since 2008 till date, the Port Harcourt City has made tremendous strides in roads dualisation and this has often led to removing of structures obstructing roads expansion. Some residents of the city, who are in support of the demolition for development, often argue that demolition rids cities of some criminal hideouts, and of structures that obstruct road expansion, even as the latter is geared towards alleviating the perennial traffic-snarl in and out of the city centre.
Only recently, the state government embarked on massive demolition of buildings in areas such as Eagle Island, Mgboshimiri (Agip axis), Eneka Community in Obio/Akpor Local Council, where over 80 buildings at Unity Estate were brought down, and property belonging to the occupants of the estate destroyed.
In the wake of the incident, the government said the move was part of efforts to reclaim its property grabbed and illegally occupied, as well as, pave way for construction works by the state government.On the contrary, residents of the demolished Unity Estate said the land was duly acquired, registered and approval obtained from the same state government that has turned around to demolish their structures.
One of the victims, Ronald Pepple said the state government’s action is not only shocking, but has thrown them into endless difficulties. Pepple, who claimed that victims lost all their belongings, regretted that they had no previous information on the operation hence unprepared to salvage anything.He also decried government insensitivity in throwing them into gnashing of teeth at a time when Nigerians are going through grueling times.
According to Pepple: “The estate was duly registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, Rivers State, with the name Unity Estate. When we bought this land and came here the entire place was still bushy. We did our research and due diligence to know the original owners of the land. I sent my lawyer ahead, and we eventually met with the community, and they claimed the land belonged to them. So we paid for the plots.
“But I was shocked when someone called to inform me that a bulldozer was destroying houses at Unity Estate, even when no notice was sent to us about the demolition. When I started building here, nobody sent any notice claiming that the land belonged to the government.“However, when I rushed down, I saw one of the commissioners on ground and he claimed that the land belonged to the state government. That was how people who laboured to build their houses were made to become homeless. We are devastated totally devastated and do not know the next direction to go,” he lamented.
He called on the state government to pay compensation to the owners of the demolished houses in order to help them resettle elsewhere. Also, Gabriel Oluwarotimi, said the state government cannot claim ownership of the land, as it was the same government that signed the Certificate of Occupancy of each of the property they occupied.
While stressing that the era where government treated the governed with contempt and go scot-free had passed, he pointed out that the state government failed to inform house owners in the estate that it “was coming to demolish houses because the land does not belong to it. Some of us bought plots of land here in 2012, did survey plan and the government registered it, and approved the land. So why will they come back now to claim that the land belongs to them?”
Pained by government’s action, which has thrown them into untold hardship, victims of the several demolition exercises in the state, including those at Unity Estate are demanding N5 billion compensation from the state government.
Speaking on their behalf, the State Coordinator, International Human Rights Protection Initiative, John Ihua, urged the state government to pay N5 billion to the victims for unlawfully destroying their property.Ihua particularly condemned the malicious manner, in which government sacked residents of the estate, stressing that the state government encroached on community land and intimidated residents of the estate.
He said, “We condemn the forceful eviction of residents of Unity Estate. The forceful eviction led to the collapse of two women, who were hospitalised while several people sustained injuries during the demolition of more than 80 houses, and thousands of children, some as young as five months old, forced to be living on the streets because they have nowhere to go.”
Ihua, who accused said the government of being undemocratic said: “The manner in which the residents of Unity Estate were forcefully evicted from their residences and their property destroyed was the same manner, which the military ruled and lacked absolute respect for the rule of law and due process, and human rights’ instruments and the likes were hugely disrespected and violated by Rivers State government.
“We know that this regime does not adhere to the rule of law, but we wish to state that the International Human Rights Protection Initiative, and other partners would not watch Unity Estate residents’ rights continually violated by the government of Rivers State, and we stand in solidarity with the people of Unity Estate.”
Equally troubled by the gale of demolition in the state are residents of Ahiamakara Village in Ogbunabali axis of Port Harcourt City Local Council, who are also on tenterhooks.
The state government in a notice signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands and Survey, D. W Jack, served occupants and lessees a seven-day quit notice, which elapsed on Friday, July 7, 2017. Now, the agitated residents want the government to act on their initial agreement and pay compensation to the landowners before evicting the residents.
According to Kakor Macson, a resident, the move by the government to demolish the area without following due process was an act of injustice. He, therefore called on the state government to compensate them before eviction.Macson, who is a landlord in the area, noted that residents do not have anywhere to go to if the government evicts them without compensation.
“It will be injustice for the government that earlier wrote us that it would compensate us before evicting us to turn around to give us a seven-day quit notice to vacate the area before they will compensate us.
“Our family are been threatened by this development; our children can be exposed to danger if we are sacked and left without alternatives. Let the government pay us before evicting us,” said Macson.
Meanwhile, Ihua, the International Human Rights Protection Initiative state coordinator has described the action of the state government as unfortunate.Ihua, stated that it was against international human rights law to sack any person or group of persons from their resident without due compensation.He threatened legal action against the state government if it refuses to compensate the residents before evicting them.
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