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Anxiety grips Benin residents over planned demolition

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In Benin City, there is anxiety among residents of Etete, Erediauwa and environs, following a recent directive that persons staying under high-tension cables and on government’s right of way should leave or be forcefully evicted.

The state government has already begun pulling down Etete Primary School, which is under a high-tension cable, sending a message to the people that it means business.

Few weeks ago, the government served final demolition notice to developers, whose buildings breached town-planning laws at Airport Road, Stadium Road, Aideyan Street, Upper Adesuwa, and Ugbor and Ekae areas.

Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Edorodion Oye Erimona, who issued the notice, warned: “If the developers fail to remove the properties within seven days, as contained in the notices, the government will be left with no option but to demolish them.

The developers will incur the cost of the demolition. We will be back in two to three weeks to demolish the properties ourselves, if owners fail to do so themselves.”

Erimona said the exercise is necessary to maintain the original plan of the city and ensure the safety, health and convenience of residents.

He added: “We expect that this exercise will serve as deterrent to developers. We want them to embrace the right attitude to issues pertaining to town planning.

Developers who intend to advance their properties are encouraged to approach the ministry with their building proposals. The ministry now approves proposals for building between three weeks and three months, provided it is in line with laid down requirements.”

Also, the Commissioner for Information, Paul Ohonbamu, last year, urged the residents to comply with the directive, saying: “The radiation from high-tension electricity lines has been linked to cancer, and there is also an imminent danger of electrocution and incineration.”

But some of the residents and landlords whose houses are under the high-tension cables have condemned the government’s plan, arguing that they built their homes between 1981 and 1984, long before the power lines were constructed, and with the approval of relevant government agencies of the then Bendel State government.

They also challenged the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) to provide proof it had compensated them or that the cables had gone up before the residents’ arrival.

An 88-year-old man, David Omorodion, said he fought against the installation of the cables many years ago and was even allegedly locked up by the police. “When they were drawing the wire up, I asked about the damage they have done to my house and they said there was nothing like that.

I tried to resist them. They went and called the police. I was arrested and I slept in a cell.”

Another resident, Comfort Aguebor, said: “The (then) National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) said even if we construct a storey building, it will not affect us.

They did not pay me any compensation. They said they would come and pay. We didn’t see them, up till now.

They said we should go and see their valuer. We went. But since then, they have not paid us. If they paid us, why did they not destroy our houses?

Where is the receipt showing they paid?”

Another, Austin Igbinobaro, said the people challenged the power company at the time and were told that the cables would not constitute any danger. Gabriel Osagiede, on his part, said since 1984, “I have been enduring.

Recently, I started hearing that they paid compensation. And I kept wondering to whom the compensation was paid.”

A TCN staff in Benin City, however, said the residents’ claims were false. “We had the right of way before the commencement of those lines. So, for anybody to wake up one day and say he has not been compensated is a lie.

Before we embark on the construction of any of those towers, we usually settle the people on our own right of way.”

No staff of the company was ready to speak officially, citing an order that requires information on TCN activities to come only from the headquarters in Abuja.

The company’s General Manager, Public Affairs, Ndidi Mbah, was yet to respond to enquiries as at the time of this report.

Also, residents of Oshodi, Airport Road and environs, whose houses were demolished, have called on the Lagos State government to hasten the payment of their compensation.

Making the appeal when The Guardian visited the area, they regretted that government did not give them enough time to relocate before the exercise.

State authorities pulled down the structures to make way for the ongoing rehabilitation and expansion of the Oshodi/Airport Road, which upon completion will feature pedestrian walkways and footbridges. Among the affected buildings were petrol stations, shops, banks and hotels.

A landlord, Mr. Lawrence Akin, expressed displeasure over the non-payment, urging the state government to expedite action. He lamented: “This house is the only hope I have of feeding my family and training my children in school because I retired five years ago.

I thought the compensation would come immediately. Now, I am homeless; I am squatting with a family member because I do not have money to rent an apartment.”

Mrs. Kudirat Mustafa, a landlady who said she lost her husband five years ago, complained she no longer has anywhere to call home. “I want to use this opportunity to appeal to government to approve the compensation on time, so that I can rent another apartment,” she said.

Mr. Dele Azeez, also a landlord, narrated how owners of property along the road pleaded to no avail with the state government to pay compensation before embarking on the demolition. He expressed dissatisfaction with government’s alleged inconsistencies over the exercise.

According to him, “For over two years, they have been coming and giving 24-hour and 48-hour notices. Nothing has been done to compensate us.”

Another affected resident, Mr. Bamidele Oyenuga, noted: “Since the demolition of our houses, we have been sleeping with friends. I appeal to government to hasten the payment of this money, so that we can get new apartments.”

One hotel owner, whose property was pulled down, added that although the rehabilitation was anticipated, government should have paid compensation before sending in the bulldozers.

The project, he admitted, would improve the social and economic status of people in the state “but private property should not be taken for granted.”

But the Lagos State Commissioner for Works, Engr Adebowale Akinsoya, in a phone call with The Guardian, said arrangements were ongoing to compensate the affected persons.

“Even before the demolition, government had already decided to compensate them. They should be patient because it takes a long process to make the payments,” he said.

Also, on Thursday, last week, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who visited the site, insisted the money would be paid.


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