Tempers are high in Benin City, the capital of Edo State last week over the sudden removal of the Task Force Chairman on Demolition of Illegal Properties, Major Lawrence Oloye by the Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. The sack of Oloye was viewed by some people as a move to score cheap political point by the governor. LEADERSHIP PATRICK OCHOGA, takes a look at the issues and writes.
Since comrade Adams Oshiomhole assumed office as governor of Edo State through the verdict of an appellate Court in November 11, 2008, the entire state heaved a sign of relief. Why? They bided goodbye to years of misrule and bad governance which had characterized previous administrations in the state. Oshiomhole in his determination to bring about positive development in the socio- physical and economic phase of the state introduced stringent measures to achieve his campaign promises.
Among some of the government reform policies were the tax regime and the demolition of illegal structures which according to the government was to restore Benin City to it original master plan and also to pave way for the expansion and dualization of major roads within and outside the state capital. For this to be achieved a lot of sacrifices and pains would have be borne by the people whose properties are on water ways or government right of ways when they are demolished irrespective of who owned such properties.
However the event of 12 September left many residents of the state to wonder on the intension of the state government when Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, ordered for the immediate arrest of the Chairman of the Task Force on Demolition of illegal Properties, Major Lawrence Oloye. Oloye’s offence was that he ordered the demolishing of a Property located on Siluko road. The property belongs to Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, PDP chieftain and former Military Governor Edo State. Oshiomhole who gave the order while inspecting the illegally demolished building said Oloya must be arrested because he demolished Ogbemudia’s edifice out of mischief.
“As you have seen, this building that he has destroyed does not in any way affect the moat. There is enough space between the property and the moat. The fact that you work for government does not give you license to visit harm and destruction on innocent people. I am convinced that he acted in bad faith; he acted in mischief. He is a sadist and his purpose is to bring confusion to the community and confuse the people about the genuineness of our intention,” the governor said.
Oshiomhole also lambasted the Task Force Chairman for not taking directive from the appropriate authority before demolishing the building. “Major Loye is on his own. Without authorization from the Commissioner he moved to this location and brought down this building. He is not a Town Planning Officer. He is only to carry out demolitions after a competent officer identifies a property that offends the right of way. He has assumed the powers of the Ministry of Land and Environment. On his own, without being told, he goes about marking houses indiscriminately”.
The governor said he was handing him over to the police for prosecution for illegal destruction of properties according to the law. The Police immediately arrested and handcuffed Oloye, like a common criminal in the full glare of television cameras.
Some members of the civil society groups who spoke to LEADERSAHIP said the governor’s directive would erode his hard earned reputation even as they believed handcuffing Oloye was incongruent with a democratic society that thrives on rule of law. ‘‘The police treated Oloye as if he was on the run at the time of arrest,’’ one of them noted. While some common people on the street of the state believed Oshiomhole’s order constitutes an abuse of human right that is unbecoming of a governor, many of the masses said the governor’s action was in order.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was the first political party to berate the governor over the demolition. At a press conference organised by the state chairman of PDP, Dan Orbih, the party urged Oshiomhole to immediately commence the payment of compensation to families whose properties were illegally demolished by the Edo State Task Force. The party said neither the government nor the governor Oshiomhole can claim to be ignorant of the several activities of the taskforce under whose supervision houses numbering over hundred have been demolished: “Well I think Oshiomhole is playing politics with people of Edo state. I believe the time has come when people should own up to their action or inaction. Major Loye is an appointee of the state government and this government must be man enough to take full responsibility for the action of Loye and members of his committee,’’ he observed. The PDP boss said Loye was given a mandate by the ACN government in Edo state to destroy homes of innocent citizens especially those belonging to PDP.
The PDP Chairman was not alone in the public condemnation of the state government. The state chapter of Labour Party (LP) in a statement signed by its Publicity Secretary, Hon Isaiah Osifo said the party had been consistent in condemning the destruction of homes, business premises and properties by Edo State Task Force without compensation and welfare to the Victims. “We watched with utter disappointment the conduct of Edo state Governor on the method of arrest and handcuff of the Chairman of the Task Force on Demolition. We considered the method of arrest as a television show, inhuman and disrespectful of which the government is now known, including demolition of homes and properties without compensation”
He said the arrest and handcuffing of Oloye on the order and supervision of the governor was undoubtedly diversionary and a political showmanship meant to run away from the responsibility of a government that has become unpopular. The LP calls for a town hall meeting to enable Edo sons and daughters deliberate on the rationale of placing beautification above the economic survival and welfare of the People.
The party argued that the energy and resources devoted to the demolition could have been channelled towards Job creation, economic prosperity, agricultural development, youths empowerment and the Protection of lives and properties.
The party also described the demolition exercise as lacking human face adding that the much talked about Benin Moat and Right of Way as a basis for demolition was misleading.
‘‘The Benin moat was dug by our forefathers for the security of Benin kingdom not for erosion control. A modern and civilized government should design a comprehensive engineering network to control erosion instead of destroying houses with proofs of government approval and certificate of occupancy,” he noted.
Dr Samuel Ogbemudia, whose property was affected has called on the Edo State Governor to properly investigate the circumstance that led to the demolition of his house by the task force. He said the affected house belongs to his wife and stressed that it was demolished out of malice.
In a statement signed last week, Ogbemudia said “I wish to appeal to the Edo State Governor to investigate the entire situation and ensure justice is done, if the property in question is in the right of way and being removed to establish a thoroughfare for the floor with a view to freeing the people from incessant flooding I am all for it.’’
Investigation however revealed that the process of demolition did not follow due process as occupants of the blocks of eight flat were not notified before the demolition exercise. The state commissioner for Information, Mr Louis Odion, in defence of government action said Oloye was hammered to serve as a deterrent to other government functionaries adding that nobody is above the law in the state.
He explained that two weeks ago, a meeting was held at the instance of the Edo State Executive Council presided over by the Secretary to the state government, Dr Simon Imuekemhe to sensitize chairmen and secretaries of state government committees on the code of conduct expected of public officers.
He said the meeting was necessary following the adverse report government was receiving about the unwholesome activities of some members of the committees set up by the state government. He re affirmed that major Oloye had taken unilateral decision to demolish building in the state capital, an act he claimed was callous and a ploy to discredit the governor.
The Task force Chairman who has been charged to Court on a six count charge is been held in a Prison custody in Benin pending further hearing. Before his ordeal, he was accused of extorting money from members of the public who contravene environmental laws and collecting bribe from owners of illegal structures.
LEADERSHIP however learnt that the state government in its effort to redeem it declining popularity largely to the public outcry over demolished properties had contacted an architectural firm to evaluate the cost implication of the property belonging to Ogbemudia with a view to re-building it.
The question on the lips on many is when would the government compensate others who have suffered the same faith with Ogbemudia? The answer is in the womb of time.
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Category: Benin City