Benue communities, Air Force on warpath over demolition of houses

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House of Assembly wades in


For indigenes of Ugondo and Akpen, two communities on the outskirt of  Makurdi, the Benue State capital, Wednesday, 7th May 2014, is a day they would never forget for a very long time to come.

Benueairforcewar1 BenueAirforcewarIt was on that fateful day that they witnessed the other side of the law; a day when men of the Nigeria Air Force swooped on the community with bulldozers and in a jiffy, pulled down about 500 houses which were earlier marked for demolition.

Vanguard Metro, VM gathered that the demolition exercise was a fallout of prolonged dispute over the ownership of the land on which the structures were erected. The Air Force  had accused the affected communities of encroaching on the large expanse of land which allegedly belonged to the Tactical Air Command of the Nigeria Air Force.

In fact, the issue became a matter for litigation but the communities were later prevailed upon to withdraw the suit for an out of  court settlement. This may have accounted for the hue and cry that trailed the unannounced decision of the Air Force to pull down the structures.

VM further gathered that when the “bulldozers went on rampage” in the communities, most of the inhabitants were either away to work or had gone to their farms.
The decision to pull down the structures sparked off angry reaction from the natives who made bonfire and took over the ever- busy Makurdi-Gboko road, to protest the action of the Air force.

The protesting youths who dared the arms- wielding Air Force personnel, took over the road for several hours vowing to resist the action with the last drop of their blood.

A visibly angry landlord in the area who gave his name as John Gbar told newsmen that they had few years ago taken the dispute to court but were persuaded by the Force to withdraw the matter from court to pave way for an amicable settlement.

”We were hoping that the matter would be resolved amicably without the resort to brute force to evict us from our community which in the first place, is our ancestral land. As you can see, we withdrew the case from the court, the Nigeria Air Force turned round and commenced the demolition without giving us any notice, which simply implies that well over 6,000 persons would be rendered homeless if this is allowed to continue,”he said.

The Command’s Public Relations Officer, CPRO, Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa told had earlier informed newsmen that the over 4,835 hectares of land in dispute belonged to the Air Force.
He noted that Ugondo and Akpen communities who initially instituted court cases against the NAF and the State government over the land, later resolved to withdraw the case.

”The legal process gave rise to a court injunction restricting further developments on the land. While the injunction may not be said to hold any longer given that the cases had been withdrawn from the court, it is sad to note that fresh developments have since begun to come up on land,”he said.

Famuyiwa said the NAF decided to pull down the new structures in order to maintain the status quo ante and also check the flagrant disregard for the law.

But in a swift reaction to the unfolding drama, the Benue State House of Assembly, Thursday, directed the Nigeria Air Force, NAF, to desist from further demolition of houses and property in the communities to avoid an escalation of the  security situation in the state.

The directive came on the heels of an issue of urgent state importance brought before the House by the lawmaker representing Makurdi South State constituency, Mr. Benjamin Adayi.

Adayi had tabled the issue on the floor of the house, warning that the exercise could lead to the displacement of thousands of families in Makurdi town which he said provides a safe haven for over 50,000 person who were displaced by the Tiv/Fulani crisis.

Tensed situation
The lawmaker cautioned that, if allowed to continue, the exercise could exacerbate the tensed situation in the state.
”The exercise has to be stopped, the state government must stop what the Air Force is doing because an exercise that could lead to a breakdown of order in Makurdi will not serve the best interest of anyone.”

This view was also supported by the entire House  which decried the exercise and canvassed a concerted effort on part of the state government to resolve the ownership tussle.

In his ruling, Speaker of the House, Mr. Terhile Ayua urge the NAF to cease further action on the disputed land; advising that the state government stepped into the matter in order to finding lasting solution.

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