By Simon Ebegbulem
OGHEDE— HUNDREDS of families, including children, have been rendered homeless at Oghede community, Ovia North East Local Government Area, Edo State, after soldiers attached to Ekenwan Barracks, Benin City, sacked the people from their homes on the grounds that the affected areas belong to the Nigerian Army.
The stranded villagers had to temporarily relocate to the palace of the Enogie of Oghede, HRH Osadebamien Aghaghowa, which had turned a refugee camp for displaced persons. The soldiers were said to have invaded the homes of the villagers, in the early hours of Thursday, kicked the residents out of their homes, while those who offered resistance were beaten to a pulp.
Tension mounts: Palpable tension in the community forced Governor Godwin Obaseki to send his Chief of Staff, Mr. Taiwo Akerele to the area, last Saturday, to avoid bloodshed.
Enogie Aghaghowa, who had, penultimate week, led a protest to the palace of the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare 11, to protest the alleged invasion of the community by the Army, narrated their ordeal to NDV.
They chased my subjects away– Enogie
“You can see the situation, my people were chased out of their homes and they ran to my palace. This is where they now sleep. The chief of staff to the governor came and we scheduled a meeting for Monday to find a solution to the problem. Before now, the Army has been fighting us since I ascended the throne, trying to take over our community. They came and started chasing away our people from their homes; beating up our men and women. The Army has a place the Federal government acquired for them, which is recognized by the community and it was gazetted.
Army trespassed on our land
“There is no dispute about that, but now, they started trespassing and that was why we went to court in the first place. It has not been easy for me because my palace is filled up with families, particularly women and children. I am appealing to our Oba and the state government to come to our rescue. Army has taken over my community. Our grandfathers gave them part of land through the Oba of Benin and it was gazetted by the state government. But today, they want to take over our entire ancestral home which is impossible and I am appealing to all relevant stakeholders to come to our rescue because we cannot leave our ancestral homes,” the Enogie asserted.
Soldiers molest women, accused Obaseki
One of the victims, 67-year-old retired soldier, Mr. Innocent, pummeled by soldiers for resisting the take-over, said: “This is our community, but the army came and started chasing everybody from their houses. They said we should leave our house, that the land belongs to the Army. So everybody ran to our palace to meet His Highness.
“What happened yesterday (Friday), they came and chased all of us away and our women barricaded the road. They started beating our women and my in-law was injured. Four of them first came and started throwing things out of the house. I asked one of them that if somebody did this to them, would they like it.
“What the army men kept saying is that it was the governor (Obaseki), who asked them to come and take over our land. But they have their land which was gazetted, they have decided to abandon that area to continue to encroach and annex our areas. I am a retired army man and I met them to say, look you cannot do this to your own people.
”You have women and children and in their presence you are beating up their fathers just because you have a gun, it is bad. I started speaking Hausa with them and they told me to relax. One of them told me in Hausa that it was the governor that told them to go and occupy the land and I began to wonder, how the governor can ask soldiers to take over the ancestral land of the people in his state. But I told them that this land does not belong to them,” he asserted.
Leave our land alone
“The Chief of Staff pleaded with us that we should allow peace to reign while they look into the matter. But we told him that it is the army that has been oppressing us because they have guns and we have nothing. So we are not fighting them all, we are begging that they should leave our land alone so that our people can return to their homes.
“Some of us served this country for years and we retired, we built our homes with the little money we saved and today, you are chasing us away, the same people and their children that own the land and these are not foreign soldiers, but Nigerian soldiers. It is a shame, they are humiliating our women every day and it is shameful,” he lamented.
We want to see the governor
Mr. Innocent declared: “We need to see Governor Obaseki because when he was campaigning he promised to protect us and we gave him our votes, so he cannot abandon us now that he is in power.”
According to him, “The problem we are having is that we have not been able to see the governor one-on-one on this matter despite the effort we have made. If it was the former governor (Oshiomhole), I do not think he will allow us suffer this in the hands of soldiers. Though the Chief of Staff to the governor came here, we are hoping that his visit will yield fruits because we are suffering.”
He added: “The other day we protested to Government House, we saw the Deputy Governor and we begged him saying the matter is simple, they should send a delegation to our community so they will see the original boundary between us and the army. Most of us today are homeless and we have nowhere to go.”
Soldiers seized the keys to our homes
Another victim, Madam Juliet narrated: “Our forefathers gave us this land and we built our houses but soldiers came and chased us away. We have nowhere to sleep now; our children are catching cold due to training season. We have been outside, we cannot eat, and we have turned refugees in our own land. We are begging Obaseki to come and help us. They seized our keys and chased us out of our houses. All of us now sleep in the palace”.
My husband, son missing—Mrs Osagiede
Mrs. Omo Osagiede, who claimed that her husband and a son were still missing after the fracas with the army in their home, asserted: “It was worse for us on Thursday, I was at home with my husband when they came to knock on our door early in the morning, that we should leave here that the land belongs to them.
“We have lived in that house for over 18 years and I told them we cannot leave our house. They started beating me, my husband tried to stop them they descended on him. It was in that confusion that all of us ran away and I ran to the palace, but I have not seen my husband now. We cannot go to our homes now, I beg the governor to come to our rescue because they are threatening us with guns.”
Obaseki didn’t ask soldiers to invade community
However, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mr. Akerele, who visited the area, debunked the allegation that the governor asked the soldiers to take over the land from the community members, asserting that Governor Obaseki will never be a party to any attempt to deprive the citizens of the state their ancestral rights.
Community encroached on our land—Army
His words: “We heard about the problem and the governor directed I should go and find out the situation and plead for calm in the area. We met with the Garrison Commander in the barrack and he showed us the map of the area allocated to them, which showed clearly the encroachment on their land by the community.
”And from their account, we found out that all those houses built by the community were within the military land from the map shown to us by the military. And the worst is that it is also close to their shooting range, which is dangerous. He said that was why they were given the vast land due to their operation. They said because the place was not fenced, the community people started encroaching into their land and they have built several houses around that area.
Community faults Army’s claim
“Then after that, we went to see the Enogie of Oghede and a very large crowd in his palace waiting for us. The community showed us a completely different gazette and a map, which is at variance with what the military is claiming. They showed us their own land and where the military’s own is.
“They also took us to see some beacons that were planted there several years ago and that their ancestral home is even in that area, asking how they could have given out their own ancestral home,” Akerele revealed.
Surveyor-General, others to determine boundary
His words: “We now urged them to be calm and they should not confront the military and the military should not confront them because the governor will not be happy to see any of his citizens brutalized.”
The military is claiming that their land has been encroached upon, but the community people said no, the land given to the military does not extend to where they are. We have scheduled a meeting for Monday where we will invite the Survey General, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and other relevant bodies to resolve the issue,” he added.