Landlords, communities confront corporation as scores of houses, schools, worship centres and businesses to go down

Railway authorities rule out compensation; says land occupied illegally

By Wole Mosadomi, Minna

THEY saw an empty parcel of land and quickly erected many structures of their dream without checking the status of the owners of the land and what it was meant to be used for. Now, the reality of their ambitious but reckless building of structures has dawned on them.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, which owns the parcel of land around the Baro Railway Line in Minna, Niger State, has served them notices to vacate the area with immediate effect. The corporation accuses the property developers of engaging in illegal erection of buildings on the land that does not belong to them and warned them to remove the structures before it moves in its bulldozers to crush the illegal structures, some of which were built since 1911, that is over 100 years ago.

No doubt, the affected structures have helped in shaping the economy of not only Niger State but the entire Northern part of Nigeria, which has been serving as a gateway for transporting agricultural produce, especially fish from the Baro River to Minna and to other parts of the country. Similarly, Baro Town used to be the administrative headquarters for the office of Lord Lugard who was the first Governor General of the Norther part of the country.

In fact, the building of the radio station he used during the colonial years is still visible on the hill while other colonial monuments which are enough to attract tourism both from within and outside the country are still within the Colonia Village. Past administrations from the late Musa Yar’Adua to the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan took steps by expending millions of Naira to breathe life to the area, especially by dredging the Baro Port but without the envisaged result.

However, the Muhammadu Buhari administration took the bull by the horn and promised to revisit the project by dredging the abandoned Baro Port to boost the economy of the country. Based on the decision by government to transform the Baro Port and bring in a rail line to the area, the Nigeria Railway Corporation has ordered that all illegal projects erected around and within the port area be removed at once or be pulled down by force. It made its threat real by marking all the illegal buildings with red ink to send a strong message to their owners.

A few days serving the illegal notice with red ink markings, the corporation lined up its bulldozers to pull down the buildings it claims are illegal and should not be allowed any longer to line its landscape. But that action signed a bad day for the owners of the structures, including residential houses, churches, mosques, schools and eateries. Some of the landlords resident in WAZOBIA Community and Morris area of Minna in an interview with Arewa Voice, expressed shock over the latest development and pleaded with the Federal Government to temper justice with mercy by sparing their buildings, especially at this period of economic hardship in the country.

One of the landlords affected by the quit notice, Alhaji Mohammed Kolos, said they were shocked to wake up a few weeks ago to see their houses being marked for demolition without any discussion on compensation by government. “I have been a landlord here for over seven years and I have witnessed same houses marked with black ink twice, but without any action. But this time around that they are marked with red ink and with bulldozers and trucks on site sends a danger signal to the owners and we are sad that houses of our dear neighbours have been marked for demolition. We are only appealing to the government to be lenient with them by compensating them, no matter how little it may be, to cushion their losses, especially given the serious economic problem Nigerians are passing through,” Kolos remarked.

One of those affected, Madam Veronica Abraham, who is an aged widow and mother of five children and grandchildren all staying with her, lamented her fate and those of her siblings if the building in which she has been staying for over a decade is suddenly demolished. “The truth is that we bought the piece of land from the Village Head,’Mai Angwa’, and they never told us that the land belongs to the railway corporation. What we have been hearing from the railway corporation so far is that we will be notified when the demolition will commence.”

Another affected landlord in the area, Habiba Hassan, who spoke on behalf of her husband, said the house was purchased from the original landlord who is now deceased and had been living in the building for about nine years. “Honestly, the development is very sad but there is nothing we can do because all relevant documents on the piece of land and house were handed over to us by the late landlord.

“My husband fell seriously ill for years and at the point of death. He also lost his job and remained jobless for over five years and the money he saved while in service was what we used to purchase this house now marked for demolition. Our only plea, however, is that, the authorities concerned should give us compensation no matter how little or they should notify us officially when they are coming for the demolition in order not to lose the building and other property therein,” she remarked.

The General Overseer of one of the churches with nursery and primary school marked for demolition, Reverend Sunday Onuche, said besides the marking which is a signal for demolition, there had been no official notification given to them. He said: “We only saw the demolition marks but no official notification given to us. We are not even sure of when the demolition will commence. We understand that the official distance from any structure to the railway line should be 15 metres to the left and 15 metres to the right from the rail line but the distance from the marking has been extended to 20 meters.

However, Railway District Manager, North Western District, Obafunsho Suleiman, in an interview, said all the structures marked are illegal because they are on railway land, adding: “Compensation is completely ruled out because no one would compensate for illegality.”

The District Manager, who spoke through the District Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Jamila Alhassan, said the contractor, CCECC has already started work gradually and this should be a signal to those affected. “The structures affected have already been marked and there will be no official notification ahead of the demolition,” she remarked.

Jamila further explained that a meeting had been held between the railway management, the contractor involved and all other stakeholders with a view to ensuring the seamless takeoff of the railway project and that no further discussion would be done.

Our Correspondent reliably gathered that half of the multi-million project has been paid, clear indication that the contractors at various sites are for real and it is now left for owners of marked illegal structures to remove them or lose them for nothing to the bulldozers.

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