By Ozioruva Aliu
BENIN CITY – THERE was anxiety among residents and land owners along the Irhirhi-Obazagbon –Ogheghe road in Benin city as not less than five bulldozers were sighted demolishing structures and buildings in the area which the state government said it is to make room for the development of a new town project.
To forestall any resistance from the area which has been notorious for violent clashes over land ownership and sometimes resulting in deaths, the state government on Wednesday imposed a 24 hours curfew in the area and when Vanguard visited the long stretch of the about 15 kilometre road across the communities, it was devoid of all commercial activities. No shops were opened for business including all private schools, churches, hotels, restaurants and others.
There was heavy presence of security personnel right from the Estate gate to the bypass made up of policemen, Airforce, Army, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NCSDC), Edo Vigilante Network, members of the Public Works Volunteers (PUWOV) and others. This reporter was allowed to move along the road after proper identification at every checkpoint numbering about eight.
Addressing journalists in government house yesterday, the Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare said “The land was acquired in 2017 for the new town project but had been encroached upon by land speculators. The area repossessed used to be the Ogba Forest Reserve at the time of the acquisition.
“The repossession exercise is part of Governor Godwin Obaseki’s renewed campaign against land-grabbing in the state, aimed at restoring sanity in land administration in the state.
“The government has taken over all the buildings within the Ogba River Forest Reserve and is removing all buildings, except for those it may use as offices. We thank all security agencies, members of the affected communities, the general public and the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) involved with the exercise for their cooperation.
“For the records, the land acquired in July 2017 was duly gazetted. The government had tried severally to engage the four communities involved but they have always rebuffed the government. The hostilities and widespread encroachment have made it difficult to enumerate and commence compensation assessments.”