* Court remands palace secretary, six others in prison custody over demolition
Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
It was a day of wailing in Ulegun, a peaceful and growing community on the Benin-Abraka Road, Edo State, as thousands of home owners wailed and rolled on the ground and watched their life-time investments broken into rubbles and ruins by bulldozers allegedly ordered by the palace of the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II.
But, in a swift reaction, the Palace of the Benin Monarch accused the Enogie of Ulegun, Sunday Eghosasere Omoregie, of “land grabbing”.
Meanwhile, the Ulegun community Thursday approached an Edo High Court, presided over by Justice Mary Itsueli, who remanded the Secretary of Benin Traditional Council (BTC), Frank Irabor, and six others in prison custody for the illegal demolition of the houses.
The palace also advised Governor Godwin Obaseki to do more in “arresting the unsavouring behaviours of grabbing other people’s land and leaving the victims with no form of compensation or respite”.
Plot after plot, the bulldozers crawled over 80 houses and other belongings worth billions of naira and threw the law-abiding home owners into the streets.
Even pots of soups, medicines for the sick and milk for babies were not spared in the onslaught as the owners were not allowed to remove their belongings from their homes.
Currently, the displaced former Ulegun landlords and landladies are taking refuge in the homes of friends and families in neighboring communities praying for justice to come quickly.
Some of the victims said the leader of the chiefs from the palace and Secretary to the BTC, Irabor, had no court order or judgment to execute such unprecedented illegality in a state where law and order reign supreme.
As if the wanton destruction was not enough, the Village Head, Enogie Sunday Eghosasere Omoregie, and the chief priest of the community, Ohen Philip Uwuoroya, were adopted and brutalised.
The community’s Queen Mother, Mrs. Rose Omoregie, who gave an eye witness account, said: “The community head was called for a meeting last Wednesday and since then, he had not returned home.”
According to Mrs. Omoregie, “The Enogie inherited the land in dispute between the Ulegun community and Ukhiri community from his grandfather and the land belongs to the Ulegun community and not the Oba of Benin as claimed by the palace chiefs.
“The dispute over the land has since 1974 been settled and resolved in favour of the Ulegun community from the palace of Oba Akenzua up to the Supreme Court.”
Those affected in the demolition have also accused the Governor Godwin Obaseki-led administration of being complicit in the whole drama.
It was, however, gathered that the Edo State Government has facilitated the release of the Ulegun community head and the chief priest.
The former homeowners “want the injustice redressed as the Nigerian constitution should be king in a democratic era as against the raw, unrestrained, unbridled and illegal powers of some traditional rulers and government officials”.
Defending its integrity, the palace said it regarded land grabbing “at the rate it is going as akin to terrorism and kidnapping. The only difference is that they are kidnapping and terrorising lawful owners which can lead to communal crisis and breach of preach.
“The Enogie of Ulegun and his community youths have sold off land of other people and corporate bodies located in Ukhiri, including land that is known to belong to the palace.
“In a current case, some youths in Ogheghe community destroyed the perimeter fence of church land belonging to Christ Embassy and proceeded to sell off plots of land. The palace has strongly condemned this action towards Christ Embassy and supports the lawful ownership of the land by Christ Embassy.
“It should be noted that several parcel of land belonging to the palace have been taken over by land grabbers”.
Others remanded in prison custody were Chief Oko-Oboh, Aghavbere Osawemwrnguan, Abel Oko Oboh, Tuesday Atagamene, Okechukwu Okeke and Ode Ikoko.
The accused persons appeared in court on a six-count-charge bordering on forceful takeover of land and illegal demolition of buildings at Ulegun village in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area of Edo State.
The police alleged that the accused were involved in the illegal demolition of over 60 houses in the village worth N500 million.
The charge read in part: “That you did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony to wit: Promoting Inter Communal War and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“That you did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony to wit: Forceful Take Over of Land and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“That on August 28, 2022, at Ulegun Community, in Benin City, in the Benin Criminal Division, you did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony to wit: Malicious Damage and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 516 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“That you did wilfully and unlawfully damage about 60 houses belonging to different persons at Ulegun Community, value of properties amounting to about N500 million and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 451 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”
Moving an exparte application for the remand of the accused, Polycarp Odion, the Legal Officer with the Nigeria Police, told the court that the charge file had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) for advice, urging the court to remand the accused in prison.
In her ruling, Justice Itsueli granted the application of the legal officer and adjourned the case to September 15