By Ojealero Friday, Abuja
On the 23rd day of March,2021,in a manner akin to a brutal Assyrian conqueror’s proclivity,Governor Godwin Obaseki,used his battering ram( Buldozer) to bring down the houses of Hon( Prof) Julius Ihonvbere and Chief Mike Itemuagbor at GRA,Benin,Edo State. It is apposite to point out that,both men are prominent and senior Edo citizens from Edo North Senatorial District of Edo State.
Since the demolition exercise,many of his aides have been bandying comic reasons and justifying the illegal and arbitrary act with reasons that cannot convince a kindergarten pupil,especially when laid side by side with the facts and the extant laws governing ownership of immovable properties in Nigeria. He called the Professor,” Illegal Occupant of Government Property”.
How can somebody with a valid C of O and properly-processed building plan approval be an illegal Occupant? I do not want to chew words here. There is no other reason for this other than,Edo north and particularly,the Senior Citizens in question refused to support Obaseki’s 2nd term governorship bid which he( Obaseki) won some months ago. Since after the election,Afemai people have not known peace from Obaseki.
Many have lost (unjustifiably) their jobs.( A former Honourable member’s wife from Edo North was sacked in controversial circumstances because the husband aligned with Oshiomhole),some have been queried without tenable reasons while some have been sent on inconveniencing transfers. Many of them are suffering in silence as any attempt to cry out will be met with harsher treatments from the pathologically vindictive Obaseki and his menacing stooges.
The most deplorable aspect of these persecution is that,the Governor has been fraudulently misconstruing the laws to carry out his actions. Yes,the laws of the land have become instruments of fraud and intimidation in the tyrannical hands of Obaseki. Now to the facts:
Professor Ihonvbere applied in writing for a plot of land in 2016 to the state Government through the office of the Commissioner for Lands. Land in Edo state falls within the economic items list and Obaseki was the one in charge of recommending people for allocation under Fmr Gov Oshiomhole. He recommended Prof Ihonvbere who was then ( based on Obaseki’s recommendations) allotted a plot of land at GRA.
Let us get something straight here. Government do not sell land. They hold land by virtue of the Land Use Act,in trust for the people. If they must give land,they give it for free,provided the beneficiary pays the necessary fees and charges.
Professor Ihonvbere Paid N5.2m as C of O charges to government for this land. He took the next step by making requisite application for approval to develop the land,bearing in mind that,non-timely development of such land is a ground for revocation.
He paid over N700,000 to get an approved building plan from Obaseki”s government who did not find any problem given him the approval. He also paid the statutory ground rent and then commenced development.
It was in the midst of the 2020 governorship campaign where he refused to support Obaseki that Suddenly Obaseki announced he was revoking his C of O over the land which development is almost complete as the contractors have by then started plastering.
Professor Ihonvbere is a law abiding citizen as he is currently the Honourable member representing Owan East and West at the National Assembly( HOR). He took the matter to court for adjudication.
Guess what,while the matter is still and currently subjudice,Obaseki took laws into his hands and demolished the House of the Professor on the 23rd day of March,2020. Let us not forget that,there are other persons allotted plots in this area which includes Obaseki and over 5 of his relatives. He cunningly added his own plot as one of those revoked but did not add that of his family members and friends. A clear show of shame.
It is the Constitution under Chapter 4( it’s fundamental Human rights Chapter) that gives every citizen of Nigeria right to own immovable properties. It is a fundamental Human right not a mere privilege. See Section 43 of the Constitution.
The Land Use Act of 1978(as amended) laid down procedures for such acquisition and termination by the relevant authorities of such ownership. All laws relating to registration of title to or interest in land or transfer of title or interest are required to comply with the Land Use Act.
By the provision of the said Act, all land in each state of the Federation is vested in the Governor of that State who is empowered to hold such land in trust and administer same for the benefit of all Nigerians. The governor also has the power to revoke an already issued Certificate of Occupancy under the following circumstances which are clearly stated in Section 28 of the Land Use Act.
A right of occupancy may be revoked by the Governor in accordance with the provisions of the Land Use Act and the law provides the circumstances under which the right of occupancy over land may be revoked as well as the procedure to be followed. A right of occupancy may be revoked for overriding public interest.
The term ‘overriding public interest’ has been clearly defined by the law as follows:
a) Where the holder of a statutory right of occupancy parts with the land in any manner contrary to the law or other regulatory provisions;
b) Where the land over which statutory right of occupancy is granted is required by the State or Federal
Government for public purposes;
c) Where the land over which a statutory right of occupancy is granted is required for oil pipeline or any related purpose;
d) Where the holder of a customary right of occupancy parts with the said land without the requisite consent;
e) Where the land over which customary right of occupancy is granted is required by the Federal or State Government for public purpose
f) Where the land over which customary right of occupancy is granted is required for mining purposes, oil pipeline or related purposes; or for the extraction of building materials;
g) Breach of any provisions or any term contained in the certificate of occupancy or any special contract made in accordance with the law in relation to the grant of the right of occupancy;
h) Refusal to accept to pay for certificate of occupancy granted by the Governor.
Where a right of occupancy is revoked, the holder will be entitled to compensation in accordance with the law based on the value of the unexhausted improvements made to the land. Compensation would depend on the reason for revocation and may take the form of resettlement in any other place or area by way of reasonable alternative.
Now,looking at the grounds above,one cannot find any of the grounds on which the governor relied on in course of his vendetta. Now,also note that,even if the governor do the revocation on grounds of overriding public interest,he must pay adequate compensation to the victim. Note the word ‘adequate’. The victim can also go to court when he feels the compensation is inadequate.
No one is questioning the governor’s powers to administer state land but it is imperative that Governors uphold the rule of law by complying with the provision of the law in the exercise of these powers. Obaseki clearly has not done so. All the action he took in respect of these demolition were done mala fide and it does not take much to deduce that,he is on a mission,a mission to harm all his political opponents,especially those from Edo North.
Obaseki should not forget to caution himself that,the dance is sweet when the beaters of the drums are with you,but what happens when the drummers decided to look for another and better dancer?