By Iguobaro Osaigbovomwan
The controversy surrounding the alleged demolition of some “illegal structures” that were built on Oba of Benin Land in Ulegun Village in Ikpoba-Okha Local Government of Edo State, is one that has generated wrinkles on the gentle face of history.
The incident leading to the arrest and prosecution of seven persons including the Secretary of the Benin Traditional Council, Mr. Frank Irabor in connection with the incident, has become the Achilles heels of the proverbial hunted — (those who encroached) in connivance with agents of the State government would attempt to attack the Benin throne and reduce the influence on Edo people. This seems to be the hard truth as events in the past few days have turned out to be.
After the recent protest by some individuals laying claims to the “illegal structures” in Ulegun village, to Edo State Government House, Benin City, Governor Godwin Obaseki who has an unlimited access to the Benin palace, which is his home, ought to have visited on the strength of the allegations after addressing the protesters who converged on the Government House in Benin City through his Chief of Staff, Mr. Osaigbovo Iyoha.
And as the saying goes, charity begins at home, but the Governor did not make any effort to either call his Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare, the Second, on phone or deem it fit to visit his palace to verify who ordered the demolition, knowing that the Oba of Benin will neither pervert justice nor be a hindrance to the course of justice in line with fairness and discuss ways to resolve the imbroglio Rather, Obaseki whose tenure will be an emotive memory soon choose to ignore the rumpus.
Apparently relying on the lack of consultation, police operatives in the State, who claimed to have acted on the strength of a purported petition written by some aggrieved developers whose structures were affected, arrested and detained six suspects and the Secretary of BTC who voluntarily turned himself to the police as alleged were linked to the demolitions.
Irabor and six others made statements which were obtained under caution after they were rendered incommunicado during a police investigation that lasted for about four hours, and charged them with a six-count charge, before the Edo State High court, within the said four hours on Wednesday August 31, 2022, after they were painfully allegedly denied access to their lawyers. Consequently, they were immediately remanded to prison custody having pleaded not guilty to charges. Thereafter proceedings were adjourned to 15th September 2022.
To buttress this conspiracy of silence by the State government, that is moving in opposite direction, as early as 7a.m, the Governor’s media handler had mobilized over 40 journalists with cameras to the court premises under the lens of Edo State Government house Security personnel as if the accused persons were kidnappers who were declared wanted for over 10 years, to record proceedings and to take photographs of the accused persons and circulate same in both mainstream and social media where they were ridiculed and invectives deployed on the personalities and on the Benin throne, without recourse to the fact that a suspect is deemed innocent of a crime until he is found guilty of a crime or convicted; Yet, the law enforcement agency chose to live in denial of their own regulations, contemptuously.
Irked by the development, some youths had proposed peaceful protest on Monday September 5th 2022, in solidarity with the arrested, detained and remanded Benin Traditional Council Secretary, Frank Irabor, but the Oba of Benin in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Iguobaro Osaigbovo, halted the move, which douse the tension.
The undemocratic deficit at the heart of this trumped up charges against palace officials, seems to be targeted at the Oba of Benin who has held the Benin monarchy to together, despite the tempting scandal by a prominent actor in Edo State government whose forebears betrayed Oba Ovoranmwen N’ Ogbaisi of blessed memory.
Government-controlled media handlers were quick to report that between 60 and 80 houses were allegedly demolished in Ulegun village, which suits the interest of the man behind the mask, in order to further fan the embers of discords, as well as fuel insurrection of Benin people against their King, without laying out the truth in the public, so to be wise enough to make credible assessment choices.
In local parlance, it’s wrong to join a son to fight his father no matter the rage and offence, but to see how to settle parties in the dispute because their father remains their father to all. Whatever may be the turn of events Ulegun village head (Edionwere) and residents of the area remain subjects of the Oba of Benin.
A legal luminary, Felix Osemwegie Isere said, “One would expected a governor who understands the need to protect the old, rich and respected Benin Traditional Institution, he would have approached the Oba to see how he can amicably resolve the matter and still get justice for whoever has allegedly suffered damages rather than make bad situation worse.
“Doing this does not mean he is weak or does not have power, but a simple application of wisdom aimed at protecting the Oba not as a person but the palace as an institution whose dignity and integrity must be protected at all time, and the need to also avoid unnecessary tension in the State”, he said.
Also speaking in an interview, a notary Public, Olayowola Afolabi alleged that the case on the land dispute between Ukhiri and Ulegun village in currently in Supreme court after the dismissal of the case at the Edo State High court, Benin.
He revealed that no court has issued any warrant of execution of judgment to Ulegun village. Besides, no court of competent jurisdiction would do that, according to him, the status quo since 2014 the land was given by Ukhiri to Oba of Benin.
Afolabi emphasized that “one thing that the general public must be aware from critical findings that no court has given a warrant of possession to Ulegun people. If they have it, let them show it to the public”, he said. When a case is in Supreme Court, no court will give you order for possession. So, nobody can say, I won the case either, and be selling land.
“Again, since 2014, we have maintained our stand with documentary evidence that the parcel of land was given by Ukhiri to Oba of Benin.
The notary public who lay claims to avalanche of legal documents (judgments) on the status of the land, declared that anyone who respects the Oba of Benin will not encroach on his land, let alone selling same to unsuspecting buyers.
He further explained that since the case was dismissed at the State High court, no counter claim has been entertained in court to that effect. “The land belongs to the Oba of Benin”, Afolabi stressed.
But the Oba of Benin has remained silent in all of these. However, like the saying goes, the Oba’ etiebor, Enikaro Oguina (The Benin King) does not curse, he presents his grievances through prayers to God and his ancestors.
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