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Landlords in communities under high tension battle FG, Edo govt over relocation order
Governor Godwin Obaseki
Landlords in Erediauwa and Etete/Evboriaria communities along Benin-Sapele road living under the high tension wires/lines are in legal battles with the Edo State government and various Federal Government agencies over relocation and eviction orders. IDRIS UMAR MOMOH writes that the landlords institute a legal suit against the authorities, demanding N3 billion compensation, amongst others.
Gabriel Osagiede, M. I. Amajuoyi, Osareri Friday, Beatrice Aguebor and Augustine Igbinobaro are among several thousands of landlords that built houses at Erediauwa, Etete/Evboriaria communities, along Benin-Sapele road, Benin-City, Edo State before and after 1970 and 1975.
The landlords and residents of the communities said the houses were built on duly acquired lands and approvals legally obtained from relevant government agencies.
But by year 1980, the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), constructed 330KV high tension cables over their houses at the aforementioned communities, without compensations.
However, a violation notice from the Edo State Ministry of Environment and Sustainability, to the landlords, described the houses as “illegal structures” has now pitched the landlords against the Edo State Ministry of Environment and Sustainability, Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Company Limited, Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Federal Ministry of Power, Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) Plc, Attorney-General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Attorney-General, Edo State.
The violation notice dated August 8, 2017, issued by the Head of Department Environmental Health and one Nicholas, issuing officer on behalf of the ministry, reads in part, “This is to certify that…owners of illegal structure located at 2nd Erediauwa road, Benin-City have committed the following environmental sanitation offence, illegal structure under high tension cable.”
The letter consequently ordered those concerned to appear before the arbitration committee within the next 48 hours, noting that failure to honour the invitation may lead to prosecution in a sanitation mobile court set up to try environmental sanitation offenders.
This violation notice was subsequently followed by a visitation to the communities by the Edo State Commissioner for Youths and Special Duties, Mika Amanokhai, who is also the chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on removal of illegal structures, buildings and premises directly under high tension wires and right of ways who ordered the landlords to relocate from the areas.
Amanokha listed some of the health hazards associated with radiation to people living or doing business directly under high tension areas or power lines to include cancer, electrocution as well as damage to property.
The commissioner, who visited the communities on August 31, 2017, explained that the state government would no longer allow people to continue to live and do businesses under overhead power lines.
He also explained that the committee would take the statistics of violators, issue notices of evacuation from the areas and relocate them to an alternative area which would be jointly identified by all stakeholders.
He was accompanied on the visitation by Isaac Okpu, assistant general manager, Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), John Madufor, assistant general manager, (TCN) transmission and Fidelis Obishai, representative of Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC).
His directives were being echoed by his counterpart in the ministry of Communication and Orientation, Paul Ohonbamu on the state government resolutions after the executive weekly council meeting presided over by the state governor, Godwin Obaseki on August 16, 2017 that mandated the immediate removal of temporary and permanent structures built under high electricity transmission cables in the state due to the associated health hazards.
According to him, the state government was concerned about the health and safety of Edo people. The radiation from high tension electricity lines has been linked to cancer, and there is also imminent danger of electrocution and incineration.
He added that adequate sensitisation campaigns would be carried out to ensure that members of the public comply with the safety rule.
But worried by the relocation and the threat to prosecute the landlords at mobile courts in line with the environmental sanitation laws, the landlords instituted a N3billion compensation suit against the defendants to pay jointly for continuous negligent occasioned by installation/erection/transmission of and through the high tension wires/lines thereby posing grave hazard and danger to their health and general well being.
The case instituted in the Federal High Court, in the Benin Judicial Division also prayed for an order restraining the defendants from demolishing the buildings of the plaintiffs or carrying out any such actions inconsistent with their proprietary rights as same would amount to grave injustice to the plaintiffs who had been living in their buildings ever before the tortuous acts of the defendants.
A writ of summon from the counsel to the plaintiffs, Olayiwola Afolabi, averred that the installation and continuous erecting/mounting and transmission through the high tension wires/lines by the electricity companies (who are Ist, 2nd and 4th defendants) over the claimants’ house already in existence before the installation/erection constitute a high degree of negligence, inhuman and improper conduct, grave hazard inimical to their health/well being and inconsistent with the proprietary rights of the plaintiffs.
He also prayed for a declaration that the plaintiffs and other landlords of Etete/Evboriaria communities whose houses were already in existence before the installation/erection of high tension wires/lines which said installation and transmission through the said wires/lines continues unabated till date over their houses, are entitled to compensation by the defendants severally and jointly.
The plaintiffs further want a declaration that continued erection/installation/transmission of and through high tension wires/lines by the defendants in and over the plaintiffs houses already in existence before the commencement of the said erection/installation and transmission is illegal and an infringement of the statutory clearance and the appropriate town planning regulation as well as the rights of the plaintiffs.
Afolabi advanced documents to rely on during the trial to include correspondences between the landlords and the authorities of the defunct Nigerian Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) as far back of 1980 and beyond.
Part of the documents said: “The plaintiffs aver that during the periods spanning 1970-1975, they and other landlords of the communities aforesaid affected by the installation/erection of high tension wires/lines, at the material time, by the defunct Nigeria Electricity Power Authority (NEPA), had built houses upon duly acquired land and obtaining due approvals.
“The plaintiffs aver that as far back as 1980, the defunct National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) trespassed and have continued to trespass upon their communities aforesaid, whereupon it commenced the installation of 330KV high tension wires over their houses and other several houses in the said communities which said houses had existed for several years before the said installation.
“The plaintiffs aver that owing to the above, they vehemently resisted same which resistance led to unlawful arrest and detention of some of the landlords and inhabitants of affected houses at police headquarters, Benin-City, wherein at the police headquarters, the officials of defunct National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) in a bid to allay the fears of the plaintiffs, deceitfully assured the plaintiffs that the said installation poses no danger to them and their buildings.
“The plaintiffs will at the hearing found and rely on a letter from the defunct NEPA dated January 21, 1983 with reference No.DP/BEN/32/202 and annexed to same is a letter dated December 27, 1982 addressed to Mr. Festus Adodo and another letter dated April 16, 1982 addressed to Mr. Morgan Asemota respectively,” he added.
Also affected by the state government’s relocation and evacuation order were over 4,000 artisans eking out a living under the high tension wire areas.
The outcome of the legal tussles between the landlords and the various federal and state government agencies would in the nearest future determine the legality or otherwise of the landlords’ continued living in the area or governments’ decision to to carry out the evacuation of the inhabitants.
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