Secretary to the Benin Traditional Council, BTC, Frank Irabor, and six others, were on Thursday arraigned at an Edo State High Court, Benin City, and remanded in prison custody. They were arrested on Wednesday by the Edo State Police Command for alleged involvement in illegal demolition of about 80 houses belonging to residents of Ulegun community in Ikpoba-Okha local government area of the state.
Presiding judge, Justice Mary Itsueli, who adjourned hearing to September 15, 2022, ordered that the accused persons be remanded at the Oko maximum prison pending receipt of legal advice by the director of public prosecution. Arraigned along with the BTC secretary were: Oko-Oboh Ebosele, 63, Aghavbere Osawemwenguan, 64; Abel Oko Oboh, 45; Tuesday Atagamene, 52; Okechukwu Okeke, 27; and Ode Uloko, 24 years.
Recall that members of the embattled community had on Monday protested to the state government over the arrest of their village head, (Enogie) Sunday Eghosasere Omoregie, and the chief priest, (Ohen) Philip Uwuoroya, over the demolition of their houses by some palace officials said to have been led by Irabor. The aggrieved Ulegun residents had appealed to the governor for justice in the matter.
The palace is being fingered as having sponsored the demolition of the buildings on the ground that the land in dispute between the Ulegun community and its Ukhiri neighbours belong to the Oba.
However, in what seemed a tacit endorsement of the demolitions, the BTC, at a press briefing on Wednesday, described the matter as a case of land-grabbing which was being brazenly perpetrated in the kingdom based on the belief that traditionally, once buildings were erected, “the Palace of the Oba of Benin forbids such property to be brought down” hence hurried constructions on such lands”. The Palace said at the rate it was going, land-grabbing was “akin to domestic terrorism and kidnapping”, and enjoined the public to peacefully resist domestic terrorism in any form.
The matter was to take a new twist on Wednesday, when the perpetrators were arrested by the police and docked on Thursday. Slammed with a six-count-charge bordering on forceful take-over of land, and illegal demolition of over 60 houses estimated at about ₦500 million, the pleas of the accused persons were not taken, while the judge did not entertain oral application for bail.
The charges read in the 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 Aug. 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 willfully and unlawfully damaged about 60 houses belonging to different persons at Ulegun Community, value of properties amounting to about ₦500 million and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 451 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”. In an exparte application for the remand of the accused persons, Polycarp Odion, Legal Officer with the Nigerian Police, told the court that the charge file had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecution, (DPP) for advice. He urged the court to remand them in prison pending the advice because the charges were grievous ones. Justice Itsueli consequently granted the application and adjourned the case to September 15, 2022.