LAST week, a sore point in the Ogun State social experience was addressed as the Dapo Abiodun government began paying compensation to owners of properties demolished by the administration of Senator Ibikunle Amosun, ostensibly to facilitate the expansion of some road projects that were never executed across the state. Moved by the plight of the victims, Governor Abiodun approved the compensation package. According to the Ogun State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Ade Akinsanya, the demolitions carried out by the Amosun administration were unnecessary, and ended up compounding the problems being faced by the present government. The Abiodun administration inherited outstanding debt of N202billion from the Amosun government on roads alone.
By contrast, the Abiodun government has a no-demolition policy, except where necessary and unavoidable. For instance, while the Amosun government had marked some houses for demolition on the Kemta-Somorin road in Abeokuta, the Abiodun government has built the road without any demolition. Hear Akinsanya: “It is actually not necessary to demolish while constructing roads, unless it is actually unavoidable. The same thing applies to bridge construction. Most of the bridges constructed by that regime were a waste of resources.”
The burden left behind by Amosun is indeed a heavy one. Seven years ago, the then governor suddenly woke up and started demolishing houses. His declared intent was to expand roads and turn Ogun into a modern state. It was mere fancy: the UK, a modern state, has no multi-lane craze. The people did not resist their governor because, apparently, they loved good things and moreover, he had promised them compensation. But then the governor went overboard: houses that should never have been demolished, not standing in the way of the proposed though needless road expansion, were demolished with glee.
As everyone knows, it is a most painful thing to witness one’s house being demolished. Even if there is money to put up a new building, purchasing land, doing survey and building plan and getting the necessary approvals from the government typically takes time, although admittedly in the case of Ogun State under Governor Abiodun, the process has been made seamless and without drama. While your new house is under construction, you have to stay somewhere, which will typically be an inconvenient arrangement. In extreme cases, entire families have been forced to dwell on their company premises, coming to lodge in the night when everyone else is gone. Good governors like Dapo Abiodun appreciate the sacrifices that people make in such circumstances when their houses have been demolished for the public good, especially people that did not build houses on waterways or government property without approval.
Moreover, if the demolition of a personal residence is painful, the demolition of a family house, a meeting point during December and other holidays, is equally an emotional incident. When people living in America or Europe come home and lodge not in hotels but in their family house, they are no fools. They want to sit down and discuss and relive the good old days when as children they played in the rain and hurled stones at people in fits of childhood rascality. They want to bond with their roots. Such houses may be, and indeed are, usually renovated but some of their essential characteristics are preserved. These are facts of the Yoruba sociocultural organization today and till tomorrow, and we challenge naysayers to disprove the claims made here with hard evidence.
Moreover, some economically underprivileged family members live in these houses, and have nowhere to turn should the government demolish them. Such houses, because of their symbolism, must therefore not be demolished unless there are compelling reasons to do so. Demolition means that the family must find another land on which to build the family house, and every family has a boundary, meaning that family houses cannot be built just anywhere. Thus, when Governor Amosun demolished houses, including newly built houses across Ogun State, the people eagerly awaited the roads that provided the alibi for demolition! They had made a sacrifice for progress as it were, not because they had power to resist the governor but because they had welcomed his arguments while taking down their houses.
As noted by the senior media practitioners during an interaction with Akinsanya, the Ogun State Commissioner for Works recently, any time the former governor was queried over the demolitions, he would say “Dede re ne la ma se” (We shall do all) even though he never did a quarter of what he promised but embarked on building bridges that led nowhere. He gave people false hope, a tactic consistent with fraud. That is why when a government comes and promises to do things, people no longer believe such promises. They have been serially scammed in the past. When Amosun demolished people’s houses and then failed to build the multi-lane roads he promised, he put them in double or even multiple jeopardy. Their houses, they could not live in anymore and the promised roads they did not see. The environment, with the spectre of “beheaded”, “abridged” and “edited” houses, became ghoulish and mentally exasperating and maddening. Worse still, the means of livelihood, for those who had rented out their houses to tenants, vanished. In some parts of Ogun State, because of the mess the demolition created, some people are now paddling canoes to their houses during the ongoing rainy season.
The victims are now rejoicing. One of the affected property owners, a resident of Agbado who lost many shops to Amosun’s bulldozers, Mr. Abayomi Olanrewaju, commended Governor Abiodun for his magnanimity. Olanrewaju, who had depended on his shops to survive before the demolition, disclosed that the road in question was better before the bulldozer moved in. Another resident, Taiwo Adebari, expressed gratitude to the state government, noting that the compensation would help in alleviating their suffering.
The foregoing shows clearly why Governor Abiodun’s vision of governance as a creative continuum must be applauded. He is attending to people who had suffered depression and mental agony over their demolished buildings, paying them compensation, empathizing with their plight and urging them not to despair. This, without doubt, is ample demonstration of the Omoluabi credo in governance. Names are being collated for compensation and many have already been compensated. If the government cannot totally erase the pains from the victims’ mental script, it can at least reduce it. It is a worthwhile decision by a government with a caring heart, one that embraces the people as its focal point. We have seen governors in this country who refused to pay compensation since they were not the ones who carried out the demolition, directing people in tears to go and meet the person who demolished their properties for compensation!
Governor Amosun abandoned the works not completed by his predecessor: Governor Abiodun never did that. He is completing projects initiated by his predecessors and paying off the debts they left behind. Even in the face of threats by the ex-governor, he has kept calm, focused on his Building Our Future Together agenda and believing that citizens being given relief will pray for and support him. That is the way to go: govern with a caring heart.
Branco contributes this piece through email@example.com