When the 10,000 inhabitants of Old Military Barracks, Rafin Sanyin in Suleja, Niger State slept last Sunday, they never thought they would become homeless the following day. But by 4 am on Monday, the sound of the bulldozers woke them from sleep and were given three hours to salvage whatever they could of their property and vacate the buildings which the Niger State Government described as illegal structures.
The government made a similar attempt about two months ago but the occupants of the structures resisted it and despite the steps taken then by the law enforcement agents who were mobilised to carry out the demolition to avoid any ugly incident, three lives were reportedly lost at the end of the attempt. However, as early as 4am last Monday, the residents were caught unaware. Security agents comprising soldiers and anti-riot policemen in five luxurious buses stormed the barracks and cordoned off the area. The residents were then given an option to either start evacuating their property from their homes and vacate immediately or have the entire buildings and their property levelled.
Amidst wailing, the residents hurriedly evacuated some of their property and took shelter under the nearest trees and any available space. By 7 am the bulldozers commenced work and brought down no fewer than 20 buildings. Some of the occupants were however said to be out of town for the Sallah holidays while others who were completely confused on what to do watched the demolition helplessly.
One of the confused occupants, Mrs. Abigael Samson said she could not believe her eyes when she saw the bulldozers pulling down their building. Sobbing like a baby, Mrs. Samson said, “I have been living here in the past 25 years before my husband died, I was then left with my five children before they also started relocating to different states and I am now left with only two of them who are still with me.
I don’t know any other place than here and with this development, I think I am finished because I don’t even know where to start a new life again”. Another resident, a retired soldier simply called Baba who is over 80yrs old managed to put on a smile and said, “this is a sad development, very sad indeed. As a retired soldier who fought for the progress and unity of this country, I am not supposed to be treated like this.
Though I am not an indigene of Niger state but I have been living here for about 30years and just imagine what has become my life at my age,” he lamented. He said his wife was deceased and some of his children were also late while the two children who were still alive were married and were not staying with him. “So I am alone here and with this situation, I don’t even know where to go or what to do”, the dejected octogenarian lamented.
The piece of land on which Suleja old barrack was located was said to have been allocated after the civil war to some of the soldiers who fought during the war as a temporary settlement while others were moved to Bida, few kilometers from Suleja also in Niger state. Some of the occupants, who were mostly retired soldiers thought the piece of land had automatically become theirs, they therefore erected their own structures on the land without any relevant papers to authenticate their ownership.
However, the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Jonathan Vatsa in an interview with journalists threw more light on the issue saying though the land was given to the military in the 70s by the relevant authority then as a temporary barracks but the Military Authority had formally handed over the same piece of land back to the state government with an agreement by the two parties in 2014. He explained further that out of magnanimity, the state government also paid some amount of money as compensation through the Military Authority to those affected after the handing over. He said the first attempt to take over the land by Government years back was resisted by some of the occupants adding that they even ended up destroying the equipment to be used for the demolition. “The case of this land had been on for a long time. It is an inherited case and one administration just has to take action and this is what the present administration is doing.
As far as this administration is concerned, those who have been living here for the past years are illegal tenants and that is why they have been ejected from the place especially as the matter had been amicably settled between the state government and the occupants years back,” Vatsa declared. General Manager of the state Urban Development Board, Mallam Habiba Ahmed shortly after supervising the demolition of the houses debunked claims by the occupants that they were not informed before the demolition. “The state government did not just wake up to start demolishing the buildings. We had series of meetings with them but they were adamant, hence the final step we took,” the GM explained.
The spokesman of the occupants (Mai Angwar), Malam Ali Musa said 90% of those residents in the area were aged and retired soldiers and that “many of them don’t have anywhere to go”. Malam Musa who is also a retired soldier said,”many of these soldiers spent their retirement benefits on these buildings with nowhere to relocate. Though government has the power to do anything but they should have been more sympathetic in dealing with these old and elder statesmen for the fact that they dedicated their lives for the unity of this country”