By Izunna Okafor, Awka
It was a scene of bewilderment at Awka, Anambra State capital, as goods worth over 10 million naira were destroyed by the officials of the Awka Capital Territory Development Authority (popularly known as ACTDA), which is an agency of the Anambra State Government under the administration of Governor Chukwuma Charles Soludo.
The goods were destroyed following the destruction of a grocery shop along the Oby Okoli Avenue of the UNIZIK Temporary Site, Okpuno Awka.
The ever-busy shop, which is situated among other shops and close to a mini market, was a one-stop shop for egg, flour, frozen foods, condiments, rice, beans, hot dog, noodles, and others in the entire Awka, both at retail and wholesale prices.
These goods, however, were all scattered on the street of Awka, as the ACTDA officials stormed the shop with caterpillar to pull down the building on Monday evening. Many passers-by and sympathizers were also said to have looted goods to their satisfaction while pretending to assist in evacuating the goods during the demolition.
Speaking in an interview with newsmen, the owner of the demolished shop, Mr. Emmanuel Obele who narrated his ordeal, described the demolition exercise by ACTDA as a pure clandestine move by the Authority, as he wondered why the Authority should embark on a demolition exercise without any reason — an operation many described as ‘illegal and hatchet job’.
He emphasized that the demolished building containing his shop was not obstructing anything, nor was it situated under the high tension cables or on top of the drainage system, which are usually some of the known reasons behind most of the demolition exercises periodically carried out by the Authority in the capital city.
Tracing the genesis of the issue, Mr. Obele explained that the building was leased to him by family members of one Late Mr. S. M. O. Okeke, who also surreptitiously sold the building without notifying him.
He, however, said he was surprised when, one day, the purported buyers of the building accosted him and ordered him to vacate the building, without even allowing them to exhaust the duration of his current lease, which is still years ahead of its expiration before the building was sold to them.
He said he was also threatened with forceful eviction while he was pleading with them to allow him to exhaust the duration of his lease before they would take over the building, as he is still a valid tenant.
“They threatened to eject us from the building and threatened to come with caterpillar to demolish the shop if we fail to leave. So, we took the matter to court, asking the court to intervene.
“And, while we are still in court with them; sometime in January this year, the ACTDA officials came and said that the building had been marked for demolition.
“You can look around and see for yourself that this building is not under any high tension cable; it is not blocking any drainage, and it does not have any form of structural defect nor pose any form of obstruction to government or anyone. So, I cannot explain how ACTDA came into this matter and why it would mark the building for demolition,” Mr. Obele narrated.
Mr. Obele further explained that he approached the court again, joined the ACTDA in the suite and prayed the court to stop then from demolishing the building as threatened, arguing that the building is still a subject of litigation.
“ACTDA is fully aware that this matter is in the court. And they have been judiciously served hearing for every court sitting we have. And I have also gone to meet the Head of ACTDA, to be sure he was aware of the matter; and he said he would look into it.
“So, the matter is still in the court, only for the ACTDA people to come one day and say they are giving us the last warning to vacate the house.
“And today, I was somewhere, and my people called me and told me that the ACTDA people came with caterpillar, and that they were demolishing my shop. And before I could reach here, both my shop and all the goods therein have been destroyed,” he narrated.
“I lost goods worth tens of millions of naira; and people were looting, because there was crowd here when they were demolishing the building. And people were surprised because no other place or building was touched here. You can see my shop and see other buildings and shops around here, but they demolished only this one.
“So, it is very obvious that one Mr. Ukachukwu who led the operation is using the agency to do a hatchet job for somebody. And I am their sole target,” he added.
He further disclosed that even a government building, housing a tricycle park was also in the area and was even closer to the road than his own shop, but was not touched or demolished.
When asked if ACTDA gave them any reason for the demolition, Mr. Obele said the notice the agency served them contains such words as “Tenants pack out”, “Building has been marked for demolition” and others, which, he said, made him wonder if ACTDA is now a house agent or tenants ejecting agency.
A sympathizer who pleaded anonymity opined that it was be both the original owners of the building who connived with the purported buyers and ACTDA to carry out such illegal demolition.
It was gathered that the said owners might have also simply used ACTDA to achieve their aim of illegally evicting the lesee from the shop while his lease is yet to expire. Eyewitness accounts also revealed that the ACTDA officials, including one Mr. Ukachukwu who led the operation, strictly restricted people from taking photos during the demolition exercise, while many of them also covered their faces with facemasks to avoid being captured.
Some of passers-by and sympathizers who spoke under the condition of anonymity said it was a pure act of wickedness for an agency of the state government to have indulged in such inexplicable and unjustifiable destruction at this critical time, given the current economic realities and untold hardship in the country.
A food vendor at one of the neighbouring shops alleged that the ACTDA may have been bribed handsomely to indulge in such illegal work, adding that even Gov. Soludo himself would not have authorised such work if he were to give approval before any demolition, because it has no basis. The food vendor further lamented that the demolition has not only reduced the shop owner and his family back to square one and rubbished all their toils and efforts over the years, but also stands as a discouragement to hardwork.
“My brother that ACTDA dey very wicked and heartless. I even hear say dem no dey open their office on Monday because of sit-at-home, but nah dem come here today wey be Monday dey destroy innocent person shop,” the food vendor said in pidgin language.
When contacted, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the ACTDA, Mr. Ossy Onuko simply said he was ‘not in town’, and promised to link this reporter with the person in charge of Development in the agency, which he never did as at the time of this publication.
A source from the agency, however, revealed to this reporter that the ACTDA Boss did not go anywhere, against his claim that he was not in town.
This was corroborated by some reporters who univitedly stormed the ACTDA office the following morning to interview him on the same matter, whom he declined to grant interview to when they met him in his office, but rather referred them to an office belonging to one of the handlers of the ACTDA social media pages, and who was nowhere to be found after a long wait.
It was also gathered that “I am not in town” has been the new ACTDA MD’s way of discharging people, especially the press, whenever he does not want to receive or speak with them; which makes many wonder why the new MD who is less than two months in office should start with such a deceitful charisma.
On his own part, all the efforts made to speak with one of the original owners of the building, one Mr. Charles Okey Okeke, proved abortive, as his number was not connecting as at the time of filing this report.