From Tony Osauzo, Benin
Alleged plan by Governor Godwin Obaseki to acquire the premises of the Edo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists located at No. 1, Gabriel Igbinedion Way in Benin City is generating tension among journalists in the state.
The secretariat of the union, popularly known as ‘Press Centre’ was built in the early 70s by the late Military Governor of the defunct Mid-West/Bendel State, Brig.-Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia on an expanse of land donated to the NUJ by the then Benin monarch, Oba Akenzua.
The government’s plot to take over the property was exposed when the Functioning Director of Lands, Edo State Geographic Information Service (EDOGIS), Mrs. Lydia Igbinigie, wrote to the Chairman of the Edo NUJ, Festus Alenkhe, on the land matter, while the Managing Director of EDOGIS, Mrs. Osaro Aihie, also called him on the same matter.
It was learnt that the government is interested in acquiring the property, especially the Union’s expanse of undeveloped land behind the secretariat for the building of its proposed Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) and Cultural District.
The expatriates that would handle the project were reportedly sited at NUJ press centre on Thursday while carrying out inspection of the site and were accompanied by fully armed policemen.
On Thursday afternoon, past chairmen of the union met with the Secretary to the State Government, Osarodion Ogie, followed by another meeting yesterday morning of concerned elders and stakeholders of the union with the SSG in his office on the land matter. He was quoted as saying that he was not aware of the land tussle and demolition bid, but promised to get the details.
Meanwhile, the Edo State Government, yesterday, stated that it had no plan whatsoever to demolish the NUJ building or build a museum on the site.
The Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, in a statement, disclosed that the state government was conducting initial survey and study in connection with the preservation and protection of the walls and moats, adding that the NUJ site borders some of the most visible sections of the walls and moats in the city. He stated that archaeologists and specialist architects had visited areas around the moats with a view to determining how best to assist the National Commission of Museums and Monuments with the preservation of the moats.
“The ancient walls and moats of Benin are one of the greatest achievements of medieval Africa, some of which date back to the 12th century.
“Unfortunately they have suffered significantly in recent times due to environmental pressures, urban growth and encroachment.
“EDSG is working with institutions like the NCMM and EMOWAA who are vested and interested in improving our systems of heritage management, are developing a comprehensive programme of research, conservation management and public education centred on these monuments.
“Our goal is to find ways to protect moats and walls, and also to consider ways to highlight the moats to encourage tourism and accessibility.
“It can be rightly stated that the media practitioners have not only enjoyed a cordial working relationship with our government, but have enjoyed an unfettered rein of reportage. In line with government’s tradition of presenting the facts of all matters for public scrutiny and understanding, we are compelled to inform the general public of EDSG well-intentioned and very deliberate action in our drive to create a tourism market in our state.”