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Demolition: Threats, Blackmail Won't Deter Us, Says Delta Official

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SAN FRANCISCO, June 25, (THEWILL) - The Delta State Commissioner for Environment, Chief Frank Omare, on Tuesday opened up over the challenges of his new task of riding the state of illegal structures and filth. .

He also alleged serious threat to his life since the state government began its renewed efforts to protect the environment and rid it of filth and structures defacing major cities across the state.

Omare said he would not be deterred on the job assigned to him by the state government, adding that if he's found to be wanting in the demolition exercise, he was prepared to face prosecution by the same government that had sent him.

Omare spoke at the maiden edition of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Warri Correspondents Chapel's programme, tagged; 'Searchlight on the State of the State' held at the Press Centre in Warri, the commercial nerve centre of the State.

Fielding questions from journalists, Omare, who was flanked by chairman of the union, Comrade Michael Ikeogwu , said that no amount of blackmail and threat to his life would make him compromise government position, which according to him , was a collective decision by the state executive council.

The demolition exercise embarked upon by the Omare – led Task Force had attracted so much controversy, allegations and counter-allegations, with many accusing the state government of carrying out vendetta against some ethnic groups and perceived 'political enemies.'

The exercise was also described as an anti-people programme .

Few weeks ago, human rights lawyer, Oghenejabor Ikimi, of the Centre for the Vulnerable and Underprivileged (CENTREP), had allegedly accused the governor of embarking on executive rascality over the demolition of 65 houses at Ifiakporo, Warri South Local Government Area of the state without a court order to that affect.

There were also pockets of protests over the exercise of which many affected victims had called the man at the centre of the exercise so many unprintable names. But Omare's appearance at the Warri NUJ programme had help cleared the air and doused a lot of doubts.

Omare said that rather than pouring diatribes on the state government, the governor deserved an accolade for 'taking a bold step' that would not only change the face of the environment but help to instill the culture of discipline on the people in many years to come.

Speaking specifically on Ifiakporo's demolition, he said that government cannot be said to have violated any law when it went to take over the 'royal cemetery', which, according to him, was illegally occupied by some persons who may have fraudulently obtained some documents to cover their illegal occupation of the land.

According to him, the land to which the 'illegal occupants' built before the demolition is a gazetted government land acquired under the Mid-West State regime which, according to him, is a known fact among Deltans.

He said those who built on the land are aware the land belongs to the government but chose to build ostensibly because they were allegedly deceived by 'land speculators' and 'fraudulent town planners' that the government would never come to reclaim its land.

'I am telling you today as an agent of the government that that land belongs to the Government of Delta State and it was acquired since the Mid-West State . As a government, we have the gazette to that effect.

'If anyone is challenging that authority, let the person give us his/her Certificate of Occupancy (C of O). If that person is challenging the government authority that that land was not acquired and that it is not a royal cemetery, he/she should bring his claims to Ministry of Land and Survey and he would be paid adequately.

'Let's remove sentiments out of these issues. I am not doing this on my own volition. I was sent by the State Executive Council and I have to implement the message and if I have carry out this message wrongly, and demolished one house wrongly, I should be prosecuted as an individual.

'But I know that before any house was demolished in Ifiakporo, notices were served to all the people and a week before that day, all the vehicles I am using went round announcing about the demolition exercise.

'We spoke to them with all kind of languages so nobody can come out now to say we didn't let them know of the exercise. We have all these evidence.

'When our team arrived that day, we gave the people over one hour to evacuate their properties. So there was sufficient notice to everyone. These people had built on nothing because it is a government land.

'We must learn to do things right. I don't regret any action I take on behalf of the government. I don't know anybody in Ifiakporo or elsewhere we have visited. What we are doing is purely government business.

'We should appreciate the bold step the government has taken. We should appreciate the risk that some people are taking to make the state a better place for us all. I receive threats over the job I'm doing for the government but I'm not bothered. I am not doing this on my own capacity, it is a government assignment and I must do it effectively,' he stated.

Omare said he would resign his position if he was found to be incompetent in his duty, adding that what he was doing was a passionate job to make Delta state a better place.

'If I tell you the kind of pressure and threat I receive over this job every day, you would be surprised. Today people don't have fear of erosion in Warri/Sapele because we have opened all the canals/waterways.

' I know that some people just want to score some political points about what we are doing but I wouldn't be scared and I cannot be scared. I am doing what is right,' he added.

He however dismissed the claims that the state government was carrying out anti-people policy since the exercise has affected hundreds of residents of Warri and its environs, saying 'government's ideology is always a minority ideology'.

According to him, there are no scared cows in the exercise as both the high and low are affected , adding that the fence of the governor's building was also demolished by the Task Force .

Omare warned those who had encroached on government forest reserve in the state to desist from the act immediately , warning that in few weeks time , the Task Force would clampdown in full force on violators.

Speaking further, Omare said there would be no compensation for any illegal structure demolished in the state as the state government would never encourage illegality.

'We cannot continue to allow people to block government road because they don't have shops or because they are poor people. We should discourage such culture in its entirety. We have provided markets, let the people go to the market places to trade.

'We have a market in Sapele that has been turned into a dump site, half of the market is a dump site now and these are same people complaining that they don't have market to trade when they have turned the one built for them by government into a dump site,' he said.

Speaking on the allegations that some officials of the Task Force were taking bribe and were embarking on selective justice , Omare stated that those who are making the allegations should prove them and report the person involved in the act to the authorities.

He said the state government was embarking on a programme that would turn waste to wealth in the state, disclosing that a waste turning plant was already being installed in Igbogidi to feed the Warri axis and another one in Ibusa to feed the Asaba axis of the state.

He said the state government would be engaging about 1,600 environmental marshals across the state to ensure that each house complies with the directive of ensuring a clean and healthy environment.