After series of notifications and warnings, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) began massive demolition of residential buildings and shops erected on corporation's pipeline route in some parts of Ilorin. AHMED 'LATEEF reports.
Mrs Esther Farinloye is a popular petty trader along Pipeline Road, off Tanke Tipper, Ilorin. Mrs Farinloye is into confectionery, and on account of this petty business, has courted many customers, thus making her one the most patronised among her fellow traders.
Like her booming trade, there are other traders, who have not only become known but also counting their blessings in manifolds, courtesy of their businesses. In the face value, their businesses could ordinarily be considered and even dismissed as unattractive monetarily.
These set of traders are unperturbed and continue to make little money, earn moderate living and raise their members of families little by little. This has been their fate over the years, and they have learnt to live with their destinies.
Same goes for others who could be perceived as being in the rung of the ladder in terms of social classification. What could not be taken away from them all is what commonly unified them- learn to live your life and earn a living no matter how infinitesimal.
While these traders conduct their businesses without any qualms, others who owned both permanent and makeshift shops along Tanke 'F' Division of Kwara State Police Command have also cultivated the art of doing business devoid of anxiety or fear until some three years ago.
In 2015 precisely, a notification came from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) asking those who erected structures of whatever form on pipeline route to vacate and remove them. It was indicated in the message dispatched that it was illegal to build residential structures or shops on the pipeline.
Could it be said that the initial message was dismissed with a wave of the hand? Perhaps still reeling from that, another warning signal landed with a clear message that the time was ripe for the affected structure owners to vacate and remove them or risk being forcefully pulled down.
Independent findings showed that series of messages came intermittently to the owners of structures (residential and shops) along the pipeline to remove them, failure of which the NNPC hierarchy would be forced to take decisive action by removing them at the appointed time.
As the appointed time arrived, structures from Roemichs International Schools via Pipeline road came on the spotlight and what followed was marking of the structures that would be consumed preparatory to the demolition exercise.
In company of horse whipping and gun wielding soldiers, operatives of the NNPC mobilized men, bulldozers, other equipment and stormed structures from Tanke Tipper Garage last Tuesday, pulling those already marked for demolition down.
As if that was not enough, they proceeded to the stretch leading to Police 'F' Division, astonishingly pulled its fence down and headed until some metres to the turning around Judges' Quarters Way.
Owners of the structures, most especially residential that were pulled down, looked anguish and bewildered while the exercise lasted. Though none was seen shedding tears, sorrow was clearly and boldly written on their face. Mostly affected in the one fell swoop exercise were residential buildings, shops and recreational centres.
This medium observed that some residential owners were somewhat lucky as only wall fence around their houses were pulled down.
However, a young man, who attempted to take photographs with his mobile hand set while the demolition was ongoing, got more than he bargained. He was not only beaten up but pummelled by the trigger happy soldiers, who kept eagle eye on every direction.
After being beating up mercilessly, the victim was thereafter subjected to severe punishment. People around looked dejected but could not move an inch to the spot where the soldiers dealt with the harmless victim. This was part of the scenario that played out during the exercise.
Apparently satisfied with the job done along Tanke Tipper, Police 'F' Division up to Judges' Quarters, the NNPC bulldozers turned the other way and began another round of demolition of structures on Pipeline Road last Friday.
In the same token, owners of the buildings including residential and shops (permanent and makeshift) and fences appeared forlorn but could not utter a word countering the exercise apparently because of the presence of armed soldiers.
Unknown to Mrs Farinloye that it would be the turn of owners of structures along Pipeline area to have their buildings demolished, she had set out for the business of the day, attending to customers.
Last Friday was for the pipeline route along her shop when hired men and bulldozer stormed the area and started pulling down buildings marked for demolition.
She told The Herald that a team from the NNPC had earlier visited them with the message that they should remove shops or any structures erected on pipeline or have them bulldozed.
Mrs Farinloye confessed that the NNPC was justified with its action because of the initial warning signal dispatched to them.
"It was very painful for people like us who are into petty trade to see our little shops being demolished. It is a bitter peel, that is where we earn our living and fend for our families.
"Except we would not want to say the truth, we received series of notifications from the NNPC team asking us to vacate the pipeline route, some of us didn't take it serious. Our thoughts were that it would end in the usual way.
"But we were surprised this Morning (last Friday) to see these people coming in with their bulldozers to pull down our buildings. I had to quickly moved away my things when I discovered that they had started the exercise from the other end.
"You can see for yourself that these people meant business this time around, they couldn't do otherwise. I was a bit reluctant talking to you initially because these soldiers were just beating up anyone they see interrupting or disrupting their operation.
"As you can see that this is what we do for a living, government should assist us by providing another place for us so that we can continue with our businesses. It is from what we make here that we used to send our children to schools and feed our families. They should please, assist us in the name of God", Mrs Farinloye said.
A policeman attached to 'F' Division of the State Police Command, who craved anonymity, told The Herald that the NNPC had marked the fence of the station as one of the structures affected in the demolition, the reason they carried out the exercise.
He said the station would soon make adjustment and erect another fence and would be done within the limit assigned to the station.
"Just like you have seen, there were messages here and there on the impending demolition of structures built on pipeline route. May be people didn't take them serious this time around because they thought it was going to be a normal mark and before you know it, they (NNPC) would disappear. But they walked their talk this time and that is why some structures were demolished without some people knowing", he said.
A visit to Pipeline area yesterday showed that a popular hotel, Princess Luxury had its fence pulled down in the exercise.
Officials of the NNPC sighted while the demolition was ongoing were unwilling to speak to this medium when approached.
The gun wielding soldiers attached to them at various points appeared hostile and resisted further attempts to inquire from the NNPC officials.
Efforts to get the management of the NNPC at Oke-Oyi Depot to react to the development were unsuccessful as of the time of this report last night.