‘We are living like refugees…’
• Two years after, family demands compensation from Imo govt over demolished buildings
HIS situation, which he bemoans daily, is gradually turning him into a psychological wreck. He is a worried man. This is because he has nowhere to stay, despite serving his fatherland and retiring honorably four years ago.
In 2011 when he was due for retirement, Mr Pius Onuoha Muoneke had gathered all he had to put up a five-bedroom bungalow in his family compound at Umuokwara – Iheanakwe, Ideato South Local Council of Imo State, to enable him retire there.
It was the only building he ever had, despite all his years of service. Two years after, exactly in April 2013, construction workers reconstructing the Orlu –Urualla Road, unfortunately pulled down the building.
Mr Muoneke, a father of three, retired from the Ministry of Education in 2011 as a Deputy Director. He had used all his savings to erect the five-bedroom bungalow at his Umuduruemeghara compound. The house was completed same year and occupied.
In 2013, the Imo state government under Rochas Okorocha had awarded a contract to one J.P Construction Company to reconstruct and expand the Orlu-Urualla-Akokwa road.
It was gathered that in the attempt to realize this road project, the contractor had pulled down part of his building as well as that of other members of the family – Chinedu Onuoha and Eugene Onuoha.
Two years after, members of the family still live like refugees without anywhere they could call their own. The promise by the state government to compensate all those affected by the road project has not come.
Mr. Muoneke, 76, said series of letters have been written and efforts made to see Governor Okorocha to no avail, stressing that his situation had been compounded by the fact that the accommodation that had haboured his family since then is being taking away from them.
They have been quartered at the Federal Government College, Enugu because the wife works there. But she retired in August 2014 and they had been allowed till December 31 to relocate.
Moved to tears, Muoneke told The Guardian: “My world is turning around. Where do I have such money to build for my family? Since 2013, we have been accommodated at the Federal Government College quarters in Enugu because my wife works there. Now she has retired in August last year and we were given till December 31, 2014 to pack out. I don’t have anywhere to stay.”
“Getting accommodation is not an easy thing because of the money involved. I had completed that demolished building because I felt we could retire there one day being my family compound. Now that is not possible. I want to call on Governor Okorocha to intervene and pay the compensation that he promised. We have made efforts to see him to no avail, and have written several letters through his Principal Secretary to no avail. This is most unfair”.
In one of the letters dated April 29, 2014, titled: “Appeal for intervention on destruction of my family house and family compound” to Governor Okorocha, Muoneke narrated:
“On the day of the demolition, many people gathered and pleaded with the supervising engineer, Mr. Garry, to spare the houses because they were neither close to the road nor obstructed his work. He said he was acting on instruction. When the people insisted, he agreed to leave the houses. However, few minutes after, Kelvin Amuka, the member representing Ideato South in Imo state House of Assembly came into the compound and gathered us for discussion. He told us to allow the engineer to continue with the demolition, that government will pay compensation. We asked for written promise and he said we should trust his word. While the discussion was on, the engineer took over the demolition machine from the driver and pulled down the houses.”
“At the height of the devastation, people wondered if members of our family had committed any offence against Imo state government or its officials. They took notice of the fact that these houses did not obstruct the work being done because they were far away from the road. Other members of the compound whose houses were not affected were cut off from their family houses by the gully created by the erosion channeled there.”
On January 5, this year, the family again wrote Governor Okorocha. In the letter titled: “Willful destruction of Umuduruemeghara family compound by Imo state government through their construction company”, they enumerated all they had been through since the mass destruction of their family compound.
“We are waiting and watching events as they unfold to know if this is the way God wants us to end. We don’t have a place we can call our compound because even when the construction work did not get to the family compound, the contractor who demolished our houses channeled erosion into it. About two years after the destruction, nobody has talked to us. We live like refugees”, they wrote.
The 76-year-old Muoneke recalled that the buildings destroyed were neither marked for destruction nor was there notice served on members of the family to relocate, stressing that even the expanded road failed to pass through the compound.
“I was here in Enugu someday when I received a call that my building was being pulled down. I ran to the village and discovered that the fence was being pulled down. I pleaded with the contractor to allow me remove my things and he gave me till the next day to remove them. That day people gathered to know why he wanted to pull down the building since the road did not pass through it. He said he was acting on instruction and that we will be compensated for it.
“We are not averse to development, but in fairness, we should be taken into consideration. My family has not visited our family compound since then. Each time I travel, I pass the night at Orlu, a neighbouring community. I invested everything to ensure I have a house in my village. My family is still in Enugu and bringing them back, under whose roof will they stay?
I have three children of school age”, he said.
Mr Muoneke said that the situation of the family had been compounded by the death of their most senior brother of over 80 years, Mr E.D Muoneke on December 25, 2014.
“His death has opened a new dimension to our situation. How do we organize his burial when there is no compound for the family? There is
nowhere to stay in the village. This brother who just died had his house partly knocked down and that is where he stayed till he died, but the erosion created there now makes it impossible for anybody to do anything there. We have not fixed the date of the burial because we don’t know how to go about it. We are asking the government to pay us adequate compensation for the houses and restore the compound. The erosion is such now that it is increasing and already affecting the market and if they don’t check that erosion, the whole town will be affected by it”, he said.
He stated that the compensation the family was asking for was government to relocate the family and rebuild their homes or fifty million naira for each of the three members of the family whose buildings were destroyed to enable them acquire land and set up their