Judex Okoro, Calabar
Peace seems to have been restored between the two warring communities of Kasuk II Qua Clan an agrarian community and Ikot Ansa Clan all in Calabar Municipality of Cross River following a high court judgment declaring the former as the real owner of the disputed parcel of land. The judgment, in Suit no HC242/2017 coming after 70 years, awarded N100 million as damages in favour of Kasuk II Qua Clan.
For decades, Kasuk II Qua Clan, an agrarian community, and Ikot Ansa Clan have been at daggers drawn over an expanse of land at the Parliamentary Extension Boulevard. While the Kasuk II Qua are insisted that the land in contention is their heritage, the Ikot Ansa claimed the swamp lands and the adjoining lands were given to them by the army as part of its deed of release for the land they gave out to the army. These squabbles have led to some internecine feuds between the communities.
Before now, the appeal court had between 1951 and 1952 given judgment in favour of Kasuk Clan II that their neighbour, Ikot Ansa, are trespassers. The court then gave an order to the police to guard against people trespassing into the Kasuk communal swamp land.
But the constant intervention by the police and several peace talks had brought some respite until 2011 when the long standing battle got to a climax as they headed back to court to seek peaceful resolution to no avail.
In 2017 following anther clash, the communities returned to state High Court, seeking for court intervention. And in February 28, 2019, the court delivered another judgment that the Ikot Ansa community, the defendant in suit number HC242/2017, actually trespassed into the land in dispute.
Reacting shortly after the community peace meeting held recently to celebrate the court ruling after long years of battle, the Counsel to Kasuk II Qua Clan, Barr Ochardson Umoh, said it was a long battle and they were glad the court finally gave judgment to bring peace in the troubled communities which means a lot to both because development is inevitable.
“The area along Parliamentary road extension, just behind where we have the Eburutu Army Barracks, has created tension between these two communities as a result of fight over who is the authentic owner of land.
“The matter had to go to court because the two parties were insisting that they own it. It has been in court for quite some time now but on February 28, 2019 the court delivered its judgment in which the court agreed with us that the Ikot Ansa community, the defendants in the matter in suit number HC242/2017 actually trespassed into the area of land.
“The court agreed with us and made the declaration whereby they nullified all leases, grants, sales and in fact any dealing whatever that the defendant the people of Ikot Ansa had with people over this area of land.
“It added that everything they did there has been nullified by the court. The court did not only stop them, it awarded damages of N100m against Ikot Ansa in favor of the Kasuk Community as damages. You have to understand that before the Kasuk Community went to court, Ikot Ansa had trespassed into this place and they were excavating red earth from a particular part of the land in dispute,” Umoh said.
We had told the court how much they were making a day and the number of years, i think this was what informed the court because they did not deny it that they were excavating and selling the sand even while the case was on going in court.
He disclosed that the Kasuk community tried to restrain the Ikot Ansa with interlocutory injunction as they were excavating even while this case was on, and we have pictures, adding that the N100m damages is fair considering the resources the defendant has tapped form the swamp.
Commending the judiciary for standing for justice and bringing peace through its judgment, the Clan Head of Kasuk II Qua Clan, Ntoe Ededem Ayito, he said: “The matter is a long standing one and has been before I became a clan head. And considering the fact that we need peace to bring in growth and development, we resorted to legal action.
“The recent experience started since 2011 but the land dispute has been there for more than 70 years following claims by Ikot Ansa community that our, lands which has been in our possession right from inception, belong to them as the army gave them a part of it as a deed of release. The people now used the deed of release to trespass and sell part of our properties, and even went ahead to excavate our red soil and destroy our raffia palms which a lot of cases were being held,” he said.
Giving a historical account of the dispute, Ayito said the battle over the land began in 1950 following a lot of trespassers into Kasuk communal swamp lands and those people that encroached into the communal swamp land were taken to court. According to him, the case was decided in the customary court in 1950 by my predecessors.
He further said the defendant appealed against and the Appeal Court still ruled in their favour in 1952 and in their judgment even order the police to guard against people trespassing into our communal swamp land.
Recalling series of land cases with their neigbhouring communities, Ntoe Ayito said his community went to court in 1949 with the old Obutong and the judgment stated expressly that Ikot Ishi and Ikot Ansa are customary tenants because they acquired their land from Kasuk community as a community.
He wondered why the tenants should now fight the original owners of the land even as they have had out of court settlement with Obutong Community, Essien Town Community and others communities since 1955.
He advised against the forceful take-over of lands in Calabar, adding that all lands belong to community and those interested in any must consult the owners to avoid conflicts within the metropolis
The paramount ruler of Calabar Municipality, Ndidem Patrick Inok Oqua Agbor, who Ikot Ansa is under, could not comment when contacted.
But one of the chiefs, who did not want his name on print, said: “I think this judgment would certainly bring back peace in these communities. We have looked into it in the council and I am optimistic that we abide by it. We are brothers and so there is no need for more struggle and recriminations.”