Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
The people of Ezegbe community in Umumpuma Oba, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, have again protested what they termed the takeover of their land by some private firms without adequate compensation to the owners.
The land was acquired in 2002 by the administration of former Governor Chinweoke Mbadinuju for the construction of an international market, in partnership with Bukham Nigeria Limited.
Bukham now partners with Micpan, another private firm, with both firms building more than 1,500 shops on the land.
The development has, over the years, triggered many protests in the community.
The community alleged that, 18 years after the project started, landowners have not received compensation for their acquired land. They said, for peace to reign, the necessary things should be done. The people also accused the firms, Bukham and Micpan, of selling the land despite the fact that the issue was before the court.
In June last year, the community had embarked on a protest against the firms. Again, on March 14, the people converged on the site of the land to protest the sale and allocation of part of the land to some groups and individuals. The protesters stopped the clearing work at the site and demobilised the equipment.
The community members insisted on the payment of their entitlements, alleging that neither the firms nor government paid them any money before they started the development of the land 18 years ago. They alleged that compensation was paid to another community, leaving out theirs.
The protesters, mostly elderly men and youths, stormed the site of the land, demanding that the firms must pay the community compensation or desist from further sale and development of the land pending the determination of the matter in the court.
The people displayed branches and placards, urging the company to pay them compensation or leave their land.
The people stated that: “Government should follow due process in acquiring our land, if at all government is involved. Ezegbe is protesting on the following grounds: that we are not in agreement to sell our land to any person or group of persons. That nobody has the right to confiscate our land; Ezegbe has not reached any compromise with any person or group of persons concerning our land; Bukham and Micpan, stay away completely from our land or face the wrath of the law, You are warned to stop meddling with Ezegbe land or face the music.”
Chairman of the community, Evangelist Benson Anajemba alleged that the firms destroyed crops and economic trees forcefully in 2002 before taking over the land without payment of compensation to landowners.
He alleged that the firms claimed that government paid compensation to another community but insisted that no amount of intimidation would make the community yield an inch of its land to the firms.
“It was agreed with the then governor, Mbadinuju that the firms would pay compensation, provide a borehole, build a school and give us 20 per cent of the land, which they have not done. We are still asking for payment of compensation but the developer is busy selling and allocating the land to groups, unions, markets and individuals.
“We protested in April and June last year over the payment of compensation after which we went to court. But since then, the developers have continued to sell the land. We came out again to protest because we are law-abiding citizens, so that everybody should hear our cry. We saw bulldozers clearing part of the land, and we were told that the developer had sold part of the land,” Anajemba stated.
Chairman of the community’s Elders Council, Chief Augustine Ikedi, said the people came to protest because some people wanted to take their land by force. He said there were ideal ways of acquiring land, whether individual or community land. He said such processes had not been followed.
He said some people wanted to take their land because of the belief in certain quarters that the people of the community had no one to speak for them. He said, however, that God had always been their advocate and defender.
“We shall not be alive and allow anybody or group of persons to take our land from us without the necessary things being done. The firms have been meeting with those who don’t own the land but have refused to call us the landowners to the roundtable to dialogue. We will be happy that the market is constructed on our land, as it will attract development. But due process should be followed to acquire the land.
“You saw how the land is being demarcated by other communities. But they want to take our land by force. We are calling on government to compel the firms to do the needful by coming to us to fulfill the requirements for land. We cannot allow them to take over our inheritance. We are ready to die on our land,” he said.
The eldest man in the community, Ogbuefi Godwin Chukwujiama, also said the firms were trying to illegally acquire the land without the people’s consent, vowing that it would never be allowed.
“That is why we are always protesting any time they move to the land because they cannot take our land by force without payment of compensation. We know that government owns every land but there are people that own the land, and they are supposed to be compensated by law before the land is taken. There is no way they will take over the land. They came and destroyed our farm crops and denied us our rights till now.
“So, what we are saying is that before the firms do anything on that land, they must come and meet us to discuss terms of settlement. They are threatening us with the army and police and we are ready to die. If we die while fighting for our rights, it will be a good death,” Chukwujiama said.
The youth leader, Mr. Obiora Obi, said the elders of the community had told the people that they owned the land before the government decided to acquire it for the purpose of building an international market on it. He said the firms were trespassing on the land without paying any compensation to the community.
Obi stated that the firms had not been sincere with the community over the payment of compensation and other entitlements for the community over the years.
“The firms had already sold part of the land to the Onitsha patent medical dealers (Ogbogwu) and Aluminum Market and had started selling the land to individuals. We protested and told them that we are the owners of the land, not Bukham or Micpan. We know that government owns every land but there is a process to acquire land. There should be payment for economic trees and other compensations.
“We are calling on government to come to our aid and recover our land from the firms who is using the land to do other business. Then, alternatively, the firms should come to us on a round table for us to talk business with them. They should stop threatening us with the army and police. No amount of intimidation will make to leave our land” Obi stated.
Some other community leaders, Chief Emma Uzochukwu and Mr. Dolu Enechukwu, said the land was forcefully taken from the community since 2002.
“A private developer, Bukham Nigeria Limited, now partnering with Micpan, invaded our land on the claims that the state government then gave it to them. And we have been seeking redress since then.
“We are beckoning on government to come to our aid and see how we can be saved from all these unnecessary and periodic invasions from the firms and their security agents. The government says that before they will cede any authority to anybody, even if it is private developer or even the government, they ought to have come to negotiate with the community, the landowners and have some level of agreement, and that has not been done.
“There is a process of acquiring land, even if it is government. They should involve the community, not taking our land by force. We shall not allow anybody to come into the land to do anything without giving us our rights. They are intimidating us because we don’t have people in government to speak for us. But God will fight for us and recover our land,” they declared.
One of the managers of the company, Mr. Micpan Egbule, in his reaction denied all the allegations. He said government gave them the land and paid compensation to the appropriate landowners in the community.
“The Anambra State government has paid compensation to the rightful owners of the land, and if any other person or group or community said that they were not part of it, they should go to court, and if the court said otherwise, I will not enter into the land. I will stay away and not come here to get harassed.
“Nobody should take the law into their hands. We don’t have any problem with the community; it’s government land. If they feel they have any case on the land, they should go to court and get an injunction to stop us. It is the court that will decide on this matter and nobody should come to the site to disrupt our work or cause any trouble.
“We shall not tolerate any breakdown of law and order on the land. And for them to move to the site to harass our workers and stop our machinery from working is unacceptable. We shall take the necessary action against those who came to our site to disrupt our work. The law must take its course on them and we shall deploy security agents on the site to stop attacks on our workers,” Egbule said.