From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
The youths of Oba Community in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State have drawn a battle line with the Emordi Shoe Dealers Association and its Chairman, Chief Nwabueze Umeh, over development of a land originally earmarked for the building of the defunct Oba Airport.
Youths numbering about 100 and carrying various placards with inscriptions: ‘Offia, Enough is Enough,’ ‘No more Airport land, we want our right,’ ‘Our land is not for estate, it is for industries,’ ‘Governor Obiano should come to our aid and intervene,’ among others, recently took to the streets and roads in the area to protest the alleged encroachment of the land by the developers who they said failed to fulfill their agreement since they acquired the land.
The youths who disrupted and stopped ongoing work at the site alleged that the agreed fee reached with the developer has not been paid to the community, stressing that the land was initially mapped out for a shoe industry, but has been turned into an estate that went beyond the 30 hectares of land the government allocated to them.
The Chairman, Youth Welfare Association of Okpuno Umuogali village, Oba, one of the owners of the land, Engr. Udoka Uzochukwu maintained that the land was approved for shoe dealers market. He insisted that the chairman of the Emordi Shoes Dealers Association, Mr Umeh N. O., derailed from the agreement both by turning the place into an estate, as well as encroaching on the other community lands.
“Youths are agitating for proper explanation of what is going on at the old Airport land at Oba because what we were told by government was that the land will be used for industries, but it is not what we are seeing today,” he said. “What we are seeing going on is that there are individual houses being erected in the land instead of industries. What we are saying is that the government should come and tell us what is going on in our land.”
The land was given to the government for an airport project which was later cancelled and at that time no compensation was paid to the land owners, he added. “The developer of the estate which is Chief Umeh has not fulfilled all the agreements reached, no compensation either to the community land owners or the youths and that is why we are protesting. Our demand is that work should stop on the land until the developer of the estate settles with the landowners. Our elders are not happy again, some of them have died after their land was taken away from them without any compensation.”
The Chairman of Umuagu Village Welfare Association, Oba, Mr. Onyeka Enedah, in his remark alleged that some portions of the land that are supposed to have been allocated to the villagers had been taken from the Chairman of Emordi Shoe Dealers Association who vowed that no portion of the land would be given to the owners of the land.
“We are aware that the government gave some part of the land to a shoe industry but they are selling the land to individuals for estate development and refused to abide by the agreement reached with the community,” he said. “We are not happy and that is why the youths are out to fight for their future. The government is currently preparing 20 per cent compensation for the community which is different from what we are demanding. What we are fighting against is Umeh’s encroachment into the land. He had acquired more than 30 hectares allocated to him by the government. We want the government to come to our aid and to investigate the land matter to avoid crisis. We are protesting for government to hear our cry and do something before it is too late. If we didn’t hear from government for five days then we will think of the next line of action to take. We are not happy because we have lost about seven elders in the course of this land matter. They died out of frustration and high blood pressure.”
But in his reaction, the Vice Chairman of Emordi Shoe Dealers Association, Chief Matthew Okeagu, denied all the allegations, saying that the land was allocated to the traders as a layout with C. of. O and a survey plan approved by the government. He said that the they have paid N180 million compensation to the villagers/land owners, as well as N30 million to the youths of the community, stressing that they followed due process in acquiring the land from the government who acquired it from the community and later went ahead to pay compensation for peace to reign but to no avail.”
Okeagu, however, appealed to the government to intervene on the matter and beg the youths to allow them to develop their land without any form of harassment and intimidation, adding that their workers were injured and chased out of site by the youths for no just cause.
“The traditional ruler of the community is aware that the land belongs to the government who allocated it to us for layout not for industry as alleged by the youths,” he added. “The Commissioner for Lands, Physical Planning and Rural Development, Sir Okey Moka, approved the allocation of the land to shoe dealers as residential building. We have all the documents for the allocation by the government, the survey, design, approval order and certificate of occupancy etc. We are going to bring all the tellers we used to pay money into bank accounts given to us since they are claiming that we have not fulfilled our agreement.”
The airport land was acquired by then government of Mr. Peter Obi to construct airport but was later cancelled due to the topography of the area. “The present government led by Governor Willie Obiano decided to allocate the land to markets and individuals to develop the land and this is what some land owners are kicking against,” Okeagu said.