Land in every clime is a precious natural gift, bequeathed to men by God. Not just that, until recently, people who had land bequeathed to them by their fathers as their share of inheritance were considered rich. Communities and villages have gone to war because of disagreements over land ownership. Brothers have moved against one another because of land. It goes to show how important it is. So, no sane people part with this treasure.
It is an inalienable fundamental human right of all persons above 21 years old to acquire and own land in any part of Nigeria. Section 43 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and Section 7 of the Land Use Act, 1978, deal with this aspect. This point needs to be established.
Since control and ownership of land in Nigeria are vested in a governor, he has the exclusive right to grant statutory right of occupancy to any person over any part of the state (urban and rural areas) for any purpose whatsoever. The grant of right of occupancy must be for a definite term/period on specified terms and conditions. Most states offer grants for a term of 55 or 99 years, after which the right of occupancy reverts on government, while the former certified occupier may seek for a renewal of term.
A governor has the power to enter upon any land in the state. Such inspection is to ensure strict observance of the terms and conditions of the occupation, which the tenant undertook to observe at all times. These points needed to be established to drive home the issue we are trying to address.
Based on the foregoing, questions have been asked on who is in charge of land management and control in Enugu, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi or his commissioner of housing, Vitus Okechi? This question is imperative and, as sane members of society, we deserve to know.
Since land ownership and control rest with a governor, has Ugwuanyi willfully gifted the right of Enugu people to own their ancestral lands to his housing commissioner, Okechi? Does the commissioner have the backing of the governor to forcefully take over land and use security agents to harass people who toiled to elect Ugwuanyi?
In Igboland, specifically, Enugu State, people don’t mortgage their lands, much less communities whose survival depends on it. One then begins to wonder the rationale behind the move by some forces within Enugu State government, specifically the Ministry of Housing, to forcefully dispossess people of their land.
Disturbed by the unending harassment by the commissioner, using state agents, leaders of Ugwuaji-Awkunanaw autonomous community, in Enugu South Local Government of Enugu State, recently appealed to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, to intervene in the ongoing harassment and illegal occupation of their ancestral land by a division of the police in Enugu State. In a letter to the IGP the community leaders said Police Mobile Force 3 (PMF3), Enugu, had, in conjunction with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Enugu, as well as the Divisional Police Office, Independence Layout, Enugu State Command, at the instance of some unscrupulous officials of Enugu State Ministry of Housing, continued to harass and occupy their land.
The leaders complained that the illegal occupation of their land has prevented their people from carrying out entire farming activities. They urged the IGP to prevail on erring officers and assist them in recovering their ancestral land, which is on the verge of being forcefully grabbed by some greedy people, who intend to use the police force as the weapon for the perfection of their illegality.
Read part of the letter: “The Police Mobile Force Number 3 (PMF3), Enugu, has in conjunction with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad Enugu as well as the Divisional Police Office in Independence Layout, Enugu State Command, at the instance of some unscrupulous officials of Enugu State Ministry of Housing, continued with their dastardly despicable act of harassing and intimidating our indigenes out of the said land, as the men and officers of Police Mobile Force Number 3 Enugu together with the men of Special Anti-Robbery Squad Enugu, as well as the Divisional Police Office in Independence Layout, Enugu State Command, have continued to occupy the land belonging to us, thereby preventing our indigenes from carrying on their usual farming activities on the said land.
“May we also reiterate that the continued occupation of the land in issue, the harassment and intimidation of our indigenes by the men and officers of Police Mobile Force Number 3, those of Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Enugu, as well as officers from the Independence Layout Police Division, respectively, are in absolute disregard to the judgment of the Federal High Court, Enugu, which judgment was obtained pursuant to the suit filed against the Nigerian Army as well as the Nigeria Police Force by our indigenes.
“It is also our humble prayer that these police officers from the Police Mobile Force (PMF3), the Special Anti-Robbery Squad Enugu (SARS) and the Independence Layout Police Division, respectively, who in discharge of their duties are manifestly biased and flagrantly disobey the rule of law be withdrawn from the said land so as to enable our indigenes to make good use of their ancestral land.”
Again, one is tempted to ask: is Governor Ugwuanyi aware of the excesses of his commissioner for housing? As I painfully pen this piece, people of Ugwuaji-Awkunanaw can’t have peace and use their God-given land.
Governor Ugwuanyi can’t sit back and allow those who were not elected by the people to continue to treat Enugu people with disdain. The commissioner and other officials in the Housing Ministry are not above the law. The governor needs to reassure us that we matter and that we can’t be maltreated without a human face.
Even beyond our shores, the commissioner is still pushing his luck and this recently attracted the attention of a well known national anti-graft network. The centre recently wrote a letter and some serious issues were raised. Since then, not a word from Enugu State Government. For those who may not be privy to the issues raised, let me bring it to your notice.
Transparency Centre Network dragged Okechi, housing commissioner, to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), over alleged ownership of housing estates in Enugu State.
According to the petition, signed by the convener of the network, Umar Farouk, Okechi didn’t declare the alleged housing estates when he was appointed commissioner. He further claimed in the petition that the commissioner, who is at loggerheads with some community leaders over land ownership, recently encroached into over seven hectares of Federal Government land at the University of Nigeria (UNN) Teaching Hospital, Enugu.
Part of the petition read: “For instance, reliable information has just provided actionable intelligence to show that he recently encroached into the over seven hectares of Federal Government land at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital old site of a location called Ngenovo and is allegedly parcelating and selling for his personal gain.
“We are by this letter calling the attention of your good offices to carefully direct the investigation of the current commissioner of housing development in Enugu State. We have it on good record that he is credited to own a chain of housing assets in Enugu and for which he may not have fully declared.
“The information at our disposal has compelled us to approach your good office so you deploy your investigative mechanisms to ascertain this allegation. Also, we have been informed that Okechi may have acquired other assets not known to your office.
“We hereby urge your good offices to step in and investigate these claims so as to stop these individuals from benefiting from theft of Federal Government’s landed assets illegally.”
Ugwuanyi, whose soaring popularity in Enugu State is unrivaled, must not sleep while the people who he vowed to protect suffer. It’s time to speak up and cut some people to size. After all, we didn’t elect them; we elected the governor.
•Ngene is a public affairs analyst and wrote this piece from Enugu