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 easily 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.
Based on our laws, control and ownership of land in Nigeria are vested in a governor, who 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 the 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.
The unending land imbroglio in Enugu State, orchestrated by some greedy few, despite the clear position of the governor, raises questions.
Recently, one J.J. Emejulu, an architect pulled down some part of the perimeter fence of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, claiming to have been empowered to do so by a court judgment.
Even as the dust raised by the reckless destruction of the federal asset at the airport was yet to settle; some communities in Enugu State had protested in Enugu over land issues. Of noteworthy is the allegation that an 11hectare farmland was destroyed by Enugu State Housing Corporation at Ozalla village in Udi Local Government Area.
The purported owner of the land accused some politicians of using the corporation to confiscate the land from him.
In fact, the Enugu zonal office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), recently disclosed that over 80 per cent of petitions they had were land related. Statistics of land cases in the dockets are also high in courts across the zone.
However, the peculiarity of the situation in Enugu State has turned almost every community within and around the state capital against each other while on the other hand some of them also square up against the state Government.
The scenario is that either communities are fighting over boundaries or the Government is forcefully possessing community lands in the guise of overriding public interest which people allege in the long run ends up as private estates.
For instance, in June this year, the Anekeode and Obangene kindred families of Ibagwa Nike community in Enugu East Local Government Area, alleged that some vested interests were bent on causing crisis in the area by attempting to dispossess them of their ancestral land.
They tackled their traditional ruler, Igwe Emmanuel Ugwu, who had said that they were not the real owners of the land in dispute.
Ngwu Ikenna and Kelvin Okwor who spoke on behalf of the kindred families alleged that the claims made by the traditional ruler were intended to paint the larger population of Ibagwa Nike in bad light and to further empower the expropriators of their ancestral heritage and take it over.
Aggrieved members of the community who protested the continuous land grab, Daily gathered also called on the State Government to stop the planned demolition of their houses and farmlands.
According to Ikenna and Okwor, the traditional ruler had perfected “the script to rail-road officials of the Ministry of Housing into some pseudo-partnership to snatch what is left of our ancestral heritage, he brags about his relationship with the current Inspector General of Police, IGP Adamu Abubakar and suggests that the institution of the Nigeria Police Force could be hoodwinked into his efforts to deny us justice.
“Might we add that the Igwe and his syndicate flouted the order of court in suit No; E/144/09 made by the then Chief Judge of Enugu State, His Lordship I.A. Umezuilike restraining all and sundry from defacing the layout plots and particularly from making a new layout and selling or transferring or mortgaging same.
“The matter is still pending before Hon. Justice A.O Anidi of the High Court of Justice, Enugu and it will be subjudice to discuss the proceedings herewith.”
Ugwuaji Awkunanaw matter
Another land tussle that has refused to abate is the one involving Ugwuaji Awkunanaw people in Enugu South Local Government Area.
Leaders of four villages of Ugwuaji Awkunanaw, namely- Umunnugwu, Ndiaga, Isiagu, and Umunnajingene, have cried out over the continuous harassment of villagers by soldiers attached to 103 Battalion of Nigerian Army Gariki.
In a letter addressed to the General Officer Commanding 82 Division of the Nigerian Army and dated 3rd of August, 2020, the leaders called for a discreet investigation into the continuous harassment and other alleged illegal activities of soldiers.
In the petition, they said soldiers were providing cover to a top Government official involved in the alleged balkanization and forceful takeover of their ancestral land.
They said the soldiers stationed there and working for the Government official, beat up, harass and molest their people who attempt to venture into the disputed areas for farming and other purposes.
Lawyer to the aggrieved community leaders, O. P. Okonkwo, in a petition on behalf of Coalition of Ugwuaji Progressives, urged the Army high command to act and bring an end to the harassment.
He wrote: “In the final analysis, we are now constrained to bring the above illegal act of your men of l03 Battalion to your notice and therefore urge upon you for a discreet investigation of our complaints and then direct immediate withdrawal of the military men/soldiers that are conniving with the Commissioner for Housing in their illegal encroachment on our clients’ land and as well trying to disposes our clients of their land, knowing fully well that soldiers are not meant to dabble and or meddle into land matters that is meant for the court to determine.
“This act of your men of 103 Battalion is antithetical to the functions of the military as enshrined in the enabling law that created Nigerian Army. It should also be noted that our clients and the Commissioner for Housing are meant to be given equal protection by your men on duty which they have abdicated but rather chose to take the side of the said Commissioner for Housing.
“The recent illegal operations of your men of 103 Battalion had continued for sometimes now and they normally come under the guise of providing security to the land, while in actual fact they were stationed there for our clients and his workers to come to the land so that they will be beaten up mercilessly, while the said Commissioner for Housing and others are demolishing our clients’ and their tenants’ houses and fence wall on our client’s land.”
In another development, a traditional ruler in Enugu State, Igwe Mike Nnukwu and leaders of Amechi Awkunanaw and Obeagu communities of Enugu South Local Government Area of Enugu State, have petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, over continued harassment and intimidation of the community by the Special Tactical Squad (STS) despite directive from Inspector General’s Office to discontinue such.
In a letter dated August 10, 2020, and signed by the legal representative to the leaders, Obinna Ugwu, they said from all indications, it was clear that a real estate developer; Private Estate International West Africa (PEIWA) was using STS to forcefully divest their ancestral land.
The legal practitioner said their refusal was a demonstration of an act of insubordination and disrespect to the IGP’s earlier directive on the matter.
He said the squad had continued to hunt and intimidate the individual members of the community, Ozor Joseph Nnaji and Igwe Nnukwu through one Inspector Celestine Nyigba.
Part of the petition read: “It is the refusal by the Special Tactical Squad (STS) to hand over our clients’ case file to the Legal Section even after a signal has been sent to the Special Tactical Squad (STS) to that effect that our clients deemed it very expedient and pertinent to forward this complaint to your office praying that you prevail on the Special Tactical Squad (STS) to desist from further harassment and intimidation of the individual members of our clients and also to abide by your instruction as contained in your letter here-above referred.
“Convinced that our clients’ request will attract a favourable consideration from your office, we humbly wish to express our profound gratitude in anticipation of your much desired intervention.”
Ozor Joseph Nnaji, a community leader in Obeagu, when contacted, decried the spate of police harassment and intimidation citing an estate developer, PEIWA as being behind their travail.
He also said that Police had visited the community earlier to discover that it was a mere land matter and therefore wondered where the harassment was emanating from. He wondered what had transpired to warrant the alleged desperation from Inspector Celestine. Perhaps, he works for a different Nigeria Police Force.
Reacting, Inspector Nyigba said the claims were untrue claiming instead, that they were unwilling to honour a police invitation extended to them.
“I’m doing my job as a police officer. We have respectfully invited them. They should honour the invitation and respond to the issues raised. Why are they making these accusations?” he asked.
Enugu State Governor was not left out. Recently, leaders of Obeagu Awkunanaw, Enugu South Local Government Area, petitioned Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi over attempts by some persons to undermine the efforts of the State Government in restoring peace to the area, following a series of faceoff over land ownership.
Traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Nnukwu, who signed the protest letter sent to the Governor, said those involved in land deal, are “engaging in subcutaneous negotiations and agreements for compensation over the said land.
“Your Excellency, it is even worse to realise that the individuals arranging for these negotiations invite their co-conspirators to the prestigious Lion Building (Government House) in the guise that the negotiations have your blessing,” he wrote.
He said the land in question is subject of Court litigation in Suits No: E/419/2019, E/871/2019, E/1081/2019, E/263/2020, amongst others, especially Suit No E/1081/2019.
He further opined that the Governor and the Government of Enugu State are defendants, which pendency remains before the Enugu State High Court till date and which would render any such arrangement and/or agreements subjudice.
He urged the Governor to allow the rule of law to prevail and use his office as a father of all to ensure that every resident of the State is protected.
Similarly, leaders of Amaechi Uwani Awkunanaw community in Enugu South Local Government Area had also cried to Governor Ugwuanyi over attempts by developers to scuttle the peaceful occupation of their ancestral homelands and farmlands.
Speaking on behalf of the community, Orji Obasi, said those behind the sinister move were instituting negotiations and agreements for compensation over the said land.
He wrote: “In reality Sir, these negotiations are considered subjudice, where allowed to continue, especially when there is an order of Court against the Government.
“It would be necessary to equally state that the individuals who are engaging in these negotiations, neither own land in the delineated area nor possess the authority to negotiate on behalf of the land owners. They are not even parties, whether as Plaintiffs or as Defendants, to any of the numerous suits thrown around by Private Estates International West Africa Ltd.
“We maintain that as soon as the numerous suits against us by the Private Estates International West Africa Limited are withdrawn and a level playing ground is created, they would not be opposed to negotiations.”
In the midst of these unending crises, some persons said that any attempt to jettison the state’s rotational arrangement in respect of the governorship may affect some progress made so far by the current administration in addressing certain sensitive land issues.
Unconfirmed reports in town said that some top Enugu real estate developers were already throwing their weight behind one of the senators from the state that is believed to be nursing a governorship ambition.
The belief in Enugu is that, should the senator become Governor, he may reverse some decisions recently taken by Governor Ugwuanyi on reversal of controversial land allocations.
In fact, an IT and real estate mogul from the state reportedly hosted the Governorship hopeful in his Ezeagu country home, recently, where he gave his full support to the senator and urged him to come out in full force as Enugu needs a pragmatic leader like him.
“A lot of people were wondering why such a businessman who has benefited so much from the state in running of the IT portal services of higher institutions owned by the state would support a candidate whose ambition is against the already agreed zoning that is working in the state,” Boniface Ifeanyi, who has followed the development, told Daily Sun.
Another Nkanu stakeholder expressed shock that “the businessman who was given hectares of land in same Nkanu land using Private Estates International and yet he does not want Nkanu people to succeed in producing a governor when it is their turn.”
Government’s search for solution
It has been herculean task for the Government of Enugu State managing vicious land disputes especially in and around Enugu, the state capital. For instance, when the ownership tussles over the spacious Premier Layout Extension between the Ogui Nike community in Enugu North Council and Ugwuaji community in Enugu South Council came to a head earlier this year; Governor Ugwuanyi personally visited the disputed land where he gave a restraining order on both communities to keep away from the place pending the resolution of the matter. He threatened that further disturbances might lead to forceful takeover of the land by the state.
Also, at the height of the tension over the Centenary City, the Ugwuanyi administration in November last year revoked the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) of the layout. This action was taken in the interest of peace and justice.
The action of the Governor, who by law was perfectly in order, was applauded by leaders of the two communities. A statement signed by Richard Nnamani and Chief Andy Egbo on behalf of the Amechi and Obegu Awkunanaw communities, stated: “We are here today to thank the Government of Enugu State for taking the bold step to revoke the fraudulent Certificate of Occupancy of the trespassers on our land. We, however, want to demand that the process be finalised quickly enough so that we can begin the process of healing and recovery from the over a decade of harassment, intimidation and oppression.”
In addition, the Enugu State Government recently constituted a six-man Administrative Panel of Inquiry into the disputed land in Ugwuaji community in Enugu South Local Government Area of the state.
A statement by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Simon Ortuanya, said the panel which has Chief James Ikeyi, SAN, as Chairman, was to establish the true owner of the parcels of land in dispute as well as ascertain the entire area of disputed land.
Other terms of reference of the panel are “to ascertain individual claims or title to parcels of land in the disputed area” and “make any other finding that will ensure lasting peace in the area”.
Prof. Ortuanya, who disclosed that the setting up of the panel was approved by the State Executive Council in its 10th meeting held on Friday, August 21, 2020, added that it is expected to complete its assignment within two months of its constitution.
“To this end, all claims to, and/or activities on the disputed parcels of land should cease forthwith until final submission of panel’s report and state government’s disposal action on the matter”, the statement said.
Other members of the panel are: Brigadier General Godwin Ugwoke (Rtd); Prof. Daniel Nwachukwu; Mr. Godwin Ishiwu (Surveyor General, Enugu State); Mr. Chudi Ozokolo and Mr. Robinson Odoh, who serves as the Secretary.
High rate of land racketeering
Paramount ruler of Nike ancient kingdom, Igwe Julius Nnaji agreed that there were actually reported cases of land racketeering in Enugu but blamed those who go to buy land without proper verification for falling prey to land speculators.
The monarch whose community had always been inadvertently mention when it pertains to land grab and racketeering in the Nike area, however, stated that the thing had been blown out of proportion.
In an interview with Daily Sun, he said: “It is something that has been blown overboard. If some people are wise enough and they want to buy land; they should do the right things. The problem is that the creation of so many autonomous communities has done more harm to our people than good. When my father was the leader of the Nike clan, such things never happened. But after they came in and carved out about 11 autonomous communities of Nike, can I go to the other people and tell them what to do in their own area?
“If you come to my own community, the problem people have is that they want to get land on a platter of gold and they will not come to me. They will go to anybody that claims to have land and after they have paid huge amount of money and they go there, the true owner of the land comes in. By that time they will come to me and I will tell them who the true owner is with documents. And they will go to town saying they bought land at Nike and have lost. Why shouldn’t you lose when you decided to go through the backyard? You should come through the proper channel. The traditional ruler is there, who is the custodian of land matters. Why should you go through the backyard?
“There is a matter I’m handling now; somebody whose lease has expired. He came through the backdoor to renew a lease that doesn’t exist again. That is one of those things. I remember one which my younger brother sold a land which my father sold to someone else in 1983 in 2008. They came here. My brother did it. And I called somebody like Igwe Ozoekwem to come and sit with me on judgement. When I passed judgement and told the man who bought the land in 2008 that he is not the owner of the land as someone else had bought the land from my father in 1983; Ozoekwem couldn’t believe I would do it but I did it.
“So, if someone says he has land to sell and produces papers; come here and get clearance and everything will be ok. It is just like the one they call ‘Ogbo n’eche agu’. I don’t support it. The youths go to the field and harass people and they part with their money and when they are doing it, they will say they are doing it on behalf of the Igwe. Who has during that period driven to me and said Igwe are you aware of this? Nobody does that. They will only go to the place where they drink beer and say what they like. I don’t have the time to go there to defend myself. No, I can’t do that. They will continue saying what they want to say but I know what I do. It is their palaver.
“Some people will come in now and have the money to buy land but when they are duped they go on air or the place where they drink or the press to say all manner of things. I am saying that nobody had ever come here and I approved a land sale or change of land ownership and eventually the land is disputed.”