•Allottees of FG estate in Owerri raise the alarm, beg Buhari, Okorocha, IGP to intervene
From Chuks Onuoha, Umuahia
Right now, there is considerable anxiety among more than 1,000 allotees of the federal government-owned plots of land at Avu Federal Housing Estate, Owerri, Imo State.
The allottees are worried over moves by some land grabbers suspected to be agents of the Imo State government to take over their plots of land.
It was gathered that the land was allocated to them in 1987 by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing. They claimed that they have all paid for the land.
The land was allocated to them when General Ibrahim Babangida was military president, while the late Col. Amadi Ikwecheg was the military governor of Imo State.
They regretted that, 30 years after, a civilian government in Imo was trying to take away the land.
The allottees said the beneficiaries of the plots include Abia and Imo indigenes as well as federal workers from other states who were then residing in Owerri.
In a letter of complaint they wrote to the Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, the allottees said they were convinced that Okorocha was a kind-hearted man who would not allow some privileged officials in his government to undermine the rights of the common man.
The allottees, who protested at the Federal Government Secretariat and the Avu Housing Estate, said they noticed some clandestine activities around the estate and suspected that land grabbers operating with government machinery were at work to fleece them of their plots of land. They also called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to save them from the activities of the land speculators that had been using government cover to forcibly take over many landed properties in the state.
The allotees also petitioned the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, over the threat to take over their land.
The petition by the Avu Federal Housing Estate Neighbourhood Association, was titled“Complaint Against the Un-notified and Unlawful Forcible Invasion of the Land Acquired and Designated in 1983 for Urban Mass Housing (Site and Services) By the Federal Government at Avu Junction, Owerri, Imo State, by Imo state Government.”
Sent through their lawyers, Messrs D C Denwigwe, SAN, & Associates, the petition explained that the federal government duly acquired the land in 1983 and it was allotted to them for a premium, which was duly paid to the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing.
They stated that, at the time of the acquisition, the ministry duly designed the site with roads and streets; the land was divided into plots of low density, medium density and high density.
According to the petition, designs for the building types permitted on the land were issued to the allottees, while the title on the land remained in the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing.
The allotees were, thereafter, instructed to wait for the installation of infrastructure like water and electricity supply as well as gutters for the roads before they could commence the development of their plots. Several government administrations have come and gone without putting those facilities in place until recently when the allotees were permitted to erect perimeter fencing of their land and to commence full development on the land, it was gathered. Consequently, many of the allotees fenced their plots while some commenced actual construction.
They said they were shocked when on July 5, 2017, they noticed that earth-moving equipment had been brought to the land under the watch of armed policemen and other security agents.
The allottees said, following the development, they wrote to the Imo State GovernorOkorocha on July 10, complaining about the incident on the land.
Despite their complaints, however, the earth-moving machines continued to ravage their land, uprooting and destroying structures and foundations already erected by the allotees on their respective plots. They claimed that no notice or warning was issued to the allottees by any government agency.
They said they were shocked when they discovered that the controller of housing at the Federal Ministry in Imo State was not even aware of the action.
“We know as a matter of fact and law that once land is acquired by the federal government or its agencies, even if the acquisition was done by the state and handed over to the federal or its agencies, such land cannot be taken away or revoked by the state government. There are decisions of superior courts on this point.
“We are always willing and able to develop our plots from the moment the appropriate authorities permit and direct the full development.
“Any document that claims to have frozen the federal site and services of Avu Owerri West Local Government Area is just the imagination of some highly-placed persons. We are aware, as a matter of law, that the governor of a state is not clothed with the power to freeze a site and services scheme of the federal government or its agencies and no provision is made for such freezing in any statute applicable in Nigeria,” they noted.
They appealed to Okorocha to ensure that the unlawful development on the land was discontinued immediately: “We draw his attention with all due respect to the fact that the speculative offer of another site cannot justify the action without due compliance with the statutes already interpreted by the superior courts concerning the vested rights of the citizens, as the government of a state has no power to revoke land belonging to the federal government.
“The document purportedly stating that a land belonging to the federal government in a state has been frozen by the state did not consider the provision of the Land Use Act because, when the plots of the federal government are allocated to citizens, the allotees only get a lease of the plot while the title in the land remains vested in the federal government.”
They said that they would have no other choice than to go to court and seek redress, if their plea is not heeded and the land left for them.
They said they would continue developing their plots, which were legitimately acquired by the federal government for workers under the Federal Housing Scheme, with the issuance of certificates of occupancy; in addition, the blueprint for the estate included facilities like access roads, electricity and water.
“But as many years passed without these facilities, we, the landowners, took up the development of the entire place ourselves, hired the services of construction equipment operators to create access roads into our land to enable us have easy development,” they said.
Some allottees that commenced building projects at the site had reached advanced stages but were jolted last month when some people started demolition of fences at the site; the men demolishing the fences said they were acting on the instruction of the state government.
Speaking on behalf of the association, the chairman , Chief Ene Ejike, and vice-chairman, Mr. Raphael Nwnoneze, said that intruders should leave their properties alone.
“We own our properties with C of O, we have started the opening of the access roads since March this year and a lot of us have started building, which they are now demolishing in the guise that they want to destroy kidnappers’ hiding places. Initially we left them thinking that they were only clearing the bushes, but when they started demolishing houses, we became suspicious that they had other plans.
“Then we confronted them and they said that their order was that if the house was not completed and there is no occupant, they should pull it down. We are appealing to the Imo State government to leave our land alone. People are already developing the estate. We don’t want further interference from anybody. We are capable of developing our plots. We know that we cannot fight government, but government should protect us as citizens and do the right thing. We shall take every legitimate step possible to get justice.”