Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Property owners at Okotomi Layout Phase I, in Ogbeosadi village, Okpanam, Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State, are counting their losses after an enemy sneaked in to wreak havoc on structures.
At the moment, relics of the destruction, as evidenced by the broken blocks of demolished fences, litter the streets of the developing area, which is within the capital territory of the oil-rich state.
On the fateful day of the incident, people had gone out for the day’s work, and the solitude of the environment presented an opportunity for the invaders to unleash bulldozers on properties under the watchful protection of policemen from the state police command.
But investigations revealed that the mauraders deceived the police authorities that they were going to create access roads in the emerging community, hence they needed security to forestall any form of resistance.
They actually informed the police that it would take them five days to achieve their mission of creating access with an ulterior motive to recover what they described as illegally acquired lands from property owners in the area.
The destruction was allegedly spearheaded by one man believed to be a top official of the Ogbeosadi land partitioning, allocation, verification and recovery committee.
But midway into the destruction on the first day, chairman of the landlords’ association in the area, Charles Muka, was alerted by a resident who witnessed the destructive acts of the invaders.
Muka said he abandoned what he was doing and rushed to the scene, only to discover that men and bulldozers were at work with policemen providing protection to achieve unfettered access.
Muka told our correspondent that he quickly called the Commissioner of Police, Adeyinka Adeleke, who swiftly ordered the withdrawal of his men from the exercise.
He said as a result of his raising the alarm, members of the community emerged and were poised for a showdown but for the intervention of elders who opted for a diplomatic approach to handle the situation.
“It would have been fatal because our youths were ready for them. I thank God that we did not take the law into our hands. We were able to dissuade our people from taking the law into their hands, which would have been very fatal. And I also appreciate the Commissioner of Police for pointing it out that their action was illegal,” he said.
Investigation revealed that the said official of the Ogbeosadi land partitioning committee had approached the landlords in the area for a renegotiation of the plots of lands, following what he said was a judgement by the state high court in Akwukwu-Igbo.
In suit number AKU/15/2013 between Diokpa Aku Mokweyei and three others and Mr. Chinedu Moran and eight others, the court had listed the terms of settlement in the said judgement.
One of the terms was that those who bought land illegally from individuals or groups should formalise their transactions with the elders of the community.
But the affected landlords at Okotomi Layout Phase I insisted that the landed properties that they bought over 10 years ago were sold to them by genuine land dealers with original documents, which they are willing to tender as evidence.
Besides, they accused the said official of attempting to re-sell the properties to them, adding that it was a common practice across Okpanam for youths to be doing double or triple deals with plots of land.
The affected landlords said they were not parties in the suit that gave birth to the consent judgement, hence the decisions could not be binding on them. They, therefore, advised the official and his group to meet the initial sellers for settlement, rather than dragging innocent landlords into the mix.
One of the landlords said: “That is what they now do in Okpanam. They have sold all the available plots of land in the entire community. So, whenever they are broke, they invade any developing area and make inordinate demands from property owners.
“Even those who have built houses and are carrying out minor renovations, they will come and demand ‘illegal’ fees for them to continue to survive because they is what they live on. They have no jobs. To them, land is like oil and gas.
“They are just parading a consent judgement, which they themselves know cannot be executed because how can you shave a man’s head in his absence? You went to court to procure a consent judgement when the people concerned were not even informed about it initially.
“What they are looking for is money. They want the landlords here to come and re-negotiate with them. But they will be disappointed because the people here know their rights and they are ready to take this matter to any level.
“What we have going for us is that the Delta State Public and Private Properties Protection Bill was signed into law last year. The law is active and is aimed at prohibiting illegal and forceful entry into development sites.”
Meanwhile, in a petition to the Delta State Commissioner of Police, counsel to the affected landlords, Larry Olisa, Esq., further accused the named land speculator and his gang of attempted kidnapping, armed robbery and threats to commit arson.
According to the petition, Mr. Aaron Nwosu, one of those whose property was destroyed, was kidnapped by the gang when he was assessing the level of damage to his property.
The petition stated that when Nwosu accosted and challenged the gang, he was beaten up and forced into the gang’s vehicle, adding that he was taken to an undisclosed location in the bush where he was robbed at gunpoint of N10,000, a wristwatch and a phone.
Olisa stated that the gang informed Nwosu that he would be kept in the bush until ransom was paid by his family, and that was when it dawned on him that he had been kidnapped. He then started pleading with his abductors to spare him, the petition said.
“It was when the voices of a search party organised by our clients to challenge and repel the robbers began to approach the place where Nwosu was held captive that the perpetrators hurriedly left him, and he seized the opportunity to run for his dear life,” the petition added.
As a result, residents in the area are now apprehensive for fear of the unknown. They have appealed to the commissioner of police to provide security and ensure that they get justice for their demolished properties even as they vowed to explore all legal means to recover their investments.