… As Air Force invade community, arrest leaders, youths
From: GEORGE ONYEJIUWA, OWERRI
Indigenes of Umuotukwe Umuowa community in Ngor Okpala Council Area of Imo State, on Monday, held a peaceful protest over alleged seizure of their ancestral lands by the state government for the construction of Air Force base in the state.
This was just as Armed Air Force personnel who was led by Group Captain Solomon Lazarus, Commander of the 211 Regiment Group, invaded the community and arrested the Community leader Nze Henry Opara and youths of the community for staging a peaceful over the land where the Air Force is sited .
It would be recalled that during the ground breaking ceremony of the 211 Regiment Air Force base located in Umuowa on 28 February 2017 , which had in attendance the Chief of Air Staff, AVM Sadiq Abubakar, Governor Rochas Okorocha had pleaded with the community that they would be adequately compensated for their land.
However, the people who trooped out in their numbers as early as 7.30 a.m along the Airport road with placards with different inscriptions such as: ” Government must do the right thing by negotiating with the Owners of the land” , ” It criminal for the Government to forcefully take our farm lands without the knowledge of the owners”, The Government Must Negotiate with the owners and pay compensation ” amongst others.
The protesters had also marched to the site of the Airforce Base where the youths and women placed palm fronds at the site which in Igbo culture connotes a taboo.
According to the community leader, Nwata, who addressed newsmen during the protest, he disclosed that the problem was the invasion of their farmlands on the 28 February 2017 when the Nigeria Air Force took over their land for the establishment of their Base without the knowledge of the community.
Although he said that the people are not against the establishment of an Air force base in their community but lamented that the way and manner in which their lands was acquired with out any negotiations or compensation is what they are against.
According to Nwata, ” The problem is that on 28 February 2017 we woke up one morning to find that our farmlands had been cleared by the state government to be used as an Airforce Base without the community’s knowledge. They did not consult anybody.
We are not against the Federal Government building an Airforce Base in our community because it is part of development, but you cannot take over 85 per cent of our land without negotiating with the owners”.
He further stated that if the state government had consulted with the community that they have agreed on what to give the government for the establishment of the Airforce Base.
” If the state Government had consulted with the community we would agreed on what the community could afford to give but we cannot lose all our farmlands and even where our children could build their homes in the future but if the current situation remains the same that means the community would no longer have any land on which to farm or build houses”.
He further disclosed that the original plan was to take lands the communities of Egbelu Obube, Ugankwo Oche and Umuokpa in Owerri west and Umuotakwe Umuowa in Ngor Okpala,but that surprisingly over 85 percent of the was taken from their own community.
But when the commander of the 211 Regiment Group, Solomon Lazarus who got wind of the protest stormed the community with armed Airforce personnel and a arrested the community leader and over 15 youths of the community ordered that they be whisked to Owerri.
The action of Group Captain Lazarus, however, did not go down well with the women of the community who came out in the numbers and dared him to kill all of them.
But addressing aggrieved women, Group Capt. Lazarus explained the reasons for the arrest of the culprits. He, however, assured that theyb would be set free in due course.
He stressed the need for cordial relationship between the host community and the base while reminding them that government’s intention to bring the base to the community is for the development of the area
The commander further disclosed to them that before now they have paid traditional rights to the land owners,but admonished the community to channel their grievances to the right quarters.