Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
For the law enforcement agents stationed at the Anambra State Government House, Awka, the past few weeks have been a hectic period. It has not been an easy task controlling the surging number of protesters from different communities in the state.
Each day in recent times, different groups of protesters have thronged the place to register their grievances over issues bordering on land dispute, land grabbing and land acquisition.
Recently, it was the turn of Ntoko community in Awka South Local Government Area. Members of the community trooped in large numbers to the Government House with a save-our-soul message to Governor Willie Obiano over alleged intimidation and land grabbing by a certain influential personality in the area (name withheld).
During the peaceful protest, they alleged that there were cases of disorder, unrest, shoot-outs, illegal arrests and detention of some members of their community by a certain chief.
While defying the rain that morning, the protesters carried placards with inscriptions like: ‘Leave our land alone”, “Stop this terror on our people”, “Release our people you arrested”, “Governor Obiano please come to our aid,’ among others.
Speaking through their leader, Vincent Ike, the protesters implored the governor to come to the aid of their community aid, saying that their lands were being taken away from them forcibly by the wealthy man who they noted deals ruthlessly with anyone who dares to challenge him.
“The people of Ntoko community have, over the years, been troubled by pandemonium and disorderliness, forceful takeover of Ntoko lands, massive destruction of their property and intimidations by this individual. For long, he has continued to wreak havoc and even built his personal farm and amusement park in Ntoko Community without any authorisation from the landowners. He has continued to threaten the community illegally, claiming ownership of their community lands. He has continued to hijack some property belonging to the sons and daughters of the community. Anybody that dares to challenge his actions is always made to receive the beating of his life by the miscreants and hoodlums he uses to execute his wickedness. He often engages thugs and instructs them to shoot at anyone who dared to challenge his suppression times without number.
“Recently, a reoccurrence of this ugly development has led to sporadic shootings on the said land on which the Enugu Court of Appeal has given Ntoko community favourable judgment against his evil actions. According to the judgment, he was warned to stay away from the land. But he has continued to carry on with his deadly action against the community.
“Presently, this scenario has led to the massive arrest of some vibrant youths of the community, namely Messrs Edwin Nwankwo, Prophet Uche Okafor, Christian Ogbonna and Stephen Ilo, among others now in police custody, Abuja who did nothing to him but whom he considered as his main opponents.
“He brought thugs who began shootout in the land and still went ahead to accuse these innocent ones that he whisked away to Abuja and have detained them in the police custody. Meanwhile, it was his personal thugs that were shooting in the land,” they said.
The protesters appealed to Governor Obiano to come to their rescue and ensure that their oppressor stay away from their land, release their detained children and also guard against disturbing the peace-loving people of Ntoko community.
In his response, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Safety and Emergency, Chikodi Anara who received the protesters on behalf of Governor Obiano, warned that the rule of law should guide people’s conducts and transactions in the state.
He said that government would look into the matter dispassionately, reiterating that nobody, no matter how highly placed would be allowed to oppress their fellow persons.
“Democracy does not allow any form of intimidation. I will look into the matter dispassionately and we shall give you justice. My government will not allow such intimidation and harassment.
“In a democracy, everybody is equal. The rich and the poor coexist mutually. Democracy is a leveller. No moneybags can intimidate us in this state under my watch,” the governor was quoted as saying.
Calls and text messages forwarded to the phone number of the individual allegedly behind the community’s ordeal were not responded to. A physical visit to his house also did not yield much fruits.
But the Ntoko protest elicited a counter protest two days later. Some persons from Umuayom village, Awka rallied in support of their compatriot being accused by people from Ntoko
The protesters, who were mostly from Umuifedinma family in Umuoranma village, Awka and Umuikenanunwa family of Umuayom village, Awka, also displayed placards saying: “Ntoko people killed a Police Officer, Martin Onoja (ASP) from the I.G. Monitoring Unit, Abuja who came to serve them invitation notice”, Ntoko people are strangers from Ndi-Ukwu Enu”, and “Ntoko who gave you people guns to shoot and kill?”
The family spokesman, Mr. Clement Ejiofor Ekeh, said the land in question belonged to the two families in the two villages of Awka as their ancestral land.
According to him, the land was given to Ntoko people who came as farmers and hunters from Ndi-Ukwuenu in the present Orumba North Local Government Area of the state to farm.
He said along the line, the people started expanding and claiming ownership of the land. He explained that a court action was instituted against the Ntoko in 1911 which the two families won, and which went up to the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court. He said the Supreme Court gave judgment in 1935 and the two families also won.
He informed that Ntoko people were paying royalty following the Supreme Court judgment till 1978 when they again started to expand and laying claims to ownership of the land. He stated that all the judgments and documents backing up his assertions are in the National archive in Enugu to.
Ekeh said his people came to protest to the state government because the Ntoko people had become violent, destroying houses and maiming the indigenes of the two villages who challenged their visible incursion to the land. He said the action of the Ntoko people climaxed in the killing of a police officer, one Martins Onoja, an Assistant Superintendent of Police attached to the Inspector General of Police monitoring team.
The state Commissioner for Lands, Mr. Bonaventure Enemali who stood in for Governor Obiano this time, promised urgent government intervention in the matter to avert a possible breakdown of law and order.
The commissioner said the state government was already aware of the disputed land measuring over 700 acres and would soon report the matter to the State Boundary Committee which it believed will look at the issue dispassionately and arrive at an amicable settlement.
He commended the placard-wielding protesters for their civilized conduct while presenting their grievances.