From Magnus Eze, Enugu
Security and anti-graft agencies as well as courts are daily inundated with cases of land tussles in Enugu State. But the on going case involving the Commissioner for Lands, Dr Victor Nnam, and businessman, Kingsley Eze, and other unknown actors, has continued to stir public interest.
The land in question is located at Awkunanaw, in Enugu South Local Government where Second Republic governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, hails from. Between 1979 and 1983 when Nwobodo was governor, he sought to site the Anambra State University of Technology (ASUTECH), in Awkunanaw, his hometown.
He commissioned survey works be carried out, pursuant to the acquisition of an estimated 318.560 hectares of land cutting across Amechi Awkunanaw and Obeagu Awkunanaw. Preliminary survey was done and endorsed by the then the then Surveyor General, M.U.C Obi. It was dated March 8, 1982, with tracing number MISC AN-53. Nwobodo could neither complete the acquisition nor start the university project.
Governor Sullivan Chime initiated the Centenary City project in 2009 to mark 100 years of existence of Enugu city. He allegedly acquired 1079.128 hectares of land from Amechi and Obeagu communities using a survey plan dated 1985 bearing the name of Enugu State University of Science and Technology. At this time, Enugu State was not yet created. All these were done in favour of Private Estate International West Africa Limited (PEIWA) Limited, floated by one Kingsley Eze.
Disturbed by the incessant harassment, a traditional ruler, Igwe Mike Nnukwu and leaders of Amechi Awkunanaw and Obeagu recently petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, over continued intimidation of the community by the Special Tactical Squad (STS) despite a directive from Inspector General’s Office to discontinue such.
They alleged that a real estate developer was using the STS to forcefully divest their ancestral land: “The squad has continued to hunt and intimidate members of the community, Ozor Joseph Nnaji, Igwe Nnukwu” using a police inspector.
The case, filed at the Federal High Court, Enugu against the Commissioner for Lands was not unconnected with the Awkunanaw land. Stakeholders there accused Eze of masterminding the move.
The commissioner Daily Sun, his own side of the story: “What happened was that, in 2014, in the course of my private practice as a licensed surveyor, I carried out certain survey services for Private Estates International West Africa Ltd. After diligently carrying out the survey works, we parted ways shortly after. I have never been and would never have been their staff as they purport in their media propaganda.
“I have been a staff of and lectured at the Enugu State University before I was made a commissioner. I am still a lecturer. I only took leave of absence to enable me serve in government.
“Secondly, when I became commissioner, they had a wrong belief that I would be there to protect their interest. I discovered that government gave them a C-of-O in 2009. They waved the premium. They didn’t pay the premium and the ground rent. After 10 years, they are yet to pay anything.
So, government revoked the C-of-O on that basis.
“Because they expected me to do their bidding and protect their interests instead of that of the state, they started fighting me.”
He dismissed the case of alleged forgery against him, arguing that a surveyor only works with documents provided him by his clients and does not manufacture documents. He denied that he was ever investigated and arrested: “These things you see going on, is because some of those fighting me have perfected the act of treachery in land grabbing. They have amassed so much wealth from it. They are afraid. Imagine somebody who took over 1,000 hectares of community land.
“He did not pay government or the community. He did not even repay the bank loans he took from the bank. Instead, he was busy selling the land and living larger-than-life. He had the guts to come out and accuse me of forgery. He is the one who should be arrested and jailed. He committed the fraud.”
The commissioner claimed that the company owed government premium of about N4.7 billion: “Ground rent and premiums were ways the Ministry of Lands generates revenue for government.”
Daily Sun gathered that the trial of the commissioner might have taken a new twist as Chigbogu Eze, Oguejiofor Egbo, Sunday Ngene and Christian Okoh; four witnesses listed in the case have reportedly disassociated themselves from it. In their separate depositions at the Federal High Court, Enugu, the four witnesses said they were withdrawing because of the poor investigation carried out, leading to the on going prosecution of the commissioner. They added that they would only be part of the case after thorough investigation by police.