Gyang Bere, Jos
Residents of Naraguta village in Jos North Local Government Area of Plateau State are wriggling in pains. This followed the demolition of their houses on Saturday, March 7, 2020, by the Jos Metropolitan Development Board (JMDB).
The demolition was sequel to the request of the University of Jos, which had accused the landlords of trespassing on its land. Following the repeated petitions by the university, the state government decided to set up a technical committee to investigate and resolve the matter.
However, in between these periods, some land vendors took advantage of unsuspecting buyers and kept selling out plots of the land to buyers who converted same to structures. Perhaps, the government could not have slammed the landlords at this stage of the dispute if not for a series of events that erupted lately.
Just as the interventions were going on, some suspected hoodlums attacked some management and staff of the university. Witnesses said the fracas happened on Saturday, February 22, 2020, while a team from the university inspected the disputed land.
According to their accounts, the delegation was confronted by the suspected hoodlums from the neighbouring village. “They asked the university officials to stop whatever they were doing on the land, claiming that the land in question belonged to them. They said parts of the land had been sold to certain individuals,” said a witness.
He added: “Security personnel around initially repelled their advances but they went back and regrouped, enlisting the help of more hoodlums from neighbouring communities.”
Innocent students of the university were not spared as those of them resident in Naraguta were identified and beaten to stupor, while houses belonging to villagers occupied by the students, were identified, destroyed and set on fire.
This is the background that led to the last push. On Saturday, March 7, 2020, JMDB brought in graders and brought down the illegal houses. Many residents were affected differently. Children, women and the aged were left stranded and homeless.
Suleiman Mohammed, whose house was destroyed, explained that his house was not on the land of the University of Jos, saying that he had appealed in vain to them to spare his house:
“I was about to go to school that fateful day when my wife drew my attention to what was happening. I told them that my land was not on the land of University of Jos but they couldn’t listen. I was parking out my belongings when the grader destroyed the house. Some of my properties were still inside when the house collapsed.
“I am begging government to look into the matter with a view to compensating the victims. I think there is need for the university management to meet with those affected to reach an agreement on the need to compensate them for the structures they have raised on the land. For me, my house was not on the land of the university, I bought my land and the papers have the stamp of the traditional ruler.”
But the management of the university insisted that all the houses around the area were built illegally on the university’s land. Senior Deputy Registrar, Vice Chancellor’s office, Wilson Yale, alleged that over the years, some individuals encroached on the same land.
He said the land in question, which had belonged to the defunct Nigerian Bricks and Clay Products Limited, was purchased by the university through a competitive bidding from the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE). He added that since they acquired the land, it had been under siege by land grabbers who sold portions of it to people who erected illegal structures on them, most of which were built at nights.
He said the university community, being a law-abiding institution, sought the intervention of the state government, which led to the constitution of a 10-man committee, chaired by the former chairman of Jos North LG. The committee had representatives from the Ministry of Land, Survey and Town Planning, University of Jos, the Jatau family, JMDB, Ron Properties Development Company, the distrcict head of Righizah, Senior Ward Head of Naraguta and Ministry of Justice:
“The committee submitted its report to government; after a careful study of the report, government issued a white paper in November, 2019. The white paper authenticated the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) No PL9636 issued in 1988 measuring 119.50 hectres issued to the Nigerian Bricks and Clay Products Limited, now the property of the University of Jos.
“The unfortunate incidence of Saturday, February 22, 2020, happened when the university was trying to secure its land by digging a trench to stop further encroachment into the land.
“Some irate youth forcefully chased workers on the site, though this is not the first time they had been confronting the workers.
“The recent one turned out to be the most violent in which students were attacked and wounded, houses rented by students of the university and a place of worship with several other property destroyed.”
He noted that government reacted promptly to the situation, summoning an emergency meeting with the management of the university, traditional rulers of Rigizah and Naraguta and others from the two communities where it resolved that: “The property in question is covered by a Certificate of Occupancy legitimately acquired by the University of Jos.
“The university therefore has the right to demarcate and secure its property against encroachment by land grabbers.
“The university should continue with the work it has started. The university should dig its trench for the demarcation three metres away from any existing old building.
“All illegal buildings that sprung up after the acquisition of the land by the university should be demolished and was recommended that an Implementation Advisory Committee would be set up for the implementation of the Government White Paper.”
Meanwhile, Governor Simon Lalong at the combined convocation of College of Education, Gindiri, said: “Government frowns at the reports of encroachment into land belonging to the college by land grabbers.
“I therefore direct the Commissioner for Higher Education to immediately liaise with the Commissioner for Lands and management of the college to address the situation.
“While that is going on, government will ensure the completion of the fencing of the college to deter further encroachment. We do not want the situation with the encroachment of land belonging to the University of Jos to repeat itself here.
“Let me warn all land grabbers to desist from such acts because government will not fold its arms and watch lawlessness being perpetrated. The State Executive Council has already forwarded a bill to the House of Assembly against land grabbing, and once it is passed into law, offenders will be prosecuted and jailed.”