From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
This period is not the best of times for hundreds of landlords and residents of Egwuatu Estate, Abata Nsugbe, Anambra State.
Residents of the area, located near the popular Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe, are living in fear and apprehension, following the alleged invasion of the estate by some suspected land speculators.
The suspected speculators have allegedly destroyed some properties in the estate, sacked builders from construction sites and brutalised residents who attempted to resist the invasion.
Some of the landlords are reportedly on the run for their lives, while many residents have fled from the area.
They recently addressed journalists in a secluded area in Onitsha where they converged to strategise on finding a way out of the problem. The residents staged a peaceful demonstration to drive home their pain and problems.
The traumatised residents bore placards with various inscriptions. They include: Governor Obiano, IGP, save us from our oppressors; Right to ownership of properties is our fundamental right; Our lives and those of our family members are in great danger, save our souls; We don’t want violence and bloodshed; Nigeria Police, rise up to your duty please; Cost of living is very hard in Nigeria today, stop destroying our properties and building materials, among others.
Chairman of Egwuatu Landlords Association, Emeka Ojukwu said the landlords acquired their properties legitimately from the Egwuatu family over 15 years ago and have all lived peacefully in the area without any dispute from any quarter until the latest invasion from the strange people.
The residents fingered an Onitsha Chief, Okechukwu Ibekwe (Omodi Daike of Onitsha) as the mastermind of their ordeal, stating that the Onitsha chief uses two of his lieutenants known as ‘Igbo’ and ‘America’ respectively to unleash violence on them.
But Chief Ibekwe, when contacted, denied all the allegations. He explained that his men were only engaged to develop the area as estate developers.
The landlords said they could not continue to live at the mercy of their attackers in an area where they legitimately acquired properties. They said they were crying out so that the relevant government bodies and security agencies could come to their aid.
“The recent menace and destruction being carried out in our community is unacceptable. We’ve had cases of property theft and destruction carried out by unauthorised persons. We have registered security personnel who we hired to safeguard lives and property within our estate.
“We carried out maintenance work to renovate the security post. Unfortunately, the hired thugs destroyed the structure and also threatened the lives of our association members.
“With over 20 thugs, they laid siege to the residence of our chairman, Mr. Emeka Ojukwu, threatened to kill him and deal with other association members.
“On Thursday April 22, a detachment of policemen from the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Awka led by an Inspector of Police and the leader of our attackers forcefully gained entrance into Mr Ojukwu’s compound. The officer leading them threatened Mr Ojukwu’s wife and allowed the thugs access to the compound,” the landlords said.
Secretary of the association, Nduka Nwanolue, said the team ransacked the entire rooms in the house and the wife who wanted to film their actions in case they plant any incriminating material in the house was also forced not to do so.
He said after ransacking the house and could not find anything or also locate Mr Ojukwu who was not at home then, they dropped a police invitation letter for him requesting his presence at the SCID, Awka.
He regretted that from April 23, the invaders continued going round the estate, threatening workers on different construction sites, seizing their materials and phones and asking for monetary payments.
“The two leaders of the thugs attacking us categorically stated that they are working based on the instruction of Chief Ibekwe, the Omodi of Onitsha while even as we speak, two police Hilux vans have been stationed inside the estate to back them in their destruction.”
The affected landlords and residents have also written petitions to the Inspector General of Police, the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Zone 13 Zonal Police headquarters in Ukpo, Anambra State and the Commissioner of Police, Anambra State.
In one of the petitions by the law firm of C.E Umezude and CO and dated April 7 2021, the petitioners urged the police to investigate a case of “Conspiracy to commit felony, malicious damage, threat to life and conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace at Egwuatu Estate, Nsugbe.”
The petitioners asked the police to investigate one Ikechukwu Okafor alias “Igbo” and his cohorts who allegedly “invaded the estate and maliciously damaged properties, threatened to kill and generally conducted themselves in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace.
“It is our instruction that the above named persons and some other persons unknown to our client led a group of thugs bearing dangerous weapons and some other individuals wearing police uniform into Egwuatu Estate.
“They also came with a bulldozer with which they damaged farmlands, building materials and various plots of land belonging to members of our client’s association. Members of our client’s association could not do anything on the said date as they were completely taken unawares.”
The petition alleged that the process was repeated on Monday, April 5, but without the presence of the police.
“The Chairman of our client’s association, Comrade Emeka Ojukwu approached the above named Ikechukwu Okafor and his group to know what was the issue whereupon they threatened to kill him and warned him to keep off and inform other landlords in the estate that they should vacate from the estate as they are now the new or rightful owners of the estate and have come to take over the entire estate by force.”
“As a result of the above unfortunate incident or development, all the landlords and residents in the estate are now living in fear of imminent attack and or loss of lives and properties hence this petition. We therefore pray that you use your good offices to urgently intervene in this matter to forestall the commission of any further offence and to bring the culprits to book” they prayed.
When the reporter caught up with Chief Okey Ibekwe, he said members of the landlords association are crying wolf where none exists, noting that the complainants know what to do if they feel they are being unjustly treated.
Chief Omodi said that he was only performing his legal duties as an estate developer and never knocked down nor seized anybody’s property.
“If they feel that my boys are overstepping their boundaries, they can come and report to me but as I’m talking to you now, I’ve not seen any of them with any complaints. My office is open and I’m very accessible. As an elder and prominent Ndichie Onitsha, there are certain things I cannot do.
“My company was engaged by the Ogwuari people in Nsugbe and we work as estate developers and we have been working. Everybody knows that whenever you enter into a new layout, thugs must actually come to disturb, but we invited the police to forestall any trouble and safeguard us to work peacefully.
“We did not enter the place to destroy anybody’s house. I thought the best they could have done is to come to me for clarification if any. We are all Igbo and can ask further questions if they are not satisfied. But I think they are being misled by someone or some persons. We only came to develop the place and not to victimise anybody” he said.
On his part, Ikechukwu Okafor, alias Igbo, fingered as the man leading the invasion, told the reporter to ask the landlords the authenticity of their land documents to show that the place belongs to them.
“All I know is that we have come to take possession of what belongs to us,” he quipped.
The police on the other hand said they got involved only on the angle of maintaining peace without taking sides.
The Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Anambra State Command, Ikenga Tochi, a Superintendent of Police, confirmed that the command was aware of the developments in the estate.
He said preliminary investigation revealed that the matter was a case of encroachment and boundary issues, noting that the main interest of the police in the first instance was to forestall crisis and violence.
The PPRO said some people have been invited for questioning in connection with the matter and advised parties to not only maintain peace at all times but also explore legal means when necessary without resort to self help and shortcuts.