Geoffrey Anyanwu, Enugu
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Enugu Zone, recently disclosed that over 80 per cent of petitions received were land related. Statistics of land cases in the dockets are also high in courts.
In many cities of the region, young men and even elders have become land speculators. Land business has become lucrative in the sense that a particular land could be sold and resold by one individual to different buyers.
However, the peculiarity of the situation in Enugu State has turned almost every community within and around the state capital against each other while on the other hand some of them also square up against government.
The scenario is that either communities are fighting over boundaries or government is forcefully possessing community lands in the guise of overriding public interest which people allege in the long run ends up as private estates.
The most common word on the lips of the people now in Enugu is land grabbing. Since return of democracy in 1999, the controversy over land has become a recurring issue. Almost every government in the state since was involved.
Daily Sun was told that the Chimaroke Nnamani-led administration of 1999 to 2007 did not experience pronounced controversy over land. The only land it took from communities was the one housing the permanent site of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Agbani. The land was said to have been donated by his kinsmen from the six communities of Agbani.
But the administration denied the state of its recreational centre, the popular Enugu Zoo, which was converted to private estate where plots of land were either allocated or sold to private individuals and politicians.
However, when Sullivan Chime’s administration came on board, it annexed some government land to private concerns like the large portion of the State House of Assembly land partitioned and given to a group that built what is today Enugu Shopping Mall. The administration was also accused of allocating portions of the International Conference Centre land to family members and politicians for private residencies.
The same administration moved to Agbanaland owned by two communities of Amechi and Obeagu Awkunanaw in Enugu South Local Government and annexed more portions into an existing parcel of land earlier donated by the two communities for the building of then Anambra State University of Technology (now ESUT).
The contentious land, which is an object of serious tension in the state now, according to the communities, was 318 hectares before the Chime administration allegedly increased it to 1,097 hectares without the consent of the land owners or any form of compensation.
The government allegedly renamed the place, Centenary City, and brought in some private developers who were developing it for business purposes. This has remained a subject of controversy as the communities insisted that they did not give their land for private use and should be returned to them since it was no longer used for the university project.
At the height of the tension over the property, the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration in November last year revoked the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) of the Centenary City, claiming that its action was in the interest of peace.
However, the anticipated peace from the government action seemed to have exacerbated the whole thing with the new dimension the matter has taken. Government appears to be in a dilemma as the Awkunanaw communities, which endorsed its action are now demanding that the land be returned to them while the private developers on the other hand dragged government to court.
The communities staged what they called “Liberation rally and thank you visit” to the Government House on February 28, 2020, where they handed their request to the government. In the document signed by Richard Nnamani and Chief Andy Ogbu; they stated:
“We are here today to thank the Government of Enugu State for taking the bold step to revoke the fraudulent Certificate of Occupancy of the trespassers on our land. We, however, want to demand that the process be finalised quickly enough so that we can begin the process of healing and recovery from the over a decade of harassment, intimidation and oppression.
“Despite the respite that this has seemingly brought to our people, and in view of the known fact that, at no time did our people give out our land to any government, corporate body or individual, we demand an express pronouncement of the return of the land from the government even though we know that it is what is implied by the earlier revocation.”
Also, former governor of the old Anambra State, Senator Jim Nwobodo, who was alleged to have acquired the 318 hectares of land, said he did so specifically for the purpose of building the state university and that the land should be returned to the owners now the university has been built elsewhere.
He said: “Almost four decades ago, I believed that siting a university in my homestead would guarantee the advancement of my people. I tried but alas, I could not complete the process of acquisition and development before the change of government in October of 1983.”
On the other hand, the private developers, PEIWA, expressed shock at the action of the state government. Its chairman, Pat Utomi said: “On November 27, 2019, the Government of Enugu State, with no prior notice of any breach whatsoever, issued a Notice of Revocation of the 1,097 hectares of the land granted to PEIWA.
“Since there was no basis for this drastic act, PEIWA’s solicitors wrote the ENSG giving notice of their intention to go to court. PEIWA also reached out to the ENSG to ascertain the reason for the purported revocation and to complain that no notice of intention to revoke was served on it.
“Matters soon escalated when the ENSG despite the peace moves of PEIWA went on the land put up signboards advertising the land for sale. The board of PEIWA was therefore forced to seek legal redress from the High Court in Enugu State. On 17/12/2019, an interim injunction was granted restraining the ENSG, its agents and privies from taking steps to implement the said order of revocation. The matter is still pending in court.”
Utomi alleged that in spite of the interim court injunction, various persons claiming to be owners of the land had invaded the place, destroying structures running into hundreds of millions of naira: “The impunity with which these acts was carried on, suggested some official encouragement and protection.
“Surprisingly, the ENSG has now ‘manufactured’ a Notice of Intention to revoke the C of O. The notice of intention which is dated 30/10/2019 and gave PEIWA 21 days’ notice of its intention to revoke the C of O for non-payment of ground rent and premium.
The notice of intention was allegedly delivered to PEIWA on 30/11/2019. In other words, by the papers ENSG filed in the case in court, it revoked the C of O, three days before it delivered the notice of intention to revoke. There can be no clearer manifestation of fraud and ill-motivated malice.”
Meanwhile, government has issues over land with some communities on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Highway where HEILU Residences, a private estate, is located. The land, which originally belonged to Amechi community became contentious some years back as the community could not agree on sharing formula.
A fight ensued during one of their meetings resulting in the death of two members of the community. This necessitated government’s intervention and eventual take over before handing it over to private estate developers.
In 2018, government one morning, moved bulldozers into the premises of Women Training Centre (WTC), Ogui, originally owned by Ogui Nike community, which they gave to the then Eastern Nigeria Government for building of schools.
Despite the existence of three secondary and three primary schools in the area, government cleared the undeveloped plots and sold them off to individuals who started building private residences that now compete for space with the schools. The same scenario played out at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT).
Also, there was an attempt to convert undeveloped plots at Christ Church, Uwani (Anglican) to private residence. This was resisted by some priests and members of the church but they were brutally dealt with by some agents.
Perhaps, one of the issues now unsettling the state is the ownership tussle of the spacious Premier Layout Extension between the Ogui Nike community in Enugu North Council and Ugwuaji community in Enugu South Council.
Lives were narrowly saved following a bloody fight that erupted when Ogui Nike people who reportedly attempted to stop demolition of their buildings were attacked by the Ugwuaji people. At the last count, five persons from Ogui Nike were severely injured and rushed to the hospital. Governor Ugwuanyi was moved to visit the disputed land by the pathetic cries of Ogui Nike women who protested at the Government House.