…16 in detention, others live in fear
Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Barely three weeks ago, there was great excitement in Akpoha clan in Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State following the distribution of N19 million.
That day, natives of the community trooped to the village square to share the money which was a compensatory payment from a mining company, Asphalt Construction Company.
The community, Daily Sun gathered, had leased a piece of land to the company for the purpose of mining stones (quarry business). The lease would last for 25 years as it was reportedly contained in the Memorandum of Association endorsed by both parties.
Former member of House of Representatives for Afikpo North/Afikpo South Federal Constituency, Chief Christopher Omo-Isu, told Daily Sun at the village square where the money was shared that the business deal was sealed on March 3, 2018.
“I kept that money and today, they requested for it. The entire people are here to share it. We have two communities: Amata and Amogu that make up Akpoha clan,” he said.
Chairman of the ad-hoc committee set up for that purpose, Chief Igwe Philip, said the MoU had the endorsement of the two traditional rulers of the two communities in the clan, 356 land owners, as well as other community leaders.
Breaking the figure down, Igwe explained that the commencement fee was N12 million while annual land rate was N7 million totalling N19 million.
To many, the cash came just in time as it would enable them foot the bills of the farming ventures.
But that joy was shortlived as a combined team of security operatives comprising the army, police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and others allegedly on the orders of the state government raided the community on May 22 and arrested some natives over the mining deal.
Eyewitness account said there was pandemonium as people reportedly ran helter-skelter to evade arrest and possible prosecution by the state authorities.
When the chaotic situation settled, the lucky ones reportedly sneaked out of their hidings to discover that many of their kinsmen had been whisked away to the state police command headquarters in Abakaliki, the state capital.
Those who spoke to Daily Sun told pathetic stories of how many of them, especially the aged ones, sustained injuries even as some others allegedly suffered high blood pressure while the brouhaha lasted.
The villagers alleged that the security operatives also raided the mining site and arrested their kinsmen working with the company and a Lebanese.
A community leader, Mr Emmanuel Mba Isu, alleged that the security agents harassed and intimidated the villagers, especially women and the elderly.
But to get their kinsmen released from police cell, natives of the community, especially the aged men and women, besieged the premises of the state Police Command, Abakaliki, in protest on May 23.
Armed with their walking sticks, the elderly men sat on the ground outside the premises of the command while the younger men among them moved from one office to the other to seek the release of their brothers.
Mba Isu who led the aggrieved villagers explained that the security operatives raided their community following a petition from some persons in the community alleging that the company did not obey government’s rules.
“We gave them our agreement with which they got their licence from the Federal Government. If they breached protocols, will that warrant the police arresting the villagers? Should that not be government versus the company? My people were pummelled, embarrassed, intimidated, mangled, and unlawfully arrested. There were no human rights observed in Akpoha that they came with army to harass civilians.
“They chased women, pregnant women and helpless civilians over a business that was lawfully done. These people have their license from the Federal Government”, he alleged.
Another source accused government of playing politics with their natural endowment.
“From what we have on ground, the government wants to turn this natural blessing to a curse to our people and we will resist it. High-handedness like this would definitely scare away other investors,” he lamented.
Efforts to get the reaction of relevant government officials proved abortive as they were not friendly with series of calls put to their mobile phones by our correspondent. Those who picked gave reasons why they would not be able to talk on the issue at that moment but never retuned the calls days later.
However, Special Adviser to Governor David Umahi on Solid Minerals, Mrs. Nwakaego Nworie, picked her phone but hung up when our correspondent began to table the matter before her. Subsequent calls to her mobile phone were neither picked nor returned as at the time of filing this report.
Police spokesperson in the state, Loveth Odah, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, confirmed the arrest of 16 persons including a Lebanese. She said the arrest was a result of a petition by some stakeholders of the community over the business deal alleging that the land in matter was in dispute. She said investigations had commenced.