…Community asks for compensation, protests
…We have paid you –NIPP
From Chuks Onuoha, Umuahia
Seven members of Oronta Village in Oraigwe Community, Nnono, Oboro, Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State have died, following alleged demolition of their homes by Niger Delta Power Holding Company, NIPP, operators of National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP), which is running high tension wire from Akwa Ibom to Enugu State.
Over 10 others are said to be battling to survive as the news of the demolition had sent rude shocks to their spines, more so as they were not paid adequate compensations to relocate their homes from its present high tension site.
The President General of Oronta Development Union Federated, Sir Friday Chibudo Ifenkwe, who disclosed this to newsmen in Umuahia, as he led hundreds of protesters to besiege the premises of the Federal High Court, Umuahia, protesting the deaths of seven of their members due to the notification/ demolition of their homes and the refusal of the contractors to pay them adequate compensations.
He disclosed that seven worthy citizens of the community, who are below 50 years of age, were cut down by the shock of the demolition/notice issued them by the NIPP contractors who have refused to pay them adequately to relocate to another place.
The placards-carrying protesters chanted war songs, calling on the authorities to intervene over the death of seven of their members whose houses have either been demolished or marked for demolition without compensations.
He said that they were at the premises of the High Court to attract the attention of well-meaning Nigerians and the court, which is the hope of the common man.
“What has befallen us is better imagined than experienced by any community, in less than six months, we have lost seven able-bodied men to the carelessness of NIPP and many others are ailing at the sick bed. The NIPP contractors came to our place with a project but never asked us the value of our landed property and buildings. They made us the more you look , the less you see and before one could know what is going on they had with the help of soldiers started demolishing our homes.
“Even the so-called compensation they claimed to have paid to some people was a sham. We are aware that the Federal Government has a procedure for handling such project, so we feel that we have been deceived. The partway was created within the center of the community and my community Oronta is made up of three villages namely, Okpuala, Umungbaru and Obibia; and they created the partway within the built up and heavily populated areas rather than diverting it to a place that is not inhabited by people,” he said.
He pointed out that this act alone has divided his people, who had gone to the National Human Right Commission on October 14, 2014, to get an injunction for the contractors to stop work.
“Believing that they would obey court order, we relaxed, only for them to come up with a unexpected notice of demolition with the assistance of the police and army, they forcefully ejected us, erected the pillars, connected the high tension wires and embarked on the demolition of people’s homes,” the president general said.
“So, we are here to seek redress and to ask the court that they should resettle the entire village. Their project cannot divide us, we are one people who have been living together from time immemorial. If they want this project to pass through our community, let them resettle the community or divert the line to the area that is not habited by people. That is why we are here because we believe in the rule of law and know that only the court can defend the defenseless. The army manhandled and subjected our children to inhuman treatments, flogging, beating and taking some of our youths to their cantonment where they were dehumanized. The injunction said that they should not change the existing landscape until the matter is determined. We feel that the process in the human rights court is delayed and instead of sitting down to allow this to continue, we should come to the federal high court for redress,” he said.
He explained that their major demand was for their community to be resettled since they can no longer go into the bush to live, as it will look like going back to the dark ages.
“We want this case to be determined as quickly as possible, seven of our men have died because of this very matter, they heard the news of the demolition of their homes and out of shock, they collapsed and died. People like Luke Emeulor, Mark Baba, Azubuike Atuonwu , Godwin Ikoro and many others .The people we have mention are not even old, but those who the shock of the bad news made hypertensive and they could not take it and they died.
But, in a swift reaction, the Managing Director of the consulting firm handling the high tension wire project for NIPP, Mr Ernest O. Uko of Ekere & Associates, insisted that the people have been paid compensations to vacate their homes long before the demolition notice was served them.
“Some time in 2010, we carried out enumeration in that community to identify the impacted properties, had town hall meeting with them, fixed a date for enumeration in which they all participated, and their properties were captured for payment and they have all been paid. I have the prove of all the indemnities they signed with their passports.
“They have all been paid to vacate and given demolition notices, which they signed. We are surprised why they are in court, having collected money to move out of their present place. I did the work as a consultant and the community hired an agent to represent them and their monies were routed through their agents, if their agents were of the opinion that their monies were inadequate, he would have rejected the compensations and they too would not have collected their money, all of them opened bank accounts to collect their money”, Uko said.
He said further that the way forward is for the community to vacate because they cannot collect money and refuse to vacate, saying that they have not presented any evidence that they are undervalued.
He alleged that the protest was instigated by a few people from Oronta, who wanted to frustrate the efforts of the Federal Government.
Earlier, Dr Obi Amonwu, the President General of all the autonomous communities under Oraigwe Community Development Union, explained that their interest was to ensure that due process was followed and justice done.
However, Mr Ladu N. Martins, counsel to the applicants, said that representing Oronta Community said that his clients have a good case before the court.
“The only people who refused to collect their money is one Dr Uche Ekpemiro and his father, who are insisting that the project must be diverted from the community. They are probably the ones who liaised with few persons to go to court to frustrate the efforts of the government,” he said.
“We want the communities to be properly settled and proper compensation paid to us. There should be transparency; we want to know how the whole transaction was done. They have settled some people, but we don’t know to what extent, nothing was transparent, we want the community to be briefed on the effect of the impact of this project in our community, we want to know how we can be resettled because the whole populace have been scattered without proper resettlement, there are no facilities where we had been driven to, in fact; the whole of Oronta can be said to have been wiped out from the map for now, population wise. We are about 12,000 people in Oronta.
“We are protesting because in this country, rule of law and the speed at which the aggrieved get judgement is another thing, as it is said that justice delayed is justice denied, the matter should be sped up so that we should have justice. We are faulting the system and the court is part of the system”, he said,
“We want to tell the people that what the community is facing is not easy. This is a matter where the community is complaining that the national integrated power project is mounting ultra high tension electric wires that are passing through the buildup of the community area, and once the wire passes through a house, the house is going and it will cost the community to relocate the community to another area which will cost them issue of school, market , hospital and roads, without paying any compensation to them , that is why they are here in court to seek redress.
“It is the action of the NIPP that made the people to come to court otherwise they would have opted settling this matter out of court. They are not here because they want to punish the NIPP, but to seek for redress because this is the only option they have. The matter was before the Human Rights Commission which granted injunction restraining them from going on with their activities, but they disobeyed the Human Rights Commission and went on with their activities, so we are only praying that they obey this court order”, he said.