From Chuks Onuoha, Umuahia
People in Oronta community in Oboro, Ikwuano Local Government Area, Abia State, are in anguish after being defrauded by estate surveyors and valuers, who negotiated the compensation that was paid to them in respect of the right way for the high-tension transmission line being constructed under the National Independent Power Project (NIPP) programme, and which passed through the community.
The surveyors, who were granted power of attorney by affected property owners, to represent them in the negotiation were alleged to have connived with some other key figures in the community to shortchange the property owners in the exercise.
Today, the affected people have been left with ash in their mouths and ugly tales of the experience with the estate surveyors and valuers. The amount that was eventually paid to them was paltry and not a reflection of the value of their land, properties, economic or cash crops.
Sunday Sun gathered from the aggrieved people that they had agreed that the surveyors should get a percentage of the compensation. But the valuers went beyond their brief and in connivance with key figures in the community, swindled the property owners. The accomplices of the surveyors in the community are now said to be moving about in SUVs while the property owners who should have benefited handsomely from the compensation are agonizing over their loss.
After murmuring privately, Oronta people organized a protest march to draw the attention of the Federal Government to the injustice done to them by the estate surveyors and valuers.
A youth leader in the community, Mr Ihechukwu Ugoala, said the NIPP project, which passed through their community did not in any way favour them as they were swindled and denied their due reward.
He called on the government to revisit the evaluation exercise and ensure that what is due to them is given to them.
His words: “No environmental impact assessment document was shown to us; we were not even shown the value of our structures and buildings as evaluated by the estate surveyors who evaluated our properties. Everything they did was shrouded in secrecy and carried out in the most fraudulent manner, in connivance with some prominent leaders of the community to the detriment of the common people like us. We are not happy the way it was carried out. At the end of the day, to shut us up, they gave us peanuts as money for our properties, which was not what we expected from them. If they had carried out their assignments in the open, making our people aware of what transpired, we would not have complained, but we smelt fraud with the way things were done. Our people are not happy especially the youths, we were not given due consideration in any way.
“They stormed this place, intimidated us with soldiers, police and other security operatives just to have their way, but they forget that we live here and can do anything we so wish. But because we are law-abiding people, we decided to take up our matter lawfully. We are not happy at all; the only people who can claim to be happy over what has happened here are those who connived with them to defraud us and they are all here in this community, buying and driving choice cars and SUVs. The youths who are the future leaders of this country cannot be undermined. So our demand is that they should send genuine people back to Oronta community to re-evaluate our properties and pay us appropriately. The little money they gave to us could not solve our accommodation problem. The government must prosecute those who evaluated our properties and shortchanged. We will not keep quiet about it. We are aware that President Muhammadu Buhari is a man who hates corruption, he should demonstrate it by ensuring that the corrupt valuers, who perpetrated the evil are prosecuted. No community survives under this kind of atmosphere and operation of wicked people in our system.”
Speaking also, a female victim of the fraud, whose property was undervalued, Mrs Onyebuchi Ikoro, said that the valuers underpaid them to the extent that they could not accomplish any project with the money paid.
Pointing to an unfinished structure that has been overgrown by weeds, she said: “We started this house since 2013 and up till now we cannot even complete the house. We are demanding that our properties be properly valued and the value paid to us to enable us complete the buildings we started. Today, the structure we started has been overgrown by weeds and taken over by reptiles. Promises they made that they would construct roads to our buildings were not fulfilled, so we are at a crossroad. There are some streams and rivers that we will cross to get to our buildings and now that it is rainy season, we cannot access our sites again. They said that they would bring bulldozer to clear our roads, but all those were empty promises that were never fulfilled. Even now the cost of building houses has gone up, so if you check the rate of inflation between 2013 and now, you will know that there is no amount that we are given that is too much for us to settle down. We were shortchanged and defrauded by those valuers contracted to evaluate our properties. It is because our people are peace loving otherwise we would not have allowed them to pass through our community without paying us adequately.
Deacon Enyinnaya Atuonwu explained that Oronta people are law abiding: “The NIPP project was evaluated in 2009 and we were paid in 2013, you can imagine how far inflation must have affected the whole payment value. The worth of our properties in 2009 cannot be the same in 2013. First we were underpaid, as a result nobody has been able to complete any project started as you can see. Secondly, there is no access road, the environment is not habitable, most of us who attempted to live there have been attacked by snakes and other dangerous reptiles. There is no electricity, no pipe borne water. The water pipeline we had before was destroyed by the heavy equipment, which they were using for the project. So as I talk to you now, the community is exposed to the dangers of water borne diseases. Before the relocation and during the time we were talking with them, they promised to provide those amenities, but up till now, nothing has been done.
“We want the government to reconsider this community, revisit everything that took place here to ensure that we are adequately compensated. The Federal Government should intervene to make sure that we are adequately paid according to the value of our properties. They should save us from the hands of the greedy estate valuers.
“Of note is the issue of the relocation of our ancestral gods to their places of abode. When we told them, they said that they would ensure that it was done, only for them to run away with our money. They refused to pay for the graves of our loved ones; so if we leave every other thing, we cannot allow them to desecrate the graves of our fathers and forefathers without compensation. For now traditional worshipers in our midst are daily groaning that their gods are not at ease and would one day unleash their wrath on the people if nothing is done fast to settle them. So many things went wrong with those estate valuers, our call is that our community be revisited and our properties reevaluated.”
Another member of the community, Mr Onyemachi Sampson, said that the power line that passed through their community has caused more harm than good.
“The money which they paid to us could not purchase a plot of land, not to talk of completing the building. The power holding people work from time to time, and whenever they switch on the line, we don’t sleep or have rest because of the type of heat it generates. Government should come to our rescue. Some of our aged people cannot withstand the tremor and they have been dying one after the other. If we are not relocated as soon as possible, people will wake up one day to see that all of us are dead. How can we move from completed buildings to uncompleted buildings? How can they demolish our buildings when we don’t have any place to relocate?”
Recall that since the NIPP project started, many of the communities in the South East traversed by the power transmission line have had ugly experiences with the estate surveyor and valuers who undertook the contract. From Owerri in Imo State, to Alaoji in Aba, and Oronta in Umuahia, the story is the same.