From Mokwugwo Solomon, Nnewi
As women across the globe marked this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8, women from Enuagu Mgbede, Umuopu Umuatuolu and Umuinu Ogbu, all in Umueri community in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State, were not part of the commemoration. Instead, they mobilised; came out large numbers and once again, expressed their frustrations over alleged conversion of their ancestral lands by the Anambra State government for the proposed cargo airport project.
Though the women took the lead in the protest, but they were not alone as hundreds of persons from the concerned families, kindred and villages stormed the airport project site as early as 6:30am. They prevented labourers working at the airport site from accessing their duty posts. They insisted that no further work would go on at the site until their grievances were addressed.
The people made bonfire with old tyres on the road leading to the site of the airport project, they also blocked the Oyi Bridge axis of the Otuocha-Nteje-Awkuzu road, brandishing placards of different inscriptions, and chanting songs depicting frustrations and anger. The protest slowed vehicular movements for about four hours. Most of the protesters were women, who went uncontrollably wild. Some of them tore their clothes, exposing their chest regions, as their own way of further expressing their worries over what they called forceful takeover of their lands, about 1,200 hectares, by the Anambra government, without any compensation to the land owners. Joint security team of police and soldiers was also on ground to forestall breakdown of law and order.
Some of their placards read: “We gave 729.606 hectares of land to Anambra government, but they forcefully took additional 1,200 hectares,” “Go back to the 729.606 hectares of land originally gazetted for the airport project,” “We can’t allow this project to go on if government signs no MOU with our community,” “Anambra government has taken over our lands; where do we farm? Are we to become refugees in our own land?”
Spokesman of the protesting villages, Uchenna Ndumanya, said that the three villages collectively gave Anambra government 729.606 hectares of land for the airport project, for which they were compensated. He claimed that the state further ‘grabbed’ additional 1,200 hectares of land without consent of the owners or compensation them: “During Ngige administration, the three concerned villages collectively gave 729.606 hectares of land for the airport project, for which we were compensated. The land was also gazetted. But during this present administration, the state abandoned the gazetted 729.606 hectares. The state forcefully grabbed additional 1,200 hectares, totalling about 1,901 hectares. There was no compensation! The additional 1,200 hectares of land is where they are building the airport now; while they are sharing the gazetted 729.606 hectares among government officials.
“We wrote to the state government under Willie Obiano, about this. He responded through a letter with reference number: SSG/GS/TUARI/8/4/T.2/3, dated 19th November, 2020. In the said letter of reply, the state government acknowledged receipt of our letter, and promised to meet with our representatives within one week; but since then, nobody called us for any meeting. We wrote to the police, DSS and others, but there was not action. This is why we decided to go this way. We shall continue to occupy this site for the next one month, and no work will go on within this period. If, after the expiration of the one month period, government failed to act on our demands, we are going to change strategy, and make sure we frustrate the project. All we need is to have the excess lands they acquired back to our community.”
Also, leader of the women group, Mrs Ugo Nwakonuche, begged the state government: “We’re supporting Obiano’s government because he is our brother; but we will not allow his government to take all our lands. Where shall our children build their houses? Where shall our people do their farming? Our community is gone without this land.”
She said if after the protest, the land was not released by the government, the women would protest fully naked, and would be forced to put seven deities on the land in dispute, and place curse on it.
President-General of Umueri General Assembly, Chief Pious Okonkwo, further explained that: “Umueri as a community is aware of the protest, but the people that trooped to the airport site to protest were mainly the families, whose lands were involved. As we all know, government’s developments are like church developments; they always come with hidden agenda. When you give them an inch, they will take a mile.
“I had the privilege of living in Dallas, Texas, in the United States. Dallas has one of the biggest airports in the United States and the world. The hectares of land used for the Dallas airport is by far below what has been acquired for the Anambra Cargo Airport. How could Anambra acquire about two thousand hectares of land for mere cargo airport? What are they going to do with the excess land? By acquiring over 1, 900 hectares of land from one community alone, the Anambra State government has succeeded in denying my people access to farmlands and places of abode.”
He agreed that Obiano’s government inherited the airport project; yet, said that Government is a continuum, so, the governor should resolve the issue once and for all: “His government has to defend the excess land forcefully acquired from this community. The state government initially demanded for 700 hectares of land; our people gave out about 729.606 hectares. Why do they later acquire additional hectares without the consent of the community? There is no equity there. That is the basis for the protests. If 729.606 hectares, which I believe is more than enough for the airport, is not enough for them, let them relocate the cargo airport to another area.”
The State’s Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Don Adinuba, said that the Obiano’s government did not add an inch to the size of land it inherited from its predecessor, Obi, for the purpose of the airport project; adding that Umueri women were being used and manipulated: “With the land in Umueri and environs now having greater value than ever before, because of the ongoing airport project, a lot of people want to retake as much part of the land as possible.
“We are in election year, so, expect more of such dramas. The dramatists – producers, writers, marketers and actors – believe they can extract so much from the authorities this time. Lest I forget, the leaders of the Ifite Umueri community, met the governor and other top government officials recently, and more compensation has been paid. We pray that the airport will be completed without disruptions anymore.”