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Communal land ownership, land grabbers’ antics in Enugu State

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Sullivan Chime, Former Enugu State Governor.


• Flipside Of Police Brutality

Following the heightened attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents in the northern part of the country, as well as, the general feeling of insecurity in the nation, the demand for land and mortgage increased in Southeast, particularly Enugu State.

The scramble for land stoked fresh concerns as land ownership disputes escalated. In some cases, owners and communities made conflicting claims, even as speculators cashed in on the increased demands to ambush desperate developers.

Recently, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, sent a signal to the Commissioner of Police (CP) Enugu State, Ahmad Abdulrahman, urging the CP to check the trespass on a parcel of land owned by Mrs. Uju Ohanenye, a businesswoman.

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The IGP also directed the Enugu CP to looking into complaints that some policemen from the Enugu command were involved in the land ownership squabble that had been a subject of judicial interrogation.

Worried that some policemen were actually providing cover for the trespassers on her landed property in violation of extant court pronouncements, Mrs. Ohanenye had petitioned the IGP. She disclosed that an unidentified couple became tenant at will on her land in violation of a February 6, 2018 order by an Enugu State High Court.

The petitioner also disclosed that another order was granted in her favour on November 27, 2020 by an Enugu State Chief Magistrates’ Court, stressing that the two judgments upheld her ownership of the two-hectare land situated in Emene industrial area of the state in violation of the two court orders.

Such spectacles are a common narrative. For instance, the Chairman of Peace Mass Transit, Dr. Sam Onyishi, expressed regrets that his efforts to establish a University of Entrepreneurship was met with the frustrating demands by some individuals, who came up after he purchased some hectatres of land from the community.

Onyishi disclosed that he had to pay the same amount to the claimants as he paid to the community, adding that he ended up paying N110million instead of N55million.

There was also the case of Architect John Emejulu, who took laws into his hands by demolishing some sections of the perimeter fence around Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu. Emejulu claimed he was executing an order of court order that upheld his ownership of about 400 plots he purchased from the Nike Community in 2008.

But, one land dispute that astounded most residents of Enugu State was an alleged partnership between PEIWA (Private Estates International West Africa Limited) and Enugu State Government for Enugu Centenary City.

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On 16th February 2021, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Police Brutality and Extra Judicial Killings, commenced hearing on a petition written against SP Stanley Kwaphoor and Inspector Garba Alhassan of Special Fraud Unit, Ikoyi and Mr. Kingsley Eze of PEIWA and other alleged land grabbers.

A release signed by Prof. Pat Utomi, said the partnership was to plan, design and create a new township with world-class facilities. It was also stated that PEIWA “would provide the funding, technical, and professional capabilities to execute the project while the government would provide land that is free of any encumbrances and pay appropriate compensation to the host communities.”

The statement added that the “Government of Enugu State engaged extensively with PEIWA to scrutinize the plans before executing the partnership agreement.”

Part of the statement read further: “On November 10, 2009, the Government of Enugu State issued a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) registered as 20/20/1622 in the Lands Registry, Enugu covering the 1,097 hectares shown on survey plan with number EN(A) 594. The C of O was backed by an official gazette and was duly signed by the Commissioner for Lands on behalf of the governor.”

But, while the processes took place during the Sullivan Chime administration, a new twist happened when the Amechi community discovered the attempt to cede their property to the so-called private investor.

While the Amechi community asserted their rights, the successive government found it hard to comprehend how such expanse of land should be ceded to private developer and government expected to pay compensation.

In its belief that the partnership arrangement was not tidy, the new administration revoked the certification of occupancy after the Amechi community proved that the land in question was originally meant for a permanent site of Enugu State University of Science and Technology during the Jim Nwobodo administration of old Anambra State.

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ENDSARS Angle
A new low in the issue of land speculation in Enugu State came to the fore recently when the state Commissioner for Lands, Dr. Victor Chukwuemeka Nnam, a surveyor, petitioned the chairman of The Judicial Commissionn of Inquiry Into Police Brutality and Extra Judicial Killings in Enugu complaining against the activities of SP Stanley Kwaphoor and Inspector Garba Alhassan of Special Fraud Unit, Ikoyi and Kingsley Eze of PEIWA and other land grabbers.

In the petition cited by The Guardian, Nnam’s counsel G.A Ekoh Esq. accused the police officers of conniving with Mr. Kingsley Eze in abuse of Police powers and the use of the instrument of state to perpetuate forced regime change in the Enugu State Ministry of Lands.

Part of the petition read: “It is with every sense of humility and respect that we do on behalf of our client, seek your kind intervention over a clandestine attempt by certain unscrupulous elements who have perfected the plot to achieve a mischievous and selfish aim targeted at bringing our client to public ridicule, especially as the actions of SP Stanley Kwaphoor and Insp. Garba Alhassan of the Special Fraud unit, Milverton, Ikoyi.

“Distinguished Chairman, we deemed it necessary to forward this appeal to you and humbly pray you to take steps to ensure that the huge body of allegations of the police vis-à-vis the conspiratorial plot to silence the Commissioner because of his principled stance against attempts of powerfully connected land speculators to grab poor people’s lands and sell to other individuals in and outside of government circles in Enugu State, are properly investigated, especially as the actions of SP Stanley Kwaphoor and Insp. Garba Alhassan of the Special Fraud unit, Milverton, Ikoyi suggest that there is more than meets the eye and that the proffered charge may be a small part of a bigger sinister plot to deploy the instrumentality of certain state apparatus for witch hunt and frame up.”

The petitioner specifically urged for Panels’s intervention in charge No: FHC/ENCR/33/2020, “wherein the referenced Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development is charged with an eight count charge and which charge is a ploy and an antic by some desperate land poachers / grabbers within the Enugu municipal and its environs to perfect their grand scheme and illegal land grab activities and vendetta against the Commissioner, who as the commissioner for lands, Enugu State is strongly determined to sanitize the Ministry of Lands and curb or possibly eradicate illegal land dealings in Enugu State, which has over the years occasioned a lot of crisis within the state.”

The similarity between Mrs. Ohanenye’s petition and Nnam’s lies through the involvement of policemen to facilitate trespass on a landed property. But, counsel to Nnam explained his client’s involvement in the Surveying of Aruga layout, stressing that he did that on the basis of his professional calling as a surveyor prior to his appointment as Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development.

The lawyer stated: “Sometime in the year 2017, while the referenced Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development was carrying on his private practice as a registered Surveyor, he was approached by individuals introduced as representatives of Obunagu village of Obeagu community in Enugu South Local Government Area of Enugu State in the company of their counsel, Gab Ogbe Esq. as well as one Honourable member of the Enugu State House of Assembly Hon. Paul Ogbe and they sought his professional services for the registration of their already parceled layout namely; Aruga Layout, with the state Ministry.

“Before accepting the brief, the man who is now the serving Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, wrote out and handed to the said Village representatives, a list of the requirements necessary for the registration of the layout with the Enugu State Ministry of Lands and which requirements include but are not limited to a Newspaper publication of the intended registration, affidavits of facts to be sworn by the representatives of the village among a host of other requirements.

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“All the documents necessary for the registration of the said Aruga Layout, as contained in the earlier list and on behalf of the Obunagu Village of Obeagu Community, were submitted to the then Private Surveyor’s office by Hon. Paul Ogbe and one Mr. John Onyechi both of whom were facilitating for and representing the Obunagu Village of Obeagu Community.”

Nnam’s counsel noted that it was upon the receipt of the documents required for the registration of the layout and after confirming the documents as being complete and regular on the face of it, “that he, Surveyor Chukwuemeka Nnam, after the expiration of the compulsory twenty-one days period as required for the Newspaper publication, proceeded with his brief and successfully registered the layout on behalf of the entire Obunagu Village of Obeagu Community with the Enugu State Ministry of Lands.”

The petitioner disclosed that what the conspirators want to achieve with the fresh charge was to perfect the fraud and illegality, stressing that it “is a common knowledge that the fight against corruption does not go without corruption fighting back through the perpetrators.”

He declared: “This is the case in this charge as the Private Estate International West Africa Ltd may just have employed the ready and willing hands of SP Stanley Kwaphoor and Insp. Garba Alhassan of the Special Fraud unit, Milverton, Ikoyi, as a conduit for the perfection of their alleged fraud and illegality as above adumbrated by the institution of this charge against the serving Commissioner for Lands and Urban development, who in the cause of carrying out his assignment may have stepped on the powerful toes of certain powerful land speculators.

“This is so because, being in the know of the stance of the Executive Governor of Enugu State, not to have in his cabinet, any person who has a criminal charge pending against him or her, before any court of law, as well as appreciating the uncompromising position of Chukwuemeka Nnam towards sanitizing the Enugu State Ministry of Lands and ensuring a reduction in the activities of Land grabbers.

“The only option open to those whose activities may have been put on hold and of course the Private Estate International West Africa Ltd was to attempt to use the institution of Government to mastermind such a charge, not minding if there was substance to it or not, in order to tacitly blackmail and attempt to malign the Hon. Commissioner, as he is considered the obstacle to their alleged illegal land grabbing activities until he is removed as the Commissioner for Lands, and they can apparently continue with their illegality.”

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The petitioners disclosed that the conspirators rushed to online media platforms to announce the institution of the fresh charges, even when the commissioner was yet to be served.

“Distinguished Chairman, we are even more worried about the palpable desperation displayed by Kingsley Eze and his cohorts in and around the Nigeria Police Force. The duo of SP Stanley Kwaphoor and Insp. Garba Alhassan had supposedly completed their investigation before they proffered and filed eight count charges against the Commissioner for Lands in the Enugu Division of the Federal High Court.

“They have however, now, generated another new case file from the same petition against which investigation was supposedly concluded, but this time without the further invitation of Dr. Nnam and without any new statement by our Client, and have now made out cases of conspiracy and forgery amongst other offences against the referenced Dr. Nnam,” the lawyer added.

The petitioner disclosed that the fresh case file for the same case had been forwarded to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) through a letter with reference number CB: 3510/X/LEG/FHQ/ABJ/VOL10/228 dated the 20th day of October 2020.

“Sir, this episode raises a few questions and more: Did they do a shoddy investigation the first time? Why did they have to rush into proffering charges against the referenced Dr. Nnam if they hadn’t completed their investigation? Were they under any form of pressure to quickly trump up charges against Dr. Victor Chukwuemeka Nnam, the first time?

Last week, a Federal High Court sitting in Enugu, thrashed a case instituted by Mr. Kingsley Eze of the Private Estate international West Africa (PEIWA) through the Police against the Commissioner For Lands Enugu State, Dr. Victor Chukwuemeka Nnam.

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During the sitting, lawyers from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, told the court they were informed by the Attorney General of the Federation to ask for adjournment so as to enable a review of the case.

Counsel to the defendant, while addressing the court, said it was just that morning that the prosecuting counsel informed him of their intention to present the application for time to enable a review by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, saying he had not serious objection.

Ruling on the oral application, the presiding Judge lambasted the prosecution and Mr. Kingsley Eze, stressing that the case is not ab initio, a federal matter. The judge declared: ”I have studied the gamut of this case file and have understood that this case is not a federal case, it is a state matter, which should be in the state high court.

“I hereby transfer the case file to the State High Court of Enugu State through the office of the state Attorney General. Anything or review you want to do, should be by the state Attorney General.” Efforts by the prosecution counsel to react on the ruling was rebuffed by the presiding Judge, who informed the prosecution that her decision is “fuctus officio,” meaning the case cannot be reopened again.

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