Pensioners, property company cry foul over Enugu government’s illegal acquisition of their land
They were making contributions from their monthly income with the hope that the little savings would be used to acquire personal shelter when they must have retired from active service. These monthly contributions were managed by Elyons Asset Management Ltd, an establishment that deals on property management and acquisition.
Elyons over the years has acquired the reputation of a company that builds and manages homes for people.
Convinced that the company would assuage their housing needs, some residents of Enugu State came together few years ago and started contributing into the housing scheme operated by Elyons.
Presently, however, their hope to own property in Enugu is giving way for despair, as the land which the company acquired several years back, which it had started developing into modern housing units for the pensioners, have been taken over by the state government.
The property which include plots 198,199,200,200,202, 203,204 and 205 and known as Ozalla Abor Community Layout Phase11 in Udi Council was acquired by the company through an indigene of Ozalla Abor, Prof. MUK Mgbodile in 2012, three years before the present government came into office. The land was being developed into small housing units until October this year when officials of the Ministry of Housing invaded the area and demolished the property.
Among the houses demolished were those completed, painted and waiting for occupation and those still under construction among others.
The Guardian gathered that an enforcement team of the Ministry, had after posting removal notice on the structures in the place, allegedly returned a few days later with bulldozers and leveled the place on the insistence that land belonged to the state government and was donated to it by the community.
The development is now unsettling the contributors and the management company as they (contributors) demand for refund and compensation for the damage, put at over N200million.
The pensioners, who claimed they went hungry and denied themselves certain privileges while on active duty to save for the houses, besieged the Enugu office of the company to demand for their houses.
One of them who visited The Guardian office over the week with copies of receipts issued to her by the company each time she made payment, Mrs Ijeoma Ugwu, said in tears: “This is just not fair. Why will Enugu state government do this kind of thing to pensioners like us? I am no longer working. I started this contribution since 2012 and from the available records my money with the company is over N4 million.
“I had hoped that by now I should stop paying rent, now what do I do? You people must help us please”.
Mr Thompson Otubelu, an Asset Manager, told The Guardian that the company was developing about 20 housing units at the place, adding that some of the structures destroyed had been completed and others are still ongoing.
He stated: “We were doing it in a way that it could be expanded in the future. We have collected the money, as much as they could pay, so that over time when they finish they can take full possession of the various units. The land was acquired in 2012 and since then, we have been working there gradually knowing the challenge of road and the fact that the area is still undeveloped. Suddenly around June this year, I came there on a normal regular visit and I noticed that there was the “Remove Notice Order” marked on the buildings by Ministry of Housing.
“We went to the Ministry of Housing to know why they would do such since we took all necessary steps to register the property with government before we started developing the housing units. We were not given attention by the Ministry on several visits.
“So we went to court and on June 14, got the interim injunction restraining the Ministry of Housing, Attorney General of the State and officials of the state government from excavating, demolishing or destroying properties already mounted there pending the determination of the motion of Notice for interlocutory injunction. That order was given by Justice K.I Okpe of the Enugu State High Court”.
He continued: “We were still following up on the injunction until October 7, 2017 when we got calls that some people came and asked security men there to remove the roofing sheets and they demolished the structures. The buildings belong to pensioners and they have always harassed us.
“We are developing 20 housing units of three bedroom bungalows. Most of them have been finished and because the place is not habitable, we did not paint them for now. We have lost up to N200million because of this singular action of government. As at the time we acquired the land there was no issue. What we wanted is not for them not to do what they want, but they should carve out our own area and continue. Even when they were trying to put a fence we told them they are encroaching into our area, but they ignored us. We got injunction which they did not obey”, he said.
Otubelu said: “We know that government is the owner of land, but we duly acquired the place and got the necessary certification from government to do what we were doing. If they wanted the land, they should have assessed what we have done and pay our compensation or show us alternative. Those houses are being developed for pensioners and a few young persons.”
When contacted on the development, State Commissioner for Housing, Mr Charles Asogwa, said that the matter was subjudiced, stressing that “they took government to court and the court is looking into their complaints. So I am not going to comment on a matter that the court is looking into”.
A Ministry official, however, told The Guardian that the land was donated to the state government last year for development of an estate by the community led by their traditional ruler, stressing that government cannot go into a property that is in contention.
“Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is not interested in peoples’ property and cannot acquire one by force. We were duly given possession of the place and the people came here with their traditional ruler to say government should take it up. Let us also tell you that the property in question was in court for a long time and during that period some persons illegally went and started selling it. So when the matter ended, the community met and decided to give it to government. That is the much I can say”, the source stated.
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