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Reps give army 14 days to prove ownership of contentious Delta land

By Otei Oham (Abuja) and Michael Egbejule (Benin)
07 December 2017   |   4:10 am
The House of Representatives yesterday gave the Nigerian Army 14 days to produce documents that prove its ownership of the contentious 1,363 hectares of land in Uvwie Kingdom, Effurun, Delta State.

Members of the House of Representatives at a plenary. PHOTO: TWITTER/HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

• Muslims, army disagree over land in Edo

The House of Representatives yesterday gave the Nigerian Army 14 days to produce documents that prove its ownership of the contentious 1,363 hectares of land in Uvwie Kingdom, Effurun, Delta State.

The Committee on Public Petitions headed by Uzoma Abonta gave the directive at the hearing of a petition on alleged illegal conversion of the land through the Nigerian Army Properties Limited.Counsel for the Uvwie kingdom, Victor Otomiewo and Co, in the petition to the lawmakers brought through Evelyn Oboro (Okpe/ Sapele/ Uvwie Federal Constituency) said: “Our clients are the owners in peaceable possession of all the portions of land purportedly acquired for the Nigerian Army Barracks, Effurun in the Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta State.

“Apart from the area being claimed by the army authority as being acquired for the supposed army barracks at Effurun, soldiers, naval officers and others are currently forcefully occupying acres of land and villages which are not within the said purported acquisition and commit criminal acts of trespass and assault, among others.”

The counsel told the panel that the land was acquired by the army in 1975, but has since refused to pay compensation. He said the indigenes were shocked when the army started marking houses on the portion it has not used for demolition.

“After the completion of the construction work and occupation of the barracks by the army, a large portion of unused lands running into thousands of hectares remained undeveloped and unoccupied.“Rather than release the unused portion of lands to our clients’ families, the commanding officer of the Effurrun barracks in league with some serving and retired army generals are now converting the unused portions into private use by leasing, assigning, and/or outright sale of the land to private individuals and/or organisations through the instrumentality of the Nigerian Army Properties Limited.”

Otomiewo further said the company “was incorporated for that purpose and the proceeds from the leasing, assigning and/or outright sale of the unused lands paid into the private accounts of the commanding officer, Effurrun barracks and some serving and retired army generals.”

The lawyer, who gave the names of the three generals listed as directors of Nigerian Army Properties Limited and a list of the lands sold or leased, pleaded with the House to help ensure that the land is returned to the rightful owners.Representative of the army, Major Daniel, told the committee that discussing or considering the matter would be subjudice since it was already in a court. “With all respect, I have already made it known to this committee that this matter is already in court.”

He insisted that the land was “properly ceded”, urging the lawmakers to strike out the petition for lack of merit.But the Chairman of the Committee, Uzoma Nkem-Abonta noted that the House rules state that it should not involve itself in matters in court, it is only if the Speaker in his opinion feels it will negatively affect any of the parties in court. The committee, he said, would take the risk. He asked the army and the community to bring relevant documents to support their claims within 14 days.

Similarly, Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria and Ikpoba Hill Muslim Community, Edo State chapter yesterday staged a peaceful protest over alleged encroachment on their land in Ikpoba Okha Local Council Area by the 4 Brigade Nigeria Army.

The groups which protested to the Edo State House of Assembly and the Government House carried various placards with inscriptions such as “Muslim land is for worship, it is not for sale”, “Leave our land, it is not for sale”, and “Governor Godwin Obaseki arrest religious unrest in Edo State”, among others.

In a protest letter to the governor, leaders of the groups, Alhaji Umar Ahmed, Alhaji Jimoh Kasali, Alhaji Alama Danesi and Hajia Maimuna Momodu, said the land the army allegedly encroached on was allocated to them in 1995 with a Certificate of Occupancy number EDRSR 12031 by the Edo State government and signed by the then military administrator, Colonel Basil Asuquo.

“Our women wing, FOMWAN built a Nursery and primary school in the land but effort to further establish a secondary school was disrupted by officers of the 4 Mechanized Brigade, Nigeria Army who are claiming ownership of the land,”The protesters explained that in 2015, the Ministry of Land, Survey and Housing wrote to them (the groups) for recertification of the C of O which they did, adding that they had been paying ground rent on the land to the state government.

The Public Relations Officer of the 4 Brigade, Benin, Muhammed Maidawa described the allegations as baseless and untrue.“There is no iota of truth in the allegation, it is far from the truth. The army is not giving individual land to anybody. Ikpoba Hill Barrack is a very old army barack in Benin City known to every one,” he said.