FG wades into FUTO, communities dispute
Worried by the age long land dispute between the authorities of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) and its host communities in Ihiagwa, Owerri West Local Council of Imo State, the Federal Ministry of Power, Housing and Works has waded into the matter.
The Minister of State for Power, Housing and Works, Suleiman Hassan plans to interface with the parties. Already, he has written to the communities to find an amicable solution to the conflict that has lingered for so long in other to avert violence and breakdown of law and order.
In a letter referenced LH/ACQ/224/Vol.1/154, titled: ‘’Re: Conflicts between Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) and its host communities’’, signed by C.O Ajibare, a deputy director (Acquisition and Compensation) South, for the Minister, which The Guardian obtained a copy, requested a dialogue between the parties.
The letter reads in part: ‘’You will recall that the State Ministry of Lands, Survey and Urban Planning in Owrrri, Imo state acquired parcel of land measuring approximately 4,580 hectares belonging to 30 villages in 8 autonomous communities (Aru, Obioze, Nekede, Ihiagwa, Eziobodo, Okolochi, Emebiam & Obibi Ezena) in 1982 for the establishment of the FUTO. Out of the total land area of 4,580 hectares that was acquired, compensation was paid only for 1,430 hectares leaving a balance of 3,120 hectares unpaid.
‘’In view of the above, you are requested to convene a meeting at your convenient date and time between the Attorney to the FUTO host community and representatives from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing’’
Speaking with The Guardian, the Attorney to the communities, Chief Sam Anoka, said they have received notice of the minister’s visit to end the dispute. His words: “The Minister of State for Power, Housing and Works will visit us next week. We have received the notice,” Anoka said.
The Vice Chancellor of FUTO, Prof. Francis Chukwuemeka Eze, had accused the host communities of encroachment, while the host communities, comprising 30 villages in eight autonomous communities (Avu, Obioze, Nekede, Ihiagwa, Eziobodo, Okolochi, Emebiam and Obibiezena), say the university has breach agreement and over stepped its boundaries.
But the FUTO management is insisting that the institution observed all the due processes in acquiring the 4,580 hectares of land, in 1982. The land was acquired through the Imo State Ministry of Lands, and handed over to the institution.
The host communities are insisting that the institution only paid compensation for only 1,430 hectares , leaving a balance of 3,120 hectares allegedly unpaid for.
Following the development, the communities are seriously demanding that the two parties meet with their surveyors, to demarcate the land with aim to know who owns what.
On of the villages, Umuchima in Ihiagwa, Owerri West Local Council, protested recently over the complete takeover of the water front property, insisting that they had been eking living from the front in sand and gravel business.The Vice Chancellor insisted that the area belonged to the institution. Eze also accused the communities of erecting structures, excavating sand around the bridge in the institution, threatening collapse of the structure.
The Guardian gathered that the crisis had commenced in 2004. A letter from the Ministry of Lands and Urban Planning, to the VC, dated December 2, 2004, referenced MLSP/SG/S.160/1/115, titled: ‘’Re: Demarcation of boundaries between FUTO and host communities’’, and signed by F.A. Osuala, Surveyor -General on behalf of the then Commissioner in charge of the ministry, requested the VC of the day to nominate a surveyor, while the ministry would supervise. The letter read: ‘’I am directed to refer to your letter Ref. FUT/VC/GEN.8 dated 06/08/04 on the above subject and request you to nominate, at your expense and without delay, a Surveyor to represent your interest and demarcate the university’s boundaries with the host communities whose representative organization’s Owerri Landowners Association is also being written to the same effect. Tgis ministry will supervise the job and the demarcation will start as soon as your nominated surveyor shows up.’’
This could not hold, as gathered by The Guardian, because the FUTO authorities held that after the land acquisition, the state government had no hand, arguing that the property belonged to the Federal Government.Briefing journalists recently, FUTO’s VC, Eze, said it would take the institution a lot of money to reclaim the damaged portion allegedly perpetrated by the host communities.
His words: ‘’The level of encroachment is so overwhelming that we call it an invasion. This land, FUTO, was duely acquired. There has been encroachment on the sites of the hostels. They cleared up to 500 hectares of land. They want to parcelate for sale. We have serious security of life and property problems. We have to do something. They have excavated sand around the bridge here and it it threatening to collapse.
“There has been threat to life of the VC and family and other officials of the university. They have removed the roofing sheets at the building of Nuclear Energy site. We have discharged Social Corporate Responsibility to the community. This is the biggest Federal Government project in Imo and five Southeast states. We want to guard it jeolously.’’
Eze, said as a result, the institution’s authorities would commence perimeter fencing around the institution.But in reaction, the host communities representative, Anoka, accompanied by a one time member, who represented Owerri West in the Imo House of Assembly, also a former Imo State Commissioner for Community Government Council, Innocent Eke, said the community was not opposed to the sitting of FUTO to their community, rather, the institution should pay adequate compensation.
Anoka, was not happy that the Water Front in which he was trained by his father in the University, was completely taken by the FUTO while in dispute.He also opined that there were settlement and human habitation areas, which the institution encroached into, making it difficult for the host communities to develop.
His words: ‘’Any acquisition that gulps habitation areas is punitive and cannot stand and that has been the case of FUTO. The so called acquisition engulps settlement areas, leaving most communities with little or no space for development purpose. The communities brought it to the knowledge of FUTO at that time at on set and Imo state government at a letter at that time, by her letter of 6th May, 1983, advised FUTO particularly as it affects Ihiagwa; that this is extent of area it should excise it from the acquisition for development purpose and Ihiagwa was happy for that . Then around 2000 and something, FUTO started expansion and Ihiagwa saw that it threatened its existence, then woke up to complain to FUTO. FUTO said it is their own land and Ihiagwa said no. That they won’t allow it.’’
The Surveyor/Estate Valuer accused the VC of having personal interest.
He advised the Federal Government to set up a panel on it.’’They don’t want to give an opportunity for dialogue on the matter. My appeal is that the Federal Government should intervene by setting up a committee on this matter to treat this matter once and for all and settle the conflict between FUTO and host communities. I am speaking as a stakeholder, an indigene of Ihiagwa and Attorney to the host communities (Umuchima in Ihiagwa).”