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How official ineptitude, development ignite land disputes among varsities and communities

By Bertram Nwannekanma and Victor Gbonegun
18 January 2021   |   3:04 am
Ineptitude on the part of the government at all levels leading to the excessive acquisition of lands for the establishment of universities in Nigeria without adequate plans

Experts urge negotiation, reconciliation

Ineptitude on the part of the government at all levels leading to the excessive acquisition of lands for the establishment of universities in Nigeria without adequate plans and compensations have been at the helm of disputes among the institutions and their host communities.

The disputes often arose from encroachment by host communities, who later realise that they are losing their common hegemony to the universities without compensation.

In most cases, the driving forces for the tussle include lack of adequate compensations, the institutions’ inability to develop the large expense of acquired lands, increasing development in the area as well as an increase in the land value.

Apart from institutions like the University of Ibadan and few others, who were able to manage their cases, it is either the Ivory Towers are accusing their host communities of encroachment or their hosts are challenging the institutions from appropriating their lands.

The disputes are becoming a norm in many Nigerian cities with few resolved, while others are impacting negatively on existing trust among host communities and these institutions.

The enormity of this development could be seen in ongoing land tussles among eleven host communities in Imo State and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO).

The communities are calling for the return of over 2,000 out of 4,455 hectares of land acquired by the university’s authorities about 38 years precisely 1982.

The communities are, Avu, Obinze, Ihiagwa, Eziobodo, Okolochi Emeabiam, Nekede, and Obibi –Ezena.

Their attorney, Chief Sam Anokam, said the communities had little settling areas required to expand and carry out other commercial activities.

He regretted that despite all treaties put in place by Imo State and the Federal Government, the communities could only get 1,200 hectares, stressing that the balance of over 800 hectares should be returned to them.

The alleged encroached areas include Ihiagwa – 157 hectares; Eziobodo -56; Obinze – 83; Obibiezena – 6; Umuahuhu – Obinze -21. Others are 757 hectares belonging to Obinze, Umuanunu, Avu, Umuezereokam, Umudoche, Mboke, Umuelem, and Umuchima -Ihiagwa.

The head, FUTO’s Public Relations Unit, Mrs. Uche Bright-Nwelue, alleged that some members of the host communities were selling some hectares of the lands to speculators.

Bright-Inwelue stressed that the authorities of the Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA), has demolished the buildings erected by the speculators for alleged encroachment.

She, however, said there was a halt on the matter because the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Francis Eze would be leaving office in June.

According to her, part of the Avu community end of the disputed land has been slated for the building of the institution’s Teaching Hospital for the benefit of all the stakeholders.

SIMILARLY, There has been of the recent battle of wits between the authorities of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and the flagship body of the indigenes of its host community, the Ife Development Board (IDB) over a parcel of the acquired land.

While the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Prof. Eyitope Ogunmodede, is accusing some members of the Ile-Ife community of encroaching on the land belonging to the institution, the Chairman of IDB, Lawrence Awowoyin, accused the University of encroaching on their land and outside what it was given by the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Adesoji Aderemi.

Awowoyin, who said the university had refused to back its own claim on the land with any concrete evidence, warned that the property of Ile-Ife indigenes on the disputed land must not be tampered with in the interest of peace.

He asked the Federal Government to set up a fact-finding team to investigate the matter.

Backing his claims with a survey plan titled: ‘Oyo Province Ife Division Survey plan No. Ife 41’, Awowoyin said the document stated that “the total land area given to the Western Region by Ife Province for the purpose of the establishment of a university for Western Nigeria was 13,852 acres. This land area is bounded by River Opa and Amuta stream to the South and East as clearly marked on the above-mentioned survey plan No. Ife 41.

“The general public cannot be unaware that the business of government is sealed and legalised in the gazette, which is usually in print form for the purpose of conferring legitimacy on the government’s actions. In 1965, therefore, the land transaction between the Ife Province and the Western Region was gazetted in gazette number 13, Volume 10 of March 16, 1961.

“The university management has several times, out of avarice and desperation to legitimise a unilateral appropriation of the community land beyond Opa River and Amuta stream, made baseless references to the only gazette published in 1965 to support its unilateral appropriation of the community land done in 1987, more than two decades after the 1965 gazette, ” he added.

IN Cross River State, the three major higher institutions located in Calabar, the University of Calabar (UNICAL), the Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH) and the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) have not been exempted from the crisis.

For instance, until recently, UNICAL had a rift with the Efut Uwanse community over encroachment of the latter on their land.

The virgin land acquired by the Ivory Tower was allegedly taken over by the community, thus forcing the school to raise an alarm a few years ago.

On its part, the loud cry of CRUTECH over encroachment into its land in Calabar South Local Council has since not been taken seriously by the Idim Ita community who had taken a huge part of the land.

Also, the alumni association of CRUTECH condemned in strong terms the encroachment into the university’s land.
Lamenting that the host community was taking advantage of the state government’s lack of attention to the university, the national president of the association, Mr. Eyam Abeng had called for urgent government intervention.

The association expressed worries that people would claim ownership of government land, adding that by the Land Use Act of the country, the land belongs to the government, and the university is owned by the government.
In the case of UNICAL, the institution’s Public Relations Officer, Mr. Eyo Effiong said the land dispute with their host community; Efut Uwanse has been long resolved.

He said, “I think for now we don’t have any land dispute with our host community, we used to have but now, it has been resolved. The only thing we are working on under this new administration is to improve our relationship.

Similarly, the Chief Medical Director of UCTH, Prof. Ikpeme Ikpeme, said even though there was no crisis at the moment, the host community had seized their land-based on some court judgment for more than 10 years and sold it off to buyers.

A council member of the Esuk Atu community, Chief Inam Archibong also affirmed that they have resolved all land disputes with the UCTH.

Institutions of learning with resolved land disputes include the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), University of Port-Harcourt, (UNIPORT), Choba, and Kaduna State University.

The Guardian gathered that disputes were resolved through concession and negotiations.

President, Nigerian Institute of Surveyor (NIS) Alabo Charlesye Charles said the crisis was precipitated in the beginning because it appears that governments acquire too much land for these universities.

He said the acquisition was not transparent as many communities were not aware of the extent of the land taken.

For instance, the acquisition of the UNIPORT land done several years appears to be too much for the institution as much of the land especially along with the Port-Harcourt Airport, which has been encroached upon.

“I believe, it is probably the University of Ibadan that does not have that kind of challenge because they were able to secure all their acquisition but the younger universities were not able to do that.

“With the surge in property value, the communities are encroaching to make more money. It is easy to say the government has acquired the land but go and check the records and see how much was paid as compensations,” he said.

Alabo Charles said that most of the acquisitions were done probably when there was no Land Use Act. He said negotiation remains the best way out, stressing that the authorities should find out how much of the land is in contention to settle the issue.

On whether governments’ issuance of Certificates of Occupancy (C of O), will address the problem, the NIS boss said most of the institutions have titles, which have the same role as C of O, but they are not in control of the lands.

The law, he said, does not give any time limit that if you have titles, you should get C of O. According to him, UNIPORT, for instance, is satisfied with what they have stressing that it’s the government that is bordering itself about the land.

“There are a lot of undeveloped plots of land belonging to the University of Port-Harcourt, very far from the university and they cannot even make use of all that land but if you buy land there, the government will not give you C of O, because of encroachment.

“But the villagers are busy selling off, they are in control of the land. The acquisition was much more than what the university needed, maybe the communities do not realise the enormity of land acquired but with development, they finally found out that all their lands are gone,” he added.

But a former Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology Akure, Prof. Peter Olufemi Adeniyi, said governments, who want to use lands for universities must do the needful.

The former chairman of the Presidential Technical Committee on Land Reform (PTCLR) inaugurated by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009 as a forerunner to the National Land Commission said the government should first do surveys and give the institutions C of O for the lands and at the same time to pay compensations to the owners of those lands.

“If they have not done either, the owners will continue to use their lands, the universities will be resisting and there you might have problems. Government should do the needful, whoever acquire the lands for the universities should do the needful,” he said.

He stressed that governments abdicated their responsibilities by claiming that once you acquire the lands for the universities, then the universities should pay the compensations themselves.

“I remembered when I was at FUTA, that was the problem. Government acquired the land but failed to pay compensations to the owners of the land. It’s not fair to acquire people’s land without compensation because the universities themselves do not have sufficient money to pay since they depend on the government in the first instance,” he added.