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Enugu communities go to war over land

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
29 March 2020   |   2:52 am
Those who witnessed the incident in Enugu had different versions to tell. It was a clash between the natives of Ugwuaji community in Enugu South and Ogui-Nike community in Enugu North over ownership of the vast land christened Premier Layout.

Ogui-Nike women during their protest over Premier Layout last week.

Those who witnessed the incident in Enugu had different versions to tell. It was a clash between the natives of Ugwuaji community in Enugu South and Ogui-Nike community in Enugu North over ownership of the vast land christened Premier Layout.

The layout, being newly developed, became contentious, when natives of the two communities began laying claim to it. Indeed, it was gathered that disagreement over the land began in 2005, leading to a subsisting case instituted at the Enugu High Court by one of the parties.

But even with the case still pending in court, natives of the two communities were said to have sold substantial part of the land to some individuals, who had started developing their portions.

Recently, natives of Ugwuaji had hired bulldozers, stormed the site and started demolishing every structure in sight. While the heavy-duty equipment were busy levelling the area, some youths from the area, armed with dangerous objects were positioned at strategic places to provide security.

Information was said to have reached Ogui-Nike community about what was happening. So, some youths from Ogui-Nike had mobilised to the area “to see things for themselves.”

The Guardian gathered that an attempt to stop the bulldozers had resulted in a free for all by members of the two communities. Every object in sight was turned into weapon that was freely used among the combatants. Blood flowed. Those who could escape did so. Those not so lucky received degrees of injuries on their bodies.

Policemen were called in to intervene and crush the uprising. They were able to do so, and also picked what was left of five natives of Ogui-Nike to a private hospital in Enugu. They include Onyema Agbo, Emmanuel Ede, Chukwuebuka Ede, Arinze Ede and Nkemjika Mba.

On the hospital beds, where they reeled in pains, it was obvious they never bargained for what they got.A day after the incident, Ogui-Nike women marched to Enugu Government House to seek state government’s intervention. The women, dressed in black, carried placards depicting what they described as “land
grabbing syndrome” in the state, said the development could snowball into major crisis, if government failed to act.

Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who was overwhelmed by the tears rolling down the women’s cheeks and their lamentations about Ogui-Nike being
marginalised in the state, had suspended other state activities to visit the contentious land.

Moved by the level of destruction he saw, he ordered the arrest of anyone in sight and restricted further development on the land by members of the warring communities and those who allegedly bought property in the area, until the matter was resolved.

Ugwuanyi, who was angry that his earlier instruction that the two communities keep off the site until the matter was resolved was not
adhere to, insisted that he would not fold his arms and watch while property and human lives were decimated.

Ugwuanyi also directed them to go to the police and make a formal report, assuring that, “If I see the court document, then I will know who gave them power to go into that land to demolish people’s property, after I had earlier directed the two communities to keep off the land.”

Speaking on behalf of the women, Mrs. Ifeyinwa Agbo and Mrs. Bernadette Ugwu told the Governor that Ogui-Nike and Ugwuaji do not share any boundary. Rather, Ogui-Nike shares boundary with Amaechi Awkunawnu and wondered why they should struggle for their (Ogui) land.

It was not the first time communities would quarrel over land or the first time government would forcefully seize land belonging to communities in the state in the guise of overriding public interest. There are several unresolved land cases in the state. While some appear to have been doused, apparently waiting for the incumbent government to exit office, others have continued to unsettle the communities, due to the way they were acquired.

Sometime in March 2018, natives of Ogui-Nike had blocked the Women Training College (WTC) Road in protest over WTC land. Their protest arose because the vast land, which they willingly donated to then Eastern government for the establishment of the training college, was being converted into private residences by the state government without their consent.

The development was despite the existence of three secondary and primary schools and the residences of teachers employed to teach in the schools in the area.On the day bulldozers were deployed by the state government to clear empty spaces and farmlands in readiness for what is presently standing as WTC Estate, protesting natives formed human shield around the area, demanding that work be stopped and land returned to them, since it was no longer being used for educational purposes it was meant for.

The community, which later resorted to court, was wooed into withdrawing the matter for peaceful settlement, the terms of which are allegedly yet to be fulfilled, even as private residences now dot the area competing for space with the public schools.

It was perhaps in view of the way the WTC land matter was handled that the Ogui natives vowed not to let go, stressing that their “people are getting extinct and it is not a story for any generation to hear.”

In 2016, communities in Amaechi started quarrelling over sharing formula for the Ayo River Layout phases 1, 2 and 3 gazetted in 1986. Their differences got to the point where a fight that erupted during one of the deliberations on the land resulted in the death of two youths.

Enugu State government had quickly moved and seized the land. The land, over 132 hectares and lying on Enugu-Port Harcourt highway has been renamed HELIU residences (an acronym for His Excellency Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi) and now serves as the first district being created by the state government since the creation of Enugu State. It is being financed by a consortium of private estate developers and a Chinese firm, where about N3.5bn infrastructure would be provided.

While development has advanced at the site, a notice was recently issued warning investors to beware, alleging, “The land was forcefully
acquired by the state government, with no compensation to the rightful owners. Anyone that buys a land from Heliu residences will blame themselves, when Gburugburu steps down as Governor, because we will seek and receive judgment up to Supreme Court level for the forceful acquisition of our lands.”

In November last year, the state government had revoked the certificate of occupancy of the sprawling Enugu Centenary City, following protests by the Amaechi and Obeagu Awkunanaw communities that they never gave their property to private developers for private estates. They insisted that the land should revert back to them, since it was no longer being used for the purpose for which it was donated.

The Jim Nwobodo administration had acquired the land in 1983 specifically to build the permanent site of then Anambra State University of Science and Technology (ASUTH). Following the change of government that year, the administration could not develop the land originally sitting on 318 hectares.

The Chimaroke Nnamani administration, which was the next civilian
administration after Nwobodo, avoided the land. Rather, Nnamani sought and secured a virgin land at Agbani, contributed by six communities in the area, where he successfully relocated the university.

Coming on board in 2007, the Sullivan Chime administration took
possession of the land. In 2009, it gave it out to a private estate developer as a centenary city. The massive and ambitious project, the Enugu
Centenary City (Enugu Lifestyle & Golf City, ELGC), became a partnership project between the state government and a South African Company- Private Estates International Limited. It began in 2009, after the Sullivan Chime administration issued the Certificate of Occupancy to the firm to develop a modern city.

Designed around the style and comforts offered by the most advanced cities, whilst retaining broad African influences, Enugu Lifestyle and Golf City, when Completed could be the best place in Nigeria to live, work, learn, play and shop, according to the promoters. From 318 hectares originally given, the land was expanded to 1,097 hectares.

The contractor had continued to develop the area, sinking millions of naira on internal roads, electricity and administrative offices, among others, until last year, when the government revoked the certificate of occupancy on the ground that it was not properly acquired.

Since the government revoked the Cof O, it has been one protest after the other. While the communities supported government’s action and asked it to return the land to them, the private developers are alleging vested interest on the part of the state government

The company had continued to lay claims that it did all within the ambit of the law to acquire the property and went beyond to also pay some
compensation to the communities, when it noticed that the state government was unwilling to do so.

After expiration of the 21 days allowed in law for decisions of such
nature to be reversed to no avail, the company had dragged the state governor to court. It has been observed that only court pronouncements could settle some of the land cases in the state.

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