By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu
Some elders of Umuneri Village, Isu-Aniocha, Awka North local government area, Anambra state Monday rose in condemnation of the forceful takeover of their entire lands by the Anambra state Housing Development Corporation Awka led by Arc. Willie Okafor.
The elders said they have placed a caveat emptor on the land for buyers to beware of the danger signals to avoid regrets.
The Elders asked all intending buyers of the 54.27 hectares of land Green Valley Housing Estate among others surrounding it to beware and shun doing business with Anambra state Housing Development Corporation Awka with regards to the land until all matters pertaining to it is resolved or lose their investment.
They described as treasonable felony, fraudulent and wickedness, the invasion of the entire Umuneri Village land by Housing Development Corporation Awka to build an estate against 54.72 hectares being negotiated with them by some of its people, but could not recognize the ancestral owners of the land.
The elders in age range of between 100 years and 80 years were led by Chief Lawrence Ofulume, 100-year old from Iruoje kindred; Chief Sylvester Aniefuna, 96-year old from Iruowelle kindred, and Chief Augustine Nwankwo Okafor, 82-year old from Iruonukwu kindred.
The elders, speaking through, Chief Augustine Nwankwo Okafor, wondered why the estate in their land should be answering Green Valley Housing Estate Awka instead of Green Valley Housing Estate, Isu-Aniocha, Awka North. He Said the fraud in the land acquisition cannot stand.
Chief Okafor who is a former Umuneri village Chairman for 19 years before handing over 6 months ago, said Isu-Aniocha has boundaries with Okpuno Community at the Obibia Stream and with Enugu-Agidi and has nothing to do with Awka, hence, it was strange to them for Awka to be claiming their land and Housing Development Corporation was giving them attention.
They called on Governor Willie Obiano, the Inspector General of Police, IGP Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, and the Anambra state Commissioner of Police, CP John Abang to intervene as they did previously to forestall the impending mayhem signal coming from the land dispute, by directing the Corporation’s MD to initiate peaceful resolution with rightful owners of the land to resolve all issues pertaining to the forceful take over.
The elders also appealed to the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, CP John Abang to ensure his men are not used by the Housing Development Corporation or anyone at that to intimidate and humiliate their children and wives going to their farmlands to farm. They informed that currently some thugs and cultists are laying ambush in their land and beating, chasing them out of the land, as well as threatening to shoot them if they enter the land to farm.
The elders however noted that even if there was any land it’s subjects gave out to the Housing Development Corporation without their knowledge as claimed with the 54.72 hectares, the agency has reneged from its agreed obligations with its subjects, when it was handed over to them, hence the deal is now, null and void and of no effect. They wondered why the Housing Development Corporation should not pay them the N5 Billion being special and general damages for trespass on their land, comprising of their economic trees, timber trees, agricultural crops, medicinal shrubs, herbs, deities and shrines located in their farmland but, destroyed when Housing Corporation invaded it with impostors from Ezinano Village, Awka Community.
The elders insisted that they have no other land to farm in line with the mandate of Governor Willie Obiano’s directive to Anambrarians to return to agriculture.
They decried a situation their women and children would have their farm produce taken away from them and chased away from their ancestral land by armed thugs and security agents sent by Housing Development Corporation in connivance with Awka people laying claims on all their ancestral lands.
They queried why their people should not farm on their land too, even with threatening hunger looming.
The elders further petitioned the new Awka North Peace and Reconciliation Committee set up by the Anambra State Government for Awka North Local Government area led by Rev. Fr Dr Mathew Attansey with members drawn from indigenous clergy in the ten communities of the local government to ensure the injustices against the people of Umuneri, Isu Aniocha, Awka North council area is reversed.
Reacting, the Anambra state Commissioner of police, CP John Abang appealed to all parties to eschew violence as it does not pay but tow all legal avenues of resolving the impasse.
He reassured that the police in Anambra state were determined to safe guard lives and property of the citizens.
CP Abang whose views were made known through the PPRO said, ” Let them explore the legal avenues and eschew violence please.”
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State had earlier warned land grabbers in Isu-Aniocha Community to desist from the act. He spoke while receiving report from Isu-Aniocha Community School land encroachment panel led by Igwe Rowland Odegbo of Nteje.
The Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr C-Don Adinuba directed further inquiries to the Commissioner for Housing and Urban Renewal, Hon Mike Okonkwo, an architect; and Commissioner for Lands, Physical Planning and Urban Renewal, Mr Bonaventure Enemali.
However, efforts to reach them as at press time proved abortive. The Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu could not respond too.
But reacting, the Managing Director, Anambra State Housing Development Corporation, Arc Willie Okafor decried the attitude Umuneri people were portraying over the land Anambra State Government has paid them compensation on, and wondered why they should be lying.
Arc. Okafor said: “They are lying; part of their land was validly acquired since 2015, they went to court to challenge the acquisition and we had a settlement that formed the judgement of the court, after months of dialogue. They have collected their compensation. Some of those people are criminals on rampage selling government land to unsuspecting speculators and trying to thwart every government effort towards development, but the law will catch up with them.”
He accused them of destroying government’s property for no justification, but didn’t go into details.
But further inquiries on specifics like the actual amount of compensation and what was paid among others, Arc. Okafor could not give the details but requested that the true copy of the consent judgment
be obtained from the High Court or an application be made to the Housing Corporation for the specifics.
When obtained, it was strange the consent judgment had no information on the hectares of land acquired with terms and conditions appropriate for the community, and the amount paid as compensation to Isu-Aniocha Community or any other person or community at that and by who.
Earlier in a petition to the Governor and Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development, by Chief Lawrence Ofulume, 100-year old man on behalf of others, through his lawyer, Chief I.C Machie Esq, the elders warned that any trespassing into their land will be resisted and trespassers driven away with everything at their disposal through due process of the law.
They warned that any land to be released in lease or sale must be with the consent and approval of Umuneri General Assembly and its principal members like the elders.
The letter of complaint dated 26th November, 2019, categorically stated that the land, Agbagolu land Umuneri, is subject of litigation, and it was strange and as well unbelievable that some individuals are speculating that the land is a subject of acquisition. They said their forebears owned the land over 500 years and that they aren’t mindful of processes, rules and regulations guiding acquisition of land in the state.
Meanwhile, Umuneri Village Assembly had dragged the Anambra State Housing Development Corporation Awka, Arch Willie Okafor, Managing Director of the Corporation, Mr Anthony Nwofor, Estate Director in the Corporation, Anambra State Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, and Anambra State Ministry of Lands, Survey and Town Planning before an Awka High Court presided over by Justice D.O.C Amaechina on Suit No. A/243/2019 for invasion of land of Umuneri, Isu-Aniocha, with dangerous weapons.
The court already has served the parties consequences of disobedience to court order since April 28 this year, following a consent judgment by Justice D.O.C. Amaechina between Housing Corporation and Isu Aniocha people in a suit initiated against Housing Corporation and others by Mr Geoffrey Udeh, Mr Basil Ezeike, Mr Jude Okoye and Mr Anthony Nwogbo for themselves and on behalf of Umuneri Village, Isu-Aniocha, Awka North Local Government Area, Anambra State in September 2019.
The court notice says that ”unless you (Arc Willie Okafor, Managing Director, Anambra State Housing Development Corporation, Awka and co) obey the directions contained in this order, you will be guilty of contempt of court and will be liable to be committed to prison.” It was certified by an Assistant Chief Registrar , Nwachukwu E.U Mrs of Awka Judicial Division.
It would be recalled that in 2006, according to a petition by Chief M.P.S Ngini Esq of Mkpuorah, Mkpuorah & Co, some people including Messers Emeka Chinwuba, Emmanuel Chukwuemeka Obi, Patrick Nkemka Okoye, Jeff Nweke and others from Ezinano village Awka, Awka South Local Government Area without any boundaries with Isu- Aniocha Community in Awka North forcefully entered Umuneri Village Isu-Aniocha land and destroyed the agricultural crops there and started partitioning the land for sale.
The Umuneri Village people countered the invasion which nearly degenerated into a bloodshed and communal clash.
Ezinano People, Awka quickly went to court in 2006 against Isu-Aniocha town via Igwe Emebo as first defendant and the suit was struck out on 18/12/15 , leaving defendants counterclaim pending for determination.
But rather, the Ezinano People of Awka led by Mr Emeka Chinwuba and others allegedly conspired with the Anambra State Housing Development Corporation Awka to take over the said land and use it as Housing Estate.
The Housing Corporation and Ezinano People led by Mr Jeff Nweke entered the land with youths armed to the teeth suspected to be cultists and destroyed their economic trees and agricultural crops, timber trees, shrines, deities among others worth over N5 Billion belongings to Umuneri Isu-Aniocha in May 2009. .
It was regrettable that after the destruction of these Economic products, the corporation mounted a sign board on the land entitled: ‘ This Land Belongs to the Housing Corporation’.
Umuneri Village Isu-Aniocha also petitioned the State Commissioner of Police Anambra State on the massive destruction and cult activities, but no action was taken. And Umuneri, rather than taking laws into its hand, went to court via suit number A/243/2019 challenging the title of the cooperation and claiming damages of N5 Billion before the settlement out of court on January 2020 which is already in the breech according to Umuneri General Assembly, hence the community has rejected the forceful takeover of their lands by the Housing Corporation and their partners and anyone at that.
Umuneri said they were pained that after agreeing to give the Corporation some parts of their land which is 54.27 hectares of land from Obibia River for the estate, with the Housing Corporation agreeing to pay full compensation to Umuneri Village and shall pay half before taking over, it continued to lay claims to their entire land by force and refused to pay compensation of N5 Billion or N2.5 Billion half of the claims to Umuneri people, wondering why they rather resorted to intimidation.