On 10th December, 2020, a prominent non- governmental and civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) had a media conference to mark 2020 international Human Rights Day. During the briefing they briefly touched on an issue and again brought to the fore the issue of land grab that is directly linked to officials of Enugu State government.
Though HURIWA restrained itself to only one case, complaints of land grabbing by the state government officials is very rampant in Enugu state so much so that it is perceived in some quarters to be a silent official state policy of the government.
There are complaints in several communities in the state that the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi-led government of Enugu State has brazenly deployed land grabbing as a weapon to economically suppress the citizens. It deliberately and forcefully possesses community lands citing overriding public interest only to convert them in the end to private businesses.
There are reports that there is a dedicated bank account where the proceeds from the sales of these fraudulently acquired lands are lodged into. For instance, as soon as they are forcefully taken over the government does the layout, demarcates them and begins to dispose them. Since his coming, there has not been a single housing estate to the credit of the present administration in the state. This practice has seemingly portrayed it as the most insensitive government since 1999.
For any keen observer on ground since 2015 there have been seasons of forceful takeover of lands in communities predominantly in the Nkanu area of the state which otherwise is the Enugu-East senatorial zone. In most cases, the government induces crisis with a view to causing divisions among the people so as to have a smooth sail.
Affected natives are currently overwhelmed by feelings of despair and anxiety over the future of their children not to talk of the generation yet unborn. They have consistently expressed justifiable fears that this oppressive practice is a panacea for imminent replication of the current blood-letting going on in the Southern Kaduna and parts of Plateau and Taraba states if unchecked.
Although there is no single community within the zone that is spared of this organized injustice being served by a government that is supposed to protect the people, the ones that are currently in the front burner include the large expanse of ancestral land at Ibagwa Nike community; Ogui Nike land at old WTC School Enugu; Ogui Nike / Ugwuaji communities along Enugu-Port-Harcourt Expressway; Umuchigbo Iji Nike Community layout land; Amechi Awkunanaw land also along Enugu-Port-Harcourt Expressway; Amakpaka community land in Ugwuogo Nike in addition to numerous others which the indigenes were intimidated into signing off.
But amid all these, there is one pathetic case that has generated widespread condemnation and truly brought to the fore the real motive of government. It has to do with a parcel of land that was acquired by the late wife of Senator Gilbert Nnaji, Princess Anne, for her proposed skills acquisition and school project, at Ibagwa Nike. Government could not allow the tears that flowed at the painful passing on of this woman to dry up, before moving to forcefully acquire the only legacy she was working on before her untimely death.
Morality demands that despite the intentions, government should rather than this questionable acquisition, the family should have been encouraged to actualize the dream of the departed. This is certainly not a good way to mock the dead, despite whatever interest.
The Amechi Uwani community in Enugu South Local Government Area of Enugu State has helplessly taken its own outcry against the state government’s forceful take-over of their only remaining ancestral land to court. They accused the Ugwuanyi government of fraudulently acquiring their ancestral lands and selling the same to “friends and relatives” as against the claim of overriding public interest.
In spite of passionate appeals by the people through their traditional ruler, Enugu State government seized the lands with a declaration that it would build a housing estate which would benefit the entire state.
Today, the area has been laid out and brisk land businesses going on there at the frustration of the locals. In an open protest the community youths “brandished placards, some of which read “Gov Ugwuanyi, Please, Relocate Us’; ‘Fg, Save Our Community’; No Hope For Our Children’, and ‘Ugwuanyi, Imitate Amosun Of Ogun State’ And ‘We Say No To Land Grabbers’ .
The people of Ibagwa Nike, in Enugu-East local government are still in deep agony over the forceful takeover of “ancestral land of the Umuaneke Ode family with over 150 buildings already erected without compensation. The indigenes are vocal that “the governor of the state was converting some of the land for his personal use”.
After successfully instigating crises between the Ogui Nike and Ugwuaji Awkunanaw communities, the government immediately acquired their lands which are currently being sold to cronies and monies realized being deposited in an unknown account.
Ogui Nike women of Enugu North local government in their own protest lamented that “what is happening in Southern Kaduna and some places in Plateau, Benue and Taraba states is a pointer to what will become of Nkanu Land after the administration of Ugwuanyi”. Families have been forced to stop bearing children as their future has been mortgaged.
Speaking the minds of majority of the people, one Ikechukwu Ogbodo cried out that “since 2015, virtually all local government areas within the state and the communities therein have suffered one way or another in the way the state government grabs people’s lands.”
He added that “even at the Governor’s home town at Orba in Udenu LGA of Enugu State, the state government went to a community called Owerre Ezeorba and collected 800 plots of land belonging to the community, with speculations that the Governor wants to use to build his residence (and also) had annexed with force all the land within his residential premises at Enugu/Abuja (Makurdi) Express Road, Orba in Udenu LGA of Enugu State.
It is being speculated that this land grabbing is a political strategy to suppress and disintegrate the Nkanu people so that it would be extremely difficult for them resist the planned imposition of Ugwuanyi’s successor come 2023, This is because according to the zoning arrangement in the state since 1999, it is the turn of the Nkanu to produce the next governor but the governor is believed to have a different intention.
Lending credence to this line of thought, a former Commissioner in the state admitted that “because this land grabbing issue is a calculated attempt to impoverish the Nkanu people, there is no single incidence of such in Nsukka where the governor comes from.
Also, Isi-Uzo which is culturally not an integral part of Nkanu, though part of the zone, is tactfully exempted because they have an affinity with the governor. Unfortunately, in order to be politically correct those that should speak are rather turning blind eyes.
The terrain and the environment are filled with palpable fears and apprehensions. There is something wrong somewhere. There is injustice but nobody is speaking for us. We are now headed for the status of second class citizens. We need protection.
The hypocrisy of those wallowing in conspiracy of silence is the impetus driving this wicked agenda. As such we cry out to the media and CSOs to come to our aid before we suffer extinction.
A government that means well for the masses should have a blueprint for ordered development. For instance, the preceding government built rural roads that substantially connected the 17 LGAs to the city centre which particularly made the majority of the civil servants to operate from their various communities.
It is therefore expected that if those touted housing projects under-whose guise government acquired lands are well intended, should be evenly spread, at least to bring about real development, considering that the Enugu-East senatorial zone has forfeited a lot of their lands to the governments. But sadly, no semblance of a housing project has been executed since Ugwuanyi came to power.
To further establish that it is merely warfare against a section of the state, it is evident that apart from the secretariat annex, the 200-bed hospital, mobile police base, there is nothing else that is on-going that tends to take over lands in Nsukka area.
There are large expanses of lands that could facilitate the housing needs of the people if truly the governor has no ulterior motive. Parts of such lands which the governor was told about at the inception of his government were quickly sold to an Nsukka man for private university venture.
Well-meaning Nigerians are therefore by this openly appealed to come to the rescue of the oppressed people of Enugu State before it is too late.
…Onyekachi Ugwu writes from Enugu