Fulani herder watches over his cattle. Credit: CC

From PETER OKORE, Umuahia

Abia state Government has washed her hands off the controversy surrounding the purported allocation of land to the federal government for the establishment of the proposed rural grazing area (RUGA) project. The state Government has also made clear that the Cattle market located at Lokpanta in Umunnochi Local Government Area  is quite distinct from the RUGA programme of the Federal Government.

This is also comes in the heel of allegation against  the  traditional ruler of Okwu-Olokoro autonomous community in Umuahia- South Local  Government Area of  Abia State, Eze Boniface Izuogu that he sold part of their community land to the Fulani herdsmen for grazing.

The  state  Attorney- General and  Commissioner for Justice, Chief Uche Ihediwa made the clarification, last week, during an interaction  session  with  newsmen in Umuahia, saying that the said  land in question at Arungwa in Osisioma  Local  Government  Area was meant for trailer park.  Ihediwa.who was commissioner of Lands, Survey and  Urban  Planning in the first tenure of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, said that the state government was alarmed at the “unfortunate, wicked and malicious insinuations” that Abia had already set aside land for Ruga.

He explained that the federal government originally made a request for land for the purpose of establishing Trailer Park at Umunneochi, Umuahia and Osisioma. The request he said, was made through the federal ministry of works to ease the reconstruction of the Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriage way during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.

According to him, the Trailer Park project at Arungwa was aborted because the available land measured 20 hectares whereas the federal government wanted 50 hectares of land.

“There was nothing untoward about the request for land made under former President Jonathan,” he said, adding that the state government has at present not even issued letter of allocation much less the certificate of occupancy.

Ihediwa regretted that the land request made in September 2014 by the Jonathan administration “had assumed, as he described it,” a dangerous colouration” because of the tetchy issue of Ruga project being pursued by the Muhammadu Buhari government. He said that the affected land at Arungwa has since been designated for vehicle assembly plant attracted from China by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.

The Attorney General who was flanked by the traditional ruler of Arungwa. Eze Ndukwe Enwereji stated that the federal government had always requested for land any time it wanted to establish a federal project in Abia. However he made it clear that the state government reserved the right to revoke any land allocated to the federal government if the purpose clause was violated.

The Attorney General and commissioner for Justice blamed the traditional ruler of Umuobasi, Eze S. I. Owuala whose autonomous community is contiguous to Arungwa, for spreading the “false rumour” that Abia had allocated land for Ruga at Arungwa. He announced that the state government has issued a seven day ultimatum to the royal father “to apologise to the state government or we meet him in court”.

Ihediwa insisted that Abia would never allocate land for Ruga as such action “will be insensitive and contrary to the stand of the Southeast governors” on the Ruga issue, adding the region had already taken steps to checkmate Ruga project in any ratification.

He said that government would “now scrutinize with a tooth comb any request for land in excess of five hectares even if it is for hospital” adding that “we’ve been sensitizing our people about giving out their lands.

Aside the fore-going, report being circulated online say Eze Izuogu,  in collaboration with some elders in the community, sold out the community land measuring about 263 hectares of land , which is alleged to be  in the process of being  graded for the herdsmen to occupy.  Eze Izuogu has also described the report as false, saying, “I did not do such a thing and I won’t do such a thing”.

According to him, he became the traditional ruler of Okwu-Olokoro in 2001; but between 1991 to 1993, the community had unanimously given some parcels of land to Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, MOUAU for agricultural expansion.

“In 2011 when I became the traditional ruler of Okwu-Olokoro, the university decided to pay us for the value of economic crops, not for the land. This happened while they had not entered the land because they were not ready. Now they are ready, they have started grading the place for agricultural expansion and for the building of hostels.

“Somebody, who does  not like me  and had been looking for a way to kill me and my family decided to write against me by saying that I have sold the land to the Fulani herdsmen. There is no way in this civilized society like Okwu-Olokoro that a traditional ruler will single-handedly sell a land spanning 260 hectares to Fulani herdsmen..

“Since this write-up has been made, I have received more than 200 calls from different countries of the world, asking why I sold a land belonging to Biafrans to the Fulani herdsmen, which I didn’t do. Some of these calls come with a threat to wipe out my family”.

When approached to comment on the development, the Chairman of the land donors to MOUAU   and Chairman Ikwuano traditional rulers council, HRM Eze Christopher Ejirika described the write up as false, saying  government only acquires  land and pays for  damaged  cash crops.

 

He recalled that the Land Use Decree (now Land Use Act) promulgated on 29th of March 1978 vested all land in each state of the Federation in the governor of that state.

Lending his voice, the Secretary of the land donors – MOUAU and Chairman Umuahia South traditional rulers council, HRM Eze Godfrey Onwuka described the report as baseless and false, arguing that the land was acquired before the civilian government was ushered-in. While exonerating Eze Izuogu from the allegations, Eze Onwuka argued that most of them were not even traditional rulers when the said land was acquired by the government.

Another community leader from Okwu-Olokoro, Chief Martins Ugoji described the report as unfortunate and challenged the writer to be bold enough to come and prove his claims.

The purported report reads in part: “Information reaching us now is that 263 hectares of land is about to be given-out to Fulani herdsmen for their grazing business. The land belongs to some kindred in Okwu-Olokoro Umuahia South LGA. Few years ago, the kindred revolted over the Federal Ministry of Agriculture’s take-over of the 263 hectares of land, which is being graded and very soon the herdsmen will occupy the land against the wishes of the land owners….”

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