Connect with us

Politics

Ugwuanyi: From political high flyer to ‘land grabbing controversy’

Published

on

Enugu is in the hands of God,” a conspicuous proclamation in nearly all billboards bearing the looming image of Enugu State governor, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in the Coal City State reads. But for many in the state, there is hardly anything godly about losing ancestral lands and source of livelihood to a governor many once regarded as a dear son, and without any form of compensation.

“Ugwuanyi has taken almost all lands in Nsukka,” lamented Mr. Nna Ugwu, a resident of Ede Oballa community. “People are suffering.”

But the fact that the governor is only taking advantage of the 1978 Land Use Act, which was  promulgated as a decree by the then military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo and which vested ownership and control of land to state governors.

In a bid to retain the law in the statute books even after he had left office, the Obasanjo-led Supreme Military Council (SMC) made the Land Use Act an integral part of the Constitution which it handed over to the Alhaji Shehu Shagari-led federal government.

The Act vested all land in each state (except land vested in the federal government or its agencies) solely in the governor of the state, who would hold such land in trust for the people and be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the state and to organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes, while similar powers with respect to non urban areas are conferred on local governments.

However, the act is in direct conflict with the traditional land tenure system of inheritance, personal and community ownership that had been in existence for centuries in Southern Nigeria, and especially in Igbo land and friction over the incompatibility of these systems have persisted.

The argument nonetheless, is that whilst the governor has the right to such unoccupied lands, he is morally, if not legally bound to compensate those who originally own the land.

Messiah to land grabber

Enugu North Senatorial Zone – often referred to as Nsukka Zone – had craved for a governor of their own since the return of civilian rule in 1999. With seven of the state’s 17 local governments – indeed initially eight until former governor, Chimaroke Nnamani annexed Isi-Uzo to Enugu East Senatorial zone – it is largest of the tripods that make up Enugu State. The others being Enugu West, often regarded as Udi/Awgu zone and Enugu East, Nkanu zone, both of which share five local governments each.

The return of democracy in 1999 saw the emergence of Dr.  Chimaroke Nnamani, from Agbani in Nkanu as governor. He was succeeded by Sullivan Chime from Udi in 2007. And in 2015, Ugwuanyi, from Udenu local government in Enugu North became governor, completing a triangle of power rotation among the three zones.

Ugwuanyi’s emergence as governor was eagerly awaited. He was an answer to the persistent clamour of the Enugu North. And he was to bring development to the zone in ways never seen before. Nnamani was believed to have developed his Nkanu constituency where he remains quite popular till date. Chime built up his Udi zone, and Ugwuanyi was to complete the cycle by developing Nsukka Zone.

Despite coming on board at a time when the country’s economy was in dire straits, the governor hadn’t really done a bad job of developing the zone, and indeed, the entire state. New roads have been built and a number of community projects completed, workers are paid before the 26th of every month. And it’s for these reasons that the governor had, and still remains popular with a vast majority in the state.

However, there is a creeping anger, resentment towards the governor over his administration’s new policy of vicious land grabbing. And if not checked, all that he has achieved could gradually pale into insignificance.

A vicious land grabbing push

Enugu, one could say, is a typical agrarian state. Most families in the rural areas survive on farming. Full time farmers are able to grow crops in reasonable commercial quantity. Subsistence farmers supplement with trading. Enugu has the widest land mass of any state in South East Nigeria, most of these lands serve as farm lands. But under Ugwuanyi, they are becoming residential estates, taken from traditional owners by the state government, with no compensation and sold out as estates.

“All the land from the stretch of Agu Ukwuabi to Amaegbu, all the way to Obimo; from Queens to Amama Village, the government has taken all,” lamented Emeka Obayi in Ede community, “Does it mean that Ugwuanyi will sell all the land in Enugu State before he completes his tenure?”

Advertisement

Obayi lamented that his uncle, Ignatius, 70, passed on a week prior, and he is convinced that he died because the land and economic trees with which he survived in his Ukwabi village, was taken over by the government.

“Ukwabi people have nowhere to farm anymore; their lands have been taken over. It’s what killed Ignatius. He had no other job apart from farming. But the land where he grew crops and economic trees, which he lived on had been taken over. He died of heart related causes.”

“He was complaining bitterly before his death. He said he was making almost N2million each year from the sale of cashew nuts, and other farm produce with which he survives in the village, but the whole place had been taken over and the trees pulled down.”

On Friday, fortnight ago, indigenes of Ngwuru, a community in the university town of Nsukka took to the streets to demonstrate against what they said was the taking over of their land by the Ugwuanyi government. Protests have been spontaneous in parts of the state. But it’s a government that has seemingly developed thick skin, and to whom people’s complaints matter little.

“Peter Okonkwo is the one who sells the lands, he moves around with police to intimidate people. He has sold all the open lands in Ngwuru,” a local artisan Chizoba Ugwu complained. “He is not only doing it in Ngwuru or Nsukka, but all the parts of Enugu State. They are taking people’s land everywhere.”

Barr Peter Okonkwo is the states Commissioner for Housing, a perennial governorship aspirant and elder brother of Nollywood actor cum politician, Kenneth Okonkwo. He had after several failed bids to become governor, and subsequent failure to win a seat at the Federal House of Representatives, retired   from active politics until he was appointed into the Ugwuanyi cabinet.

For Ugwu, however, the anger is not just that lands are being taken, but that they are being converted to residential estates with plots reportedly sold between N5million and N15million to private individuals by Barr Okonkwo’s ministry, as opposed to being used to build social infrastructure or institutions that could provide jobs. Jobs that people who lost farm land could have fitted into.

“We are clamouring for development,” he said. “But it should not be at the expense of people’s survival. It would have been better if the lands were used to build hospitals or schools, or even sold to investors to set up companies so that people can get jobs, but they are taking people’s lands to build estates.

“Although he has tried, in terms of roads and a few other things, but what is that when people are no longer able to live because their source of livelihood has been taken?”

Anger from Enugu North to Enugu East

Beyond Enugu North, there is also simmering anger in Nkanu land over plots taken over by the government along Enugu – Port Harcourt Expressway, it’s a land which originally belonged to clans in Amechi community, and in those clans anger has known no bounds.

“In 2015, everyone supported him (Ugwuanyi),” said Mr. John Nnaji . “But now people are seeing the bad side of him, especially as it concerns land grabbing. He has taken over almost a quarter of Amechi land, lands people hoped to hand over to their children and grandchildren.

However, some say it was indeed the people of the community that invited the government to take over the land in question because it was in dispute and had led to loss of lives.

The land, Akanizhinne, along Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, is in dispute because Umunnengene, a sub kindred of Umuaniabo in Isiagu, Amechi, claims exclusive ownership of it, while the general kindred claims it is owned by the whole kindred. The rift led to the killing of three sons of Isiagu on the disputed land, which, some say, led some prominent leaders of Amechi Uwani to secretly invite the government of Ugwuanyi to take over the land in a bid to prevent further bloodshed. It has since been converted to an estate.

“It was in dispute, in Umuaniabo, we have three sub families, one is Uwuakum, another is is Umunogo, the third one is Umunnengene,” explained Mr. Emeka Nnamani, a member of the Umuaniabo clan. “The Umunengene said they own the land alone, but the truth is that the land belongs to the whole Umuaniabo. We have tried to settle it, but some of the dubious ones refused.  At a point, some of the people went to grade it, other people tried to stop them and it led to loss of lives.”

But the original anger of the people proceeds the Ugwuanyi administration. Another community land, Agbana, mapped out for ESUT permanent site was eventually not used for the purpose since the Nnamani administration moved the state institution to Agbani.

Advertisement

The community expected that the land would be returned to their original owners, but that was not the case. It was subsequently partitioned into an estate by the Chime administration. Ugwuanyi is following same route and the people say, they have lost means of survival.

“We call that place Akanizhinne,” an embittered Nnamani said. “I believe that by law, government can only acquire land to build institutions that will serve public interests, but in this case, they took the land for themselves in the name of government and they are selling it for money. It was once advertised for the public to buy at N10million per plot.”

Nnamani alleged that some prominent members of the community had gone behind to take bribe from the government, leaving those of them who have no power to fight helpless, even as he lamented that the land is all that they had.

“This is our communal land; I’m from Umuaniabo family in Amechi. This land is the only property we have left. And I can tell you that some families depend solely on this land to survive.

“If the government came in and said they would use it to build school or hospital or market or even an industry, which will benefit the public, it would have been acceptable to us, but Gburugburu took it, and they are selling it to individuals.

A lot of families depend on this land. Some had sent their children to learn a trade hoping to set them up by selling the land. Some hope to use proceeds from it to send their children to school. In this part of Enugu, land is the resource we have. It’s what people sell to set themselves up.

Attempts to get the state government to clarify the issues raised did not yield much result. When contacted, the Senior Special Adviser to the state governor on media, Mr. Louis Amoke, declined comment, insisting that he didn’t have the proper identity of our reporter and could not therefore say anything.

“You know I don’t know you,” he said. And when reminded that introduction had be done, he insisted that “It’s not enough.”

Meanwhile, earlier calls to the phone lines of the state’s Commissioner for Education, Ogbuagu Anikwe went unanswered.

News continues after this Advertisement
News continues after this Advertisement