Trouble for Enugu land fraudsters

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From Magnus Eze, Enugu

Land racketeering is arguably one of the biggest businesses in Enugu State, especially Enugu, the capital. It has become a way of life. Communities even sell and resell lands to individuals and organistions.

The situation has in many cases pitched people against government and put the Enugu State Housing Development Corporation (ESHDC) in precarious conditions.

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In fact, the whole thing got to a head recently, prompting the corporation to warn that it would henceforth prosecute any community causing it unnecessary embarrassment through land racketeering.  

This came on the heels of the recent alarm raised by the people of Ugwunani community, Abor in Udi Local Government, that government invaded and took possession of their land in the outskirts of Trans Ekulu and Phase 6. The land in question, Daily Sun gathered, was acquired for the construction of Conquest Estate by the ESHDC.

 Chairman, Ugwunani Abor Community Land Peace Committee, Dr. Jude Okolo, who led a peaceful march at the site, alleged that agents of government had in November last year invaded the over 2000 plots and embarked on massive destruction of properties: “They just entered here, destroyed peoples’ crops already planted in their farms. We have already plotted and shared this land. People have surveyed, fenced and even started erecting structures on their own. All these things were destroyed, with beacons and gates uprooted and damaged.”

He said his people could not resort to violence in their agitation, for them not to jeopardize the peace already put in place by the State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. Secretary of the committee, Josephat Ekete,  said the peaceful protest was for people to know that government through ESHDC has exceeded its boundary in the said land.

A video emanating from the protest went viral on the social media and was laced with sustained media attack on the government. The ESHDC debunked the claims of Ugwunani community describing them as spurious statements being orchestrated by some disgruntled indigenes.

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General Manager, ESHDC, Chukwuemelie Agu, urged the public and all well-meaning Ugwunani Abor indigenes to discountenance and completely distance themselves from the wicked, irrational and absolutely dishonest allegation being peddled against the ESHDC and by extension, the state government.

He said the corporation has instructed its lawyers to commence criminal and civil procedures against those allegedly involved in the making and circulation of the fake video and malicious publications against government. He  presented what he called the untainted and verifiable facts regarding the involvement of the ESHDC in Ugwunani-Abor.

His presentation: “The people of Ugwunani Abor on April 15, 2021, approached the corporation, soliciting assistance and partnership in developing their land through an acquisition process. They claimed that the land was virgin and free from all encumbrances.

“Consequent upon this, the ESHDC negotiated with the community and executed a Deed of Customary Grant over the said land dated April 19, 2021 and signed by 26 members (attorneys) of the community. Thereafter, the corporation embarked on the clearing of the agreed land only to discover that most of it belonged to the neighbouring Ozalla Abbo community, which instantly protested the presence of the ESHDC.

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“To reconcile, the corporation constituted a 13-member Land Reconciliation Committee made up of three members apiece from Ugwunani Abor and Ozalla Abor, one lawyer representing each of the two communities, as well as the secretary and chairman of the corporation. Another member of the committee was the corporation’s surveyor who liaised with the surveyors of Ugwunani Abor and Ozalla Abor communities respectively to ensure that all the land areas designated for acquisition were reflected.”

Daily Sun gathered that in the course of the committee’s meetings and deliberations, the surveyors and lawyers for both Ugwunani Abor and Ozalla Abor informed them that almost all of the land in question had been previously sold by both communities to private purchasers. They canvassed the need to engage and accommodate such purchasers in whatever arrangements being made concerning the land.

The general manager: “The committee thus proceeded to invite the purchasers via radio/TV and newspaper advertisements (see Daily Sun, February 10, 2022) to present their claims and proof thereof to the corporation for verification within 21 days of the publication of the notice.

“Within this period, the corporation received 578 claims with respect to sales made by Ugwunani Abor alone from the said land. Meanwhile, before this came to light, Ugwunani Abor had demanded compensatory plots from the corporation upon the acquisition of the land.

“However, to ensure fairness, justice and equity to all parties involved, the corporation resolved to protect the interest of the purchasers by first deducting the total number of plots sold by the communities from the land and thereafter granting compensatory plots to the community based on the remaining number of plots.

“This apparently did not go down well with these self-serving individuals who had planned on being compensated for acquisition of lands that no longer (and in some cases never even) belonged to Ugwunani Abor. These individuals who obviously acted without the authority nor the consent of Ugwunani Abor people, resorted to cheap blackmail and malicious propaganda against the corporation and by extension, the Enugu State Government, by claiming that the corporation entered into Ugwunani Abor ancestral land without the consent of the community.”

However, their Ozalla Abor neighbours expressed gratitude to Governor Ugwuanyi for siting the mega housing estate in their area. Representatives of the community who paid a courtesy visit on the General Manager of ESHDC described it as unprecedented and revolutionary.

Their spokesman, Ferdinand Agbo, said the project would engender economic and social development in the area while boosting the governor’s commitment to the development of the housing sector.

He pledged the “total and unqualified” support of the community to the project adding that their people were prepared to take all necessary measures to ensure that the project was fully and speedily realised. He extolled Agu for the peaceful manner with which he handled the negotiations with the community.

Agu thanked Ozalla Abor people for their support for the project. He said the estate, which would cost over N1.8 billion to complete was just one of many that government planned to develop in various parts of the state: “The project will trigger massive infrastructural and economic development of the area.”

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