• Sale of Shell camp quarters causes uproar
From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
There was confusion recently at the Shell Camp Quarters, Owerri as retirees of the Alvan Ikoku Federal College of Education, Owerri, Imo State, were ordered out of their flats by armed men, allegedly led by the principal aide to the Governor on Recovery of State Government Property, Leonard Okoro.
The “invaders” threatened to deal with any other occupant who failed to vacate on their next visit. They were said to have removed some of the roofs of the houses, as well as broke the doors of the house of a member of the governing council of the college.
Some of the retirees lamented that on several occasions they were harassed by the agents of the state government who claimed that the quarters belonged to the government, who had in turn re-allocated it to private individuals for development as new GRA, Owerri. The invasion was sequel to the eviction order handed down to the retirees as government had re-allocated the over 360 plots to individuals to be re-developed as a new Owerri GRA.
The management of the institution had insisted that when the college was taken over by the Federal Government, both the assets and liabilities of the former state-owned institution were equally taken over, including the Alvan Shell Camp. It also said that the institution had never had any problem regarding to their quarters until in 2011, when the Rochas Okorocha administration came on board.
The administration had earlier set up a committee on the Recovery of State Government Properties in 2011 headed by Chief Placid Ekwueme, which discovered that some property of the state government were being illegally occupied by some persons, including those at the Alvan Ikoku Shell Camp Quarters who are mostly retirees.
But the Provost of the College, Dr (Mrs) Blessing Ijioma, told Daily Sun that the Alvan Shell Camp axis was officially ceded to the Federal Ministry of Education as part of the institution. She said her office, received complaints from the residents of incessant attacks and harassment by persons suspected to be agents of the state government before the latest invasion:
“We are surprised by the incessant harassment of our staff and retirees at the Shell Camp Quarters by agents of the state government. The landed properties at the Shell Camp Quarters were validly transferred to the Federal Government by the state government when the Federal Government officially took over Alvan Ikoku College of Education. We presented the documents, which gave the school ownership of the properties to Governor Rochas Okorocha when members of the Senate Committee on Education paid him a courtesy call at the Government House. So, for the state government to still be laying claims to these Shell Camp Quarters is very surprising because the said quarters is meant for the staff of the institution.”
A staff of the institution who, spoke on the condition of anonymity wondered why the state government wanted to chase out the members of staff of the institution from their quarters in the name of trying to build a GRA: “The state government cannot chase out the staff of the institution from their quarters and sale same to private developers for the purpose of developing a GRA on a land that it does not own.
“The previous administrations never laid claim to the Shell Camp Quarters since the takeover of the college by the Federal Government in 2007. In fact, it was only the Orji/ Uratta Aborigines who are claiming the ownership of the land because they argued that they had leased the place to the Shell Oil Company for a period of 50 years, which they said had elapsed.
“They had in 2012 dragged both the Imo State government, the Federal Ministries of Industries, Lands and Urban Planning to court and that matter has not been disposed off yet and so the claim of the state government is neither here or there,” he insisted.
However, Okoro disputed the institution’s management claim over the Shell Camp Quarters. He insisted that several eviction notices were served on them since 2014, but that the occupants refused to vacate the quarters until the committee headed by him was set up to take it over:
“At the last meeting with the Alvan Ikoku College management, they could not support their claims with any documentary evidence. Earlier, the state government had ceded large section of the Shell Camp Quarters to the institution for their official buildings and areas that they have their classrooms and not the government section which was formerly called Commissioners’ Quarters, which does not belong to Alvan Ikoku College as being claimed by the management.”
He said that the state government re-acquired the area from Orji/ Uratta natives who had leased it out to Shell Camp for 50 years, adding that the leased agreement having lapsed in 2015, the people in order to recover their land had sued the state to hands off their land, but that the matter was settled out of court.
“After our negotiation with the Orji community and the appropriate compensations paid, the Shell Camp was re-acquired. The state government re- surveyed and re-titled it as new GRA Owerri and the re-allocation of the lands to illustrious sons and daughters of the state who have already commenced and they have been paying N25 million per a parcel of land. Again, the state government wants to start the construction of good access road to the area and provision of electricity for the new GRA.”
But Chief Amanze Njoku, the administrator general of Orji Aborigines Congress, a socio -cultural association, told Daily Sun that the matter is still before the court and that they have not reached any compromise with either the state government or federal agencies:
“I and others sued both the state government and the Federal agencies, and the Industrial Development Centre in 2012 with suit NO: HOW/345/2012; Chief Amanze C.P Njoku & Ors Vs Imo State Government & Ors and another hearing has been fixed for this month. The matter has not been resolved contrary to what the state government is saying.
“The land in question is owned by individual families and it is not a communal land. I am the first plaintiff in the matter with four others. As law abiding-citizens, we cannot fight the state government, but we are following due process in the matter. All the people living there are doing so at will because they don’t have any legal title to the land until the court decides otherwise.”
He pointed out that when Shell BP and the people were having problem over the land, the company left and the original owners of land went back to their lands and started farming on it again:
“After the creation of Imo State, there was a quest for land for development. We were told that the land would be used to build industries and we consented and it was given to them. But the oral agreement was breached as the Industrial Development Centre who had already acquired a land at Irete.
“Instead of developing the industries resorted to selling off our lands which they did not pay for at the price of N25 million and then present a fake document from the presidential implementation committee which was not in existence and we had to sue them. With the exception of the Alvan Ikoku College of Education who we had an agreement with on the basis of admission quota, the rest of the occupants are there illegally.”
He also disclosed that the Orji/ Uratta Aborigines Congress had last year put up a refutal when the state government advertised that interested persons should obtain a form for N50 million to acquire a parcel of land at the Shell Camp Quarters.
An executive member of the congress, Oguchuruba Emmanuel, maintained that at no time had the land matter been settled. He said the case is still pending at the state high court and challenged the state government to name those who it had purportedly settled:
“Please ask them to tell you who they had settled because the land in questioned is owned by individual families and not a communal land. The matter is still in court and if they have settled us as they claimed why are we still in court? Because it is the same people that they claimed to have settled that are the litigants who are from Orji/ Uratta in Owerri North.”
Similarly, Chief Obingaya Innocent Metu Njoku who is also a plaintiff in the suit queried, if the state government claims to have settled the land owners, who did they settle? The litigant maintained that no portion of land in dispute is available for alienation, sale, lease or allocation to any person till the determination of the case by the court.