Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha

Residents of Ezegbe, Umumpuma Oba, in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, again took to the streets recently to protest what they termed the illegal takeover of their land as well as the allocation of part of the communal land for the construction of the Aluminium Market.

The people had, six weeks ago, protested the alleged takeover of their land by the state government for the construction of the Anambra Oba International Market without adequate compensation to the owners of the land.

They accused the developers, Bukham and Micpan companies, of selling the land in contention despite the fact that the land matter is currently before a court of law.

It was gathered that the land was acquired in 2002 by the administration of the former governor, Dr. Chinweoke Mbadinuju, for an international market, in partnership with Bukham Nigeria Limited, a firm of private developers.

Bukham is now partnering with Micpan, another company, to continue the development of the land after it had constructed more than 1,500 shops at the place. The community has insisted on the payment of all entitlements, which they accused the state government and the firm of not paying before starting work on the land 17 years ago.

The protesters, mostly elderly men and youths, picketed the site demanding that the firm must pay the community compensation or desist from further sale and development of the land pending the determination of the matter that is before the court.

Members of the community carried placards with inscriptions such as “Leave Ezegbe family land alone,” “Bukham Ltd and Micpan are intimidating Ezegbe people with unknown security agents,” “Ministry of Commerce and Trade not aware of Micpan’s presence in Ezegbe community land,” “Ezegbe community cries to state government to come to our aid and rescue,” and “The case is before the court, stop selling our land until court decides,” among others.

The chairman of the community, Benson Anajemba, alleged that the firm forcefully took over the land without payment of any compensation to the landowners since 2002.

He alleged that the firm claimed that government paid compensation but he insisted that it was not paid to his community. He reiterated that no amount of intimidation would make the firm take over their land without adequate compensation.

“It was agreed with the then governor, Mbadinuju, that the firm would pay compensation, provide boreholes, build a school and give us 20 per cent of the land, which they have not done. We are still asking for payment of compensation but the developer is busy selling and allocating the land to groups, unions and markets.

“We had protested earlier in April over the payment of compensation after which we went to court but since then the firms or their representatives have not appeared in the court. We came out again to protest because we are law-abiding citizens, so that everybody should hear our cry.

“Three days ago, we saw bulldozers clearing part of the land. On inquiry, we were told that the developer had sold part of the land to Aluminum Market.

“Then today, we saw some people putting up canopies and seats and,when we inquired again, they said that the Aluminum Market traders came to lay the foundation for the construction of their market on our land, without our knowledge. They said they bought the land from Micpan, one of the developers who had not paid us any compensation, even when the case is still pending in court,” Anajemba said.

A representative of the elders council of the community, Ogbuefi Daniel Ibeakuzie, said that the firm has been dribbling the community on the payment of compensation as well as other entitlements over the years.

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His words: “The firm had already sold part of the land to the Onitsha patent medical dealers (Ogbogwu). We protested and told them that we were the owners of the land not the Bukham company. We know that government owns every land but there is a process to acquire land, which is payment for economic trees and other compensations.

“We are calling on government to come to our aid and recover our land from the firm that is using the land to do other businesses. Then alternatively, the firm should come to us so we can have a round table for us to talk business with them.”

One of the youth leaders, Nze Victor Uzochukwu, said the land was forcefully taken from the community by the company since 2002.

“A private developer, Bukham Nigeria Ltd, now partnering with Micpan, another company, invaded our land on the claims that state government then gave it to them, only for us to continue to seek redress in that direction and our observation was very clear that government had not perfected that the company is the owner of the land.

“We are beckoning on government to come to our aid and see how we can be saved from all these unnecessary and periodic invasions from the firm and its security agents. The government says that before they will cede any authority to anybody, even if it is a private developer or even the government itself, they ought to have come to negotiate with the community-landowners and have some level of agreement and that has been done,” Uzochukwu said.

Another leader of the community, Pastor Emmanuel Praise Ifediba, asserted that the land in question had been owned by the Ezegbe community for years. He said the developers have been using the land to do business without adequate entitlements paid to the landowners.

“There is a process of acquiring land, even if it is by government. They should involve the community, not taking our land by force. We shall not allow anybody to come into the land to do anything without giving us our rights. They are intimidating us because we don’t have people in government to speak for us but God will fight for us and recover our land.

“We heard that they paid compensation to another community called Ogwugwu community, who we have a boundary with. They have their own land and we have our own, so why should they pay those people and refuse to pay us? They want to take our land by force, but it will not work. Government should call the developers to order or they should do the needful,” Ifediba said.

One of the managers of the company, Mr. Micpan Egbule, in his reaction, denied all the allegations. He explained that the state government gave the firm the land and then paid compensation to the appropriate communities.

“Nobody should take the law into their hands,” he counselled. “We don’t have any problem with the community. It is government land. If they feel they have any case on the land, they should go to court and get an injunction to stop us. It is the court that will decide on this matter and nobody should come to the site to make any trouble.

“Anambra State needs peace. Nobody will cause any problem on that site. We are here to develop the land as acquired from government, not even from the community. In every case, the Supreme Court has the final say. Anambra State government has paid compensation and government is not a business organisation. They have paid compensation to the people they feel are the rightful owners of the land for now, unless the court decides otherwise tomorrow.

“We are not here to drag any land with anybody. We are just developers and we have a limited time to stay here. The land doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to the state government.

“The last time we went to the office of the deputy commissioner of police in Awka, all the parties, and the representative of the ministries of land were there. Ogwugwu community, Umumpuma community’s representatives were there. And the police officer warned every party to ensure that there is peace on the land. He charged them to go to court if they have any grievances.

“If the court gives any injunction for me to stay away from the land, I will not enter the place. Nobody should take the law into his hands to stop us because no court has asked to to stop work on the site. We cannot negotiate with another community when government had paid compensation to the other community. We are working with the government; we don’t even recognise any community. They should go to court and whatever the court says, we will abide by it.”