By Jonathan Ugbal
The last may not have been heard of the decision of the Cross River State Government to construct a passenger and cargo airport in Obudu Local Government Area as one of the host communities has claimed that over five hundred million Naira worth of crops have been destroyed so far.
One of the communities affected, Okambi have through their legal representatives, threatened to employ in a “highly publicised multiple legal machinery” against the State Government if it fails to remove earth moving equipment from its land and pay the said compensation.
In a Pre Action letter titled “Unlawful Entry, Destruction Of Farm Crops And Encroachment Of Rural Agricultural Land Under The Ownership And Possession Of The People Of Okambi, Obudu,” dated May 16, 2019; signed by the community’s lawyer, Mr. Aniah Ikwen and addressed to the Governor argued that though the land use act was a product of the military regime, it still “possess human face hence the provision for the procedure of acquisition of land which by virtue of the Preamble to the Land Use Act, is merely held by the Governor or Local Government Chairman in trust for the people. It however recognises that ownership of land is the people.
“Take notice that within three (3) days of your receipt of this letter (inclusive the date of receipt) you cause all your earth moving construction equipment, men and materials to be removed from Our Clients’ land forthwith and a proper compensation be paid them for the losses suffered so far by them by virtue of the unprofessional and high-handed and unlawful activities the persons driving the project on your behalf.
“Take further notice that should you elect to neglect and/or refuse to yield to Our clients’ demands, we shall be left with no option than to employ highly publicized multiple legal machinery against you, your agents, assigns, representatives and/or any person by whatever name under whatsoever guise.”
Also, the community argued that aside the monetary value of the crops destroyed, “the traditional lands invaded into are held by families and individuals.
“None of the said families or individuals have been served with any notice revoking their rights in/or holding of such Land or and none of them have been served with any notice of acquisition of their land for any purpose whatsoever. The lands invaded into are the only arable land they have.”
Now, the State Government had in a letter dated April 25, 2019 addressed to the Clan Head of the Okambi/Ikwomikwu clan and signed by the Special Adviser Technical, Mr. Eric Akpo had said the airport which was conceived for “common good” and will, “impact positively and progressively on the socioeconomic tourism and agriculture sectors of the State and of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in relative terms.”
Mr. Akpo’s letter also said that in order to ensure “speedy completion,” acquisition and compensation processes as stated in Nigeria Land Use Act of 2004, “will commence immediately while also site preparation works such as clearing and development of access road would be kick -started by the project delivery team.”
The land in question is about nine square kilometers and lies northwards of Obudu belonging to the Atiekpe, Ikwomikwu and Okambi communities. And, Mr. Akpo’s letter said it’s choice was due to its “topographical and physical features in relationship to the open horizon at the North-Eastern and South-Western axis which is convenient for runway orientation.”
But, the community says the State’s position that acquisition and compensation processes will be carried out alongside site preparations, “leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Our Clients are aware that with the exception of emergency services, every government project is carefully planned, stakeholders are engaged, the people are properly briefed on the proprietary of the said project and lastly a procurement process is publicized or the government undertakes the said job by direct labour.”
Here is the letter obtained by CrossRiverWatch Obudu CArgo airport letter
Meanwhile, the State had in line with procurement laws in the May 15, 2019 edition of its fully owned and operated Nigerian Chronicle Newspaper published and invitation for the “Expression Of Interest For The Conduct Of Feasibility Studies, Design And Construction Of Obudu Cargo International Airport.”
The project is to be implemented by the Ministry of Transport and Marine Services which said it was in accordance with the 2019 appropriation law of the State.
“This project intends to further open up the State to the outside world by allowing for the horticultural cultivation and export of ornamental flowers, fruits and vegetables to Europe and beyond. Cultivate temperate crops and animal husbandry up the Obudu Ranch Resort and put it into full capacity utilization with local and direct international quest. Also to densify traffic to the proposed Amunga Beach and Busafong Resort which will be the sun city of Nigeria. To reverse international tourism by Nigerians and indeed Africans, a touristic and commercial airport with not less than 3km runway,” the publication read.
But, CrossRiverWatch observed that the expiry date for the submission of the Expression of Interest was “1pm, 8th May 2019” which is one week before the publication date.
And, the Okambi Development Association (ODA) in Calabar said while it agrees to the decision to construct an airport in Obudu, “due process was not followed in the manner used by representatives pf the State Government to force land owners within the speculated airport vicinity to give up their land.”
The association set up a committee to this effect led by Mr. Steve Adie which began work on Monday, May 13, 2019 and in a weekly bulletin made available to CrossRiverWatch, said, “some chiefs and highly placed executive members of the village council have turned their back on the ODA (in) Calabar and Abuja that are working tirelessly for the interests of the community.”
The committee also alleged that Mr. Akpo had “called the Community Chairman of ODA Calabar chapter to threaten him (from) going home to ask the Community to stop the work in Okambi, we are yet to hear the end of it as he told our Chairman to expect a call from the Governor.”