Enugu Government Fails To Explain Encroachment On Land Meant For State Varsity

In Breaking News, Investigation

The multi-hectares of land donated by neighboring Obeagu Awkunanaw and Amechi Uwani communities to the old Anambra State for the building of the main campus of then Anambra State University of Science and Technology, ASUTECH, have become a source of controversy between the donors and the state following the conversion of the land to private estate development. The ensuing discrepancy over the actual size of the land is among the contentious issues investigated by Ben Aroh in this report.

The Concept Of Centenary City

The Enugu Centenary City was conceptualized by former Governor Sullivan Chime. It was an adaptation of Nigeria’s Centenary celebration in 2014 marking the amalgamation of the southern and northern Nigeria protectorates on January 1, 1914. The land where the Centenary is situated was originally meant for the building of the main campus of ASUTECH during the regime of former governor of the state, Senator Jim Nwobodo.

Emerging Discrepancies

The size of the land donated has become a burning issue. A native of the community, Sunday Udeh, said, “It was 318 hectares of land. We didn’t see the university. Suddenly, it was gathered that the same land had been given to a private developer to build private estates. Not just that, the developers suddenly claimed that the measurement of the land was 1,019 hectares.”

Senator Jim Nwobodo, who is a native of Amechi, has stated his own part of the deal. He said, “Almost four decades ago, I believed that citing a university in my homestead will guarantee the advancement of my people. I tried, but alas! I could not complete the process of acquisition and development before the change of government in October of 1983. Some years later, Gov Chimaroke Nnamani fulfilled that dream by relocating the university to Agbani. It is indeed painful to realize that the land initially meant for that project is the subject of this protest.”

On the actual size of the land, Nwobodo said, “I attempted to acquire 318 hectares of land in Amechi and not 1,097 hectares of land. The attempted acquisition was for an overriding public interest, and not for any private estate business venture.”

Nwobodo also faulted the purported gazette of the state government on the land. According to him, “The Anambra State of Nigeria official gazette number 12, Vol II of 27th March 1986 is ineffectual as the gazette did not have the authority of the then military Governor of Anambra State, Samson Omeruah. The Enugu State University of Science and Technology survey plan (PLAN EN(A)594) purported to have been made in 1985 is unreal, invalid, and is not really made in 1985 because Enugu State was created in 1991 and Enugu State University of Science and Technology was after the creation of Enugu State in 1991.”

Obeagu community, in a release, corroborated Nwobodo’s claims. Describing the stories around the Centenary City as ‘half-truth’ and ‘outright falsehood’, the release read, “Senator Nwobodo commissioned for survey works pursuant to the acquisition of an estimated 318.560 hectares of land in certain kindred families in Amechi Uwani and Obeagu Awkunanaw. Preliminary survey was done and endorsed by the then Surveyor General, M.U.C Obi, dated March 8, 1982, with Tracing No: MISC AN-53 for 318.560 hectares.

“Sometime in 2009, a certain private company entered upon that same land in the name of a New Township Development Joint venture with government and began to destroy economic trees and habitation that lay in the path of their proposed development, and in the process attempted to forcefully take over from us a total of over 1,097 hectares of ancestral lands partly belonging to Amechi Uwani and Obeagu Awkunanaw community.

“Curiously and magically, without our knowledge, the survey plan was re-scripted to bear PLAN No: EN (A) 594 in favor of Enugu State University of Technology in 1985 and expanded to 1,097 hectares. How come that Enugu State created in 1991 could acquire land and have a survey plan in the name of Enugu State University of Technology pre-1991? Again, since Enugu State was not created before 1991, why would the plan number supposedly approved in 1985 bear the initials of ‘EN’ being a state that was yet to be created as of 1985?

“The referenced Gazette No. 12 dated 27th March 1986, purportedly signed by Charles Chika Chime, Commissioner for Works, Lands and Transport, Anambra State, on behalf of Navy Captain Allison Amaechina Madueke and supposedly conveying the revocation of the Customary Right of Occupancy of both communities (Amechi and ours) had a major discrepancy.

“Navy Captain Madueke was not the governor of Anambra State in March of 1986. Samson Omeruah was governor from August 1985 till sometime in December 1987. Navy Captain Madueke could therefore not have issued a directive to publish a gazette and/or yellow paper in a state not under his administration.”

The community said the climax of the episode was the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for the 1,097 hectares to a private developer, Private Estate International West Africa Ltd (PEIWA). The community however added that the C-of-O was later revoked in November 2019 by the state, through the then Commissioner for Lands, Surveyor Victor Chukwuemeka Nnam.

It added, “Upon the revocation, PEIWA sued the Enugu State Government in Suit No: E/1081/2019. As is our prerogative, representatives of both concerned kindred families of Amechi Uwani and Obeagu Awkunanaw filed separate joinders to the suit.”

The community stated that the case lasted about three years without determining the application of both communities to be joined in the suit. Then the next shocker was “when we became aware of a certain consent judgment entered into between PEIWA and the Enugu State Government on the 9th February 2023”, prompting the concerned communities to file various suits challenging the consent judgment before the Enugu State High Court. Despite the pendency of these suits, the Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA) still went ahead on 19/01/2024 to carry out the widely condemned demolition of houses, the community alleged.

PEIWA Speaks

Chamberlain Mbachu is the Construction/Project Manager of the Enugu Centenary City project. He said, “The gazette is explicit on the size and location of the land. It is an event of between 1985 and 1986. The gazette also has the coordinates of the boundary beacons as far back as 1986. The size mentioned is 1,097, and the survey plan no EN (A) 594. This plan number is the same as that is cited in our C-of-O. There is no evidence anywhere that showed 318 hectares was the size of the acquisition.”

He mentioned the owners of PEIWA to include one Mr Kingsley Eze, an ICT consultant. He said Eze initiated the Enugu Centenary City project in conjunction with a South African company. He said deliberation on the city was first held during a meeting of the Enugu State Government Executive Council in 2009. The state government, he said, mobilized some delegates to South Africa to see the prototype of the proposed city.

On the choice of the location, Mbachu said it was settled that the land initially marked out for UNITECH/ASUTECH/ESUT, “which had been fallow would be perfect.” It was also resolved that compensation be paid to the landowners.

Following the resolution, PEIWA articulated approaches to realize its objectives. One of such was the sharing of compensatory plots to the landowners. He said the journey became tough when the communities involved complained that they were not carried along to enable them to make inputs. It was gathered that one of the communities, Amechi Uwani, declined being part of the deal unless the negotiation began afresh.

Mbachu said in collaboration with the state government under then-Gov Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, PEIWA released 130 hectares of land as compensation to the landowners after the owners rejected the initial 57 hectares offered them. Ugwuanyi reportedly appointed the state surveyor general, Mr Isiwu, to redesign the areas to factor in the released 130 hectares.

Mbachu said instead of releasing the 130 hectares to the affected communities, the Ugwuanyi administration gave them to three other private developers. Quoting him, “Not even a square foot or meter of land was released to the communities. Instead, the government assigned all the 130 hectares to three other private estate developers. The government of Enugu State from 2017 – February 2023 had severely impeded our progress on the development of the Centenary.”

He said the state government also poached one Surveyor Victor Nnam, an employee of PEIWA, and made him commissioner for lands; an action Mbachu said was a ploy by the state to obtain enough information of the Centenary City.

With the development, he said PEIWA commenced private MoUs with landowners with the negotiation centring on the return of some hectares and cash rewards to landowners, an initiative described in some quarters as ‘divide-and-rule’.

The Divide-And-Rule Won’t Work – Nnaji

A community leader in Amechi, Chief Nnaji Sunday White, said PEIWA’s approach to selective compensation amounted to nothing. In his words, “No matter what they do in creating divisions and planting hatred in our erstwhile peaceful Awkunanaw, the truth stands out. We did not give our lands to government to give a private profit-maker. We have said it, the ASUTECH or ESUT site we gave our lands for has been moved to Agbani. The land has reverted to us as it was never utilized in the first place.”

On those that allegedly accepted compensation on behalf of the concerned kindred families, Nnaji said, “They went against the advice and collected 190 plots of land from PEIWA as compensation for 8, 000 plots they agreed to cede to the private businessmen. They are not bothered about the future of their children.”

President General of Obeagu Community, Chief Andy Egbo, said the selective compensation approach by PEIWA would fail: “It is a pure divide-and-rule tactic at play, and it will fail. How can a private company, hiding behind people close to the government, just seize our lands, percellate them, and sell off for their private gains? If the government is genuinely desirous of creating a modern city, let it lay out the development plan, publicize the city master plan and leave the owners of the land to proceed with the handling of the lands.”

Chief Ifeanyi Agbo Mba is the Chairman of Ndinwuba Village where a section of the community had entered into an MOU with PEIWA. He said, “The signatories from my village were used as mere tools in the hands of PEIWA and will achieve nothing.” He added that those that signed the MoU were ‘never-do-wells’, adding that four of them had already rescinded their role in the ‘shameful treachery of Ndinwuba-Obeagu’.

They’ve Dispossessed My People’s Land – Traditional Ruler

The traditional ruler of Obeagu-Awkunanaw, Igwe Mike Nnukwu, told THE WHISTLER, “We woke up one morning to see that some individuals who call themselves Private Developers International have claimed that this vast area of land had been allocated to them by the state. They said the land was given to them by former Governor Sullivan Chime. We didn’t know about it. What we know is that this land was acquired during the time of Nwobodo for the establishment of ASUTECH, which was never built.

“This Private Estate is a private individual business. We have nothing to do with them. No compensation was paid to our people. There is no memorandum of understanding between our people and them. How come these people have decided to intimidate us with our money – the money they sold from our land?”

From The Government’s Angle

Ex-Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi did not respond to messages sent to his phone number as regards his role in the allegations. Access to ex-Gov Chime was denied. However, the Chairman, Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority, Mr Uche Anya, denied any wrongdoing. He said, “We are determined to stamp out the culture of distorting the Enugu municipality master plan and shall not allow any development that contravenes the law.”

The state Information Commissioner, Aka Eze Akak, did not reply to inquiries sent to him. But a director in the state Ministry of Information, on condition of anonymity, said, “Direct your questions to governors of those eras. Gov Mbah is more interested in the master-plan restoration.”

Blame The State Government – Lawyer

A constitutional lawyer, Barr Hyginus Okafor, blamed the controversy surrounding the Centenary City on the failure of successive administrations in the state to understand the provisions of the Land Use Act on acquisition of land for public purposes.

He said, “How can successive administrations in the state claim to cede the land to private developers when it was meant for public use? It is an act of executive lawlessness and rascality. The Court of Appeal in Odusote V. Seriki held that ‘the acquisition must be for bona fide public purposes’.

For such a project to qualify as public purpose or public interest, how it will benefit the public must be proven. In this case, the aim of the donation is defeated when the land is converted to private purposes, and without the consent of landowners. There is an element of insincerity on the part of the state. The way out is to engage mediators between the parties involved or outright forfeiture to the original owners.

The state can also revert to its original purpose of public use. The size discrepancy should be addressed properly.”

This report was published with support from Civic Media Lab

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