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LAND DISPUTE: Trouble looms in Anambra community

By Lekan Bilesanmi

Unless Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano intervenes, there may be  breakdown of law and order in Umunya. Three key players in the crisis are Igwe Onyekwuluje, Mr Ekene Okonkwo Ejeh (Chairman of Odumodu community) and the youths of Odumodu.  Umunya is made up of ten villages, namely: Okpu, Isioye, Ezi-Umunya, Ojobi, Ajakpani, Umu-Ebo, Amaezike, Odumodu-Enu, Odumodu-Ani and Ukunu.

Onyekwuluje is from Ajakpani, and Ejeh from Odumodu-Enu. The crisis arose from Onyekwuluje’s claims against  Ejeh and some community youths.  Ejeh dismissed the claims as laughable and a figment of  imagination. The matter has seen some of the youths on the run. It is so bad that those who ran leaving their families behind later attempted to sneak into the community, but were allegedly hounded like criminals. About five such boys were allegedly arrested and taken away by the police on August 16, 2015.

The President General of Umunya Development Union, Venerable Emmanuel Odunze, said  a peace committee was set on the matter and a report  sent to Obiano.  Meanwhile, Ejeh claimed he was in hiding as his life was in danger. According to him, some of his supporters who fled the community were cajoled back home, beaten to submission and forced to take oath of allegiance and secrecy before deities. Their homes were also allegedly broken into and money as well as valuables stolen.

While the Igwe fingered the communal land Ejeh and his executive allegedly sold as the bone of contention, the Odumodu Chairman  listed other issues. Ejeh, however, acknowledged that of the more than 900 hectares of community land under his supervision, only 95 plots were sold to raise money for administrative exigencies.  He said the account and documentation were satisfactorily presented to the community congress.

From Ejeh’s perspective, the crisis can be viewed from three angles.

About 210.8 hectares of land was acquired from Odumodu between 1987 (200 hectares) and 1997 (10.8hectares) by the Federal Govt for Sight and Services scheme, but was not  put to use. Soon thereafter, the Ijeh exco discovered that the land was being sold  by some officials of the Federal Ministry of Lands (FML) contrary to the terms of agreement of the acquisition. This forced the exco to write the FML invoking a clause in the agreement which provided that 20% of the acquired land be returned to the community citing precedence and examples in other parts of the country. Some officials from the ministry consequently visited and during their courtesy call on the Igwe told him their mission in Umunya.

The visitors were  said to have handed to him  the land allocation papers.

But Ejeh said the Odumodu  community never got the papers. Consequently, the community  went to court, arguing that any land acquired for overriding public interest shall never be sold. Along the line, a foreign firm was said to have been introduced to then  Gov Peter Obi which was  refused C of O for large expanse of the Odumodu land and later  re-presented to incumbent Gov. Willy Obiano. The firm was said to have proposed to build on the land 30,000 housing units, eight  sports stadia, shopping malls, schools, hospitals, parking lots, etc; when the proposal got to Obiano, he allegedly  demanded to know how the firm intended  to finance the  ambitious project, noting that even a state government could not  mobilize  funds to undertake such programme. This incensed the governor who expressed how disappointed he was. The community leaders behind the proposal  left the meeting  thoroughly embarrassed. They came back blaming their misfortune on Ejeh.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of  the Niger, Anglican Communion, had in 1960 leased the land on which it  built Umunya Girls Secondary School from Odumodu. The place also accommodated  Anambra State  NYSC camp. The church  wanted  to renegotiate it into a freehold. So they approached the Ejeh exco and  agreed on N50million-which was to be paid by installment. They paid the first N10m.

The deal is now stalemated as the Igwe, the Ejeh exco and other community leaders cannot agree on further payments.


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