ISSELE Azagba community in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State has lamented the loss of farmland to the ongoing N35 billion pilot scheme of the National Housing Programme, NHP, in the state.

According to the community, the government is undermining their rights of occupancy of the land mapped out for the housing project, which they say belongs to their ancestors and a source of their livelihood.

Vegetable farmers at work

In an effort to provide affordable houses to Nigerians, the Federal Government in February announced plans to construct 5,000 units of houses in each state over the next three years. To make the scheme work, the Delta State Government had on Thursday, December 8, 2016 published a notice titled: “Revocation of Rights of Occupancy and Payment of The Compensation Therefore In Pursuant Of Section 28 Of The Land Use Act Cap L5, 2004” in The Pointer Newspaper notifying all parties concerned that the rights of occupancy of all that parcel of land along Asaba-Agbor  Expressway between Issele Azagba and Azagba Ogwashi is required by the state government for overriding public interest to wit: for public purposes within the state is hereby revoked.

In response to the government’s notice, the entire family of late Mr. Gabriel Sunday Igwenwanne of Umuojeagu quarters, Ikem village in Issele Azagba, Aniocha North, Delta State who claims the rights of occupancy of the parcel of the land mapped out for the first phase of the project, wrote to the state Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Development in Asaba through the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Delta State, expressing their statement of interest.

Statement of interest

In the letter dated January 9, 2017, the Igwenwanne family, while attaching a copy of the survey plan and certificate of lodgment quoted the plan number as BJ/DT/02/108/2013, just as they stated that the plan was prepared by Registered Surveyor, Osakwe E Ogochukwu and that the location was properly mapped out, surveyed and lodged, measuring approximately 199, 516379 square metres.

According to the family, the said family land is the source of the family’s livelihood and sustenance, in that it has been in use for food production and source of the family income from time immemorial.

In addition, the family said that in exercise of their rights of ownership of the land, various economic cash crops such as palm trees, cashew, guava, coconut, agbono trees, amongst others were planted, pointing out that in some portions of the land, they cultivated other crops such as cassava, yam, maize and other food crops.

Speaking on their plight, a spokesperson of the late Mr. Gabriel Sunday Igwenwanne family, Prince Chukwuedo Igwenwanne, told journalists that the family has been thrown into confusion since the state government moved into their land as all their economic crops have been destroyed.

The spokesperson said: “Without any compensation, we are surprised sometime in March 2017 when some people allegedly sent by the government stormed our land in dispute which has not been compensated for with bulldozers and other heavy duty machines and started destroying and bulldozing our bamboo trees, rubber trees, guava trees, cashew trees, mango and other economic trees including subsisting crops on our family land.

“The said agents and workmen were guarded by heavily armed military officers who would not allow us access to our farmland”.

According to Igwenwanne, he argued that the manner upon which the government took over their family land and started destroying their economic trees and crops is very wrong adding that “it cannot be for any public purpose or overriding public interest greater than their investments on the farmland”.

Speaking further, Mr. Igwenwanne pointed out that his family has made several efforts by approaching the government to stop their action as to enable them reason together according to the law of the land but they ignored them. “I know as a matter of fact that the intention of the government is to destroy all our economic trees ancestral relics and crops on the land in dispute so that there would be no evidence of our existence on the land”.

With a large family made of many sub families comprising of hundreds of children and great grandchildren, Mr Igwenwanne stated that except the little space of land, the family members occupy in their ancestral home in Issele Azagba community, there is no other alternative land for the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to inhabit since a portion of this expanse of land has been mapped out and proposed for their habitation.

The Igwenwanne’s family therefore, states that they have suffered a great loss and deprivation on the land dispute as a result of the actions of the Delta State government.

Apart from Igwenwanne’s family, the entire community had in February, this year also taken the state government to the High Court of Justice, Delta State of Nigeria in the Issele Uku Judicial Division in a case between the community elders: Diokpa Festus Illoh, Obodo Onochie Ijeh, Lawrence Nwaomu Illoh and the Governor of the State, Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice and the Commissioner For Lands, Survey and Urban Development of Delta State. While the case is still pending, the State government is said to have moved workmen to site and work is ongoing.

Efforts made to reach the Commissioner For Lands, Survey and Urban Development of Delta State were proved abortive as call made to him were not answered while text message sent was not responded to.

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