The name, Okpufu, may not ring a bell in anyone’s ear. Okpufu is the name of the pastoral village in Ntsurakpa autonomous community of Ebonyi State wherein the permanent site of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki situates.
Until 27th February 2018, the people of Okpufu village had serially and successfully exploited the lack of political will of previous administrations in Ebonyi state until the village acquired the notorious and unenviable profile of being the headquarters of civil disobedience in Ebonyi state! The issue was the refusal of Okpufu people to relocate from the permanent site of Ebonyi State University Abakaliki.
The history of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki began in 1982 when the the bill to amend the Anambra State University of Science and Technology, ASUTECH, law was passed to provide for the Abakaliki campus of the university known as College of Agricultural Science, CAS, campus.
The administration of Chief Jim Ifeanyichukwu Nwobodo in the old Anambra state acquired the land for the university campus even though the campus took off at a temporal site near Abakaliki Rice mill which is still known as CAS even as I write this piece.
Between 1991 and 1993 when Dr. Icha Ituma, an indigene of Ohaukwu, became SSG and later Deputy Governor of old Enugu state, the people of Okpufu were paid compensation over the land.
This payment was facilitated through the efforts of an Ntsurakpa son, Late Prof. Ozo Nweke Ozo, who was by then the Special Assistant to the Deputy Governor of Enugu state, His Excellency, Dr. Icha Ituma. On creation of Ebonyi state in 1996, the College of Agricultural Science campus of what had become Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT, metamorphosed into a full-fledged university known as Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki.
In the first democratic process of Ebonyi state in 1999, the pioneer Commissioner for Education in Ebonyi state and an illustrious son of Ntsurakpa from the village of Umuebe, His Excellency, Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu, emerged as the pioneer elected Executive Governor of Ebonyi state.
In his administration which lasted for eight solid years, the President of Ntsurakpa Town Union who had facilitated the payment of compensation to Okpufu people of Ntsurakpa community over the university land in the old Enugu state held various positions including the Secretary to the Government of Ebonyi State.
Given his positions as the Town Union president of Ntsurakpa community and a critical stakeholder in the administration of a fellow Ntsurakpa man, Prof. Ozo Nweke Ozo went to work again influencing the approval of another round of compensation to the tune of two hundred million naira which was paid to the villagers as compensation. After receiving this second round of compensation, Okpufu villagers snubbed the Government of Ebonyi State under the leadership of their brother, Dr. Sam Egwu by refusing to vacate the said land. Governor Egwu was equally restrained by both filial and political compunctions from invoking the necessary powers to eject his recalcitrant kin from the University land.
This lack of political will on the part of Ebonyi State Government under Egwu emboldened Okpufu villagers to stay on and squander the compensation funds they received on frivolities and other base projects.
The trespass and unlawful occupation of Ebonyi State University land by Okpufu villagers continued unabated till 2011 when the second civilian administration decided to implement its resolution to make EBSU a single-campus world-class university. The Okpufu villagers’ unlawful occupation of the university became an impediment to the implementation of that beautiful resolution.
The State Government returned to the roundtable with the illegal occupants of the university land. An agreement was reached for Ebonyi State Government to pay another round of compensation to the illegal occupants of Ebonyi State University land even when they have destroyed both the chattels and the environment of Ebonyi State University.
The sum of thirty-six million naira was paid to the illegal occupants who agreed to vacate the university land, while another sum of sixty-four million naira was paid to the university as damages for the injuries suffered by the university in the hands of the illegal occupants.
For the third time, Okpufu villagers who have become notorious for disobedience to lawful instructions refused to vacate the university land. Rather than vacate, they accentuated their trespass on the university premises by defacing it and putting up mud huts and shrines around the vice-chancellor’s office complex, the plant house as well as the administrative office block.
This went on till 2016 when the third executive governor of Ebony state Chief David Nweze Umahi took his development arsenals to the pioneer university in Ebonyi state and was confronted by the repulsive activities of the illegal occupants of the university premises which robbed the citadel of learning of the necessary conduciveness.
Pursuant to the principles of natural justice, Governor Umahi convoked yet another roundtable discussion with the Okpufu villagers who had become notorious for disobedience to lawful orders.
In the meeting, the illegal occupants of the university land were confronted with records of the many compensation funds disbursed to them by the Government of the old Enugu state and previous administrations in Ebonyi state as well as the concomitant agreements by Okpufu people to vacate the university land all of which they had breached! Through the intervention of Senator Sam Egwu and Prof. Ozo Nweke Ozo, the State Government which wanted instant vacation acquiesced to an extension of the vacation date till 31st December, 2016.
In his magnanimity, Governor Umahi equally doled out the sum of ten million naira to the illegal occupants to facilitate their relocation. This fund was disbursed to the villagers by the current Secretary to the Government of Ebonyi state, Prof. Ben Odo, at the residence of the Town Union President of Ntsurakpa community, Prof. Ozo Nweke Ozo of blessed memory.
By 31st December 2016, Okpufu villagers for the umpteenth time observed this agreement in breach and thereby qualified as champions of civil disobedience and made the land they illegally occupied the headquarters of civil disobedience in Ebonyi state!
Faced with the incorrigible stance of these illegal occupants of the university land and the need to bring all citizens of Ebonyi state within the precincts of law, Governor Umahi approached the court of law for an order to eject the illegal occupants.
Armed with a valid court order authorizing the forceful ejection of the illegal occupants from the University land; and ignoring the serial provocations and disobedience to lawful orders by these villagers, Governor Umahi infused an overdose of filial love in the execution of the eviction order: He doled out a whopping sum of N10.5 million to the illegal occupants to enable them absorb the shock of resettlement.
According to Governor Umahi, “Because of the children and women whom I have seen here, I am releasing the sum of five hundred thousand naira to enable you hire vehicles to move your properties away before the demolition and another ten million naira to enable you rent houses.”
This is the David Umahi difference, and it entails putting the leadership in the masses shoes while taking decisions or drawing up public policies. It equally involves exercising political will in a humane way.
It is called Umahism, and it is the best form of democracy. Those who monitored the eviction of people from the land on which the Centenary city now stands will understand the difference I am talking about here.
As I condemn the attitude of Okpufu – Nturakpa people as aforestated, I hereby appreciate Governor Umahi for his steadfastness to his character as a true leader even in the face of unwarranted provocations. Through Umahi’s show of maturity and restraint, he has made an omelette out of the university land imbroglio without breaking an egg!
It is well with Ebonyi state.
By Monday Eze
Monday Eze is the Technical Assistant on Social Media to the Governor of Ebonyi state.