*Demand N1.8bn compensation to tenants that lawfully acquired 180 hectares of land
*Urge govt to let go 100 out of 234 hectares for upcoming generations
*Govt doing everything to avoid collapse of law and order – Commissioner Inyang
By Ike Uchechukwu
ETAP AYIP- THE people of Etap Ayip, an agrarian town in Kasuk Qua II clan, Calabar Municipality Local Government Area, Cross River State, have pointed fingers at officials of the state government, who they claim are misinforming the Governor, Professor Ben Ayade, regarding the controversial acquirement of their community land for the state’s US$1 billion Virgin City project.
The villagers, who insisted they were not opposed to the development project stated that mischievous government officials were using subterfuges to make it look as if the parcel of land, along Goodluck Jonathan (Airport By-Pass), Calabar, was legitimately acquired, whereas the reverse is the case, as there was no proper consultation with the people.
The community recently invoked their ancestral god, Ekpe Mbiam and placed a traditional injunction, restraining the state government from further works on the land until the issues pertaining to the acquisition were resolved.
The Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, Dr John Inyang, had in a letter dated April 20, urged the community to vacate the injunction and release a Swamp Buggy that was trapped in the conflict, but despite the seeming avowal, the matter is still lingering.
How govt officials attempted to trick us- HRH Ayito
Clan head of Kasuk Qua II, HRH Ntoe Ededem Ayito, who spoke to NDV, revealed that government officials were playing high-level politics over the acquisition, while some persons in the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development tried to hoodwink villagers into admitting that government followed due process in acquiring the land.
He said: “During our meeting with His Excellency, the Deputy Governor, Prof. Ivara Esu, we were almost cajoled into granting an interview by one of the Special Advisers to the Governor, saying that we are satisfied with the process and commending the governor for acquiring the site.
“This was a ploy to make the public believe that we have agreed to the terms of government, while the reverse is the case because we went for negotiation and not a courtesy call which they suddenly termed our visit to the Deputy Governor. There are other measures they have taken that I will like to remain silent on for now until there is need to speak about them,” he added.
His words: “I see no reason why they (government appointees and officials) tried to trick us to commend the governor, Ayade, on fulfilling his own part as far as the land is concerned when actually nothing has been done for the people, neither was anyone consulted from KASUK I or II.”
“So, we as a people know for a truth that everything about acquiring our land for the purpose of the Virgin City project is still shrouded in secrecy and until the government comes clean, either directly or through its agencies, the status quo will remain, the traditional injunction, Ekpe Mbiam, which is even more active will remain there till negotiations have been concluded,” he added.
Complaint to Dep gov
In a letter, dated May 16, to the Deputy Governor, Prof. Ivara Esu, HRH Ayito and his Kasuk I counterpart, HRH Ntoe Patrick Agbor, expressed concern that the people, mainly farmers, might not have land to farm anymore, if government goes ahead with the ill-advised intention to acquire the entire Etap Ayip land.
They recalled that government had twice in the past entered the proposed site of the Virgin City without prior consent of the community or due compliance to constitutional requirements, leading to destruction of economic trees and despoliation of beacon stones of duly surveyed lands granted by the communities to tenants.
What they refused to tell Ayade
“Out of the 414 hectares of communal land to be affected by government interest, the community has already granted 180 hectares of the land to her tenants, including companies, churches and other private investors at the sum of 10,000,000 (ten million naira) per hectare, thus leaving us with only 234 hectares untouched .
“The community cannot give the whole of the remaining 234 hectares to government, but desires to keep something for posterity. So we are demanding that government should pay to the community the sum of N1, 800, 000, 000, 00 being the value of the 180 hectares of land at N10 million per hectare already granted to her tenants to enable the community refund to her tenants monies paid for the 180 hectares of the land and as we speak, these tenants are already on the neck of the clan head.
“And government should release 100 hectares of the remaining 234 hectares to be retained by community for its future generations as well as pay fair compensation to the community on the remaining land which is 134 hectares and if the land is needed for the purpose and use of a private investor like MARKSINO for instance, such private investor should be allowed to negotiate personal terms with the community, “they stated.
We are under siege
According to HRM Ayito: “We are under siege, they want to take the land by all means, we shall not keep quiet, let the whole world know, let them hear it that they want to annihilate us, that land is our only heritage and as I speak, my palace has started receiving correspondences from some of our tenants who are afraid that they might lose the lands which we granted them.
“I have received nothing less than 42 letters from different tenants threatening to sue us because of this development. We are a peace- loving people with immeasurable respect for constituted authority, we already have judgment against government (HC/25/2016),we are not fools.
“We know they mean well, but they should not cut corners, they should tell His Excellency, Prof. Ben Ayade the truth about that land because we are law-abiding and also believe in tradition, that was why we used traditional injunction to halt work on the site, we are not illiterates, we also know our next line of action,” he said.
Govt‘ll forestall breakdown of law and order – Commissioner Inyang
Efforts by NDV to reach the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, Dr Inyang, were aborted as he neither picked calls nor replied SMS to cell phone.
However, in his letter to Kasuk II community over the traditional injunction, signed by the Secretary, Land Use Act Committee, Mr. Obase Ekaba, he said: “The intention of government is to bring development to your community and not otherwise, therefore your decision compelling government to do a letter before the release of the equipment, Swamp Buggy, to the owners does not in any way show synergy between your community and government.”
Noting that the community’s step of invoking traditional injunction, Ekpe, was not in the interest of all concerned, he said that government would continue to negotiate with the community to forestall any breakdown of law and order.
The ministry stated: “Work will continue when after all necessary discussions have been concluded between government and your community.”