- A prominent Abia monarch, Prof. Sunday Owualah, has expressed joy over the state government’s resolve to henceforth regulate the sale of land above five hectares in any part of the state to further out a stop to the increasing palpable fear in the state concerning the Ruga settlements proposed by the federal government.
Owualah, who is the Traditional Ruler of Umuobasi Autonomous Community in Osisioma Local Government Area of Abia, stated this in a statement he made available to newsmen in Umuahia on Sunday.
He said that the state government’s policy justified his fear about the large expanse of land acquired by the Federal Government for a trailer park at Umuonyeukwu Village and Umueje Village in Arongwa Autonomous Community on the Enugu Port Harcourt Expressway.
He was reacting to a media briefing in Umuahia, where the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of the state, Mr Uche Ihediwa, accused him of “malicious insinuations that Abia has already set aside land for Ruga settlement at Arongwa.”
In the statement, entitled, “Truth of the matter: trailer park not ruga,” the monarch described Ihediwa’s accusation as false, saying, “Nothing can be farther from the truth than this smear and aspersion on my name and image.”
He admitted that he took up the issue of the land for the trailer park with Ihediwa and the Traditional Ruler of Arongwa, Eze Edward Enwereji, but said that he never alluded to the Ruga settlement.
He said, “I never alluded to Ruga (which by then was not known in popular lexicon of Nigeria) nor did I maliciously insinuate land being acquired for it.”
He said that he merely cautioned Enwereji on “the need for circumspection, in view of the unfolding developments about cattle colony and cattle route in the country then.”
“My word of caution stemmed from the size of the land involved and the facilities to be hosted in the park,” Owualah said.
He said specifically that in his discussion with Ihediwa, “I shared my concerns and fears with him for the size of the project in a land-scarce environment.”
He said that his worry further stemmed from the possibility that the land could be “diverted for the purpose it was not intended in the long run in the unfolding events in Nigeria.”
Owualah also said that he drew the attention of Ngwa Social Club to intervene in interrogating the trailer park at the appropriate quarters.
“As a traditional ruler whose community is contiguous to Arongwa, particularly the two villages in the location of the proposed trailer park, I consider it my moral and ethical duty to protect the overall interest of my people and others resident in it now or in the future.
“That is exactly what I did in taking up the task of drawing attention to the unintended consequences of this decision that might affect generations now and those yet unborn,” the monarch said.
He underscored the need for proper and due consideration by Enwereji and all the stakeholders in Arongwa over the community land donated for the trailer park.
He said that the manner through which the land was donated for the park had been at the centre of the lingering dispute and litigations between Enwereji and the elite in his community.
He also said that the state should have verified and become convinced that due diligence and environmental impact assessment were done, “instead of making scape-goat of me.”
“Portraying me as the villain in a matter I am innocent, by addressing a press conference and using the paraphernalia of state media apparatus to smear me will not detract from the failure of consultation and consensus in a touchy issue as communal land in Ngwaland or elsewhere, no matter the project,” Owualah said.
He expressed happiness that he had been vindicated by the state government’s new policy that “henceforth any request from the Federal Government for land above five hectares will be scrutinised.”
Recall that the attorney-general on July 17 told a news conference in Umuahia that government would henceforth scrutinise any request for land above five hectares in any part of the state.
According to him, “with the new policy, application for Certificate-of-Occupancy for land above five hectares may be honoured or declined, depending on the purpose the land would be put into.
He said: “The state government’s policy is to scrutinise the application and make sure that it is not something that is convertible into Ruga.
“We have gone ahead to sensitise our communities to be sure that nobody sells a large quantity of land.”
Recall that south-east governors have vehemently criticised the ruga settlement policy of the federal government, in the wake of several killings allegedly perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen.