By Dirisu Yakubu
Residents of Zhewun-Yelwa, a village located in Karu local government area of Nasarawa State, yesterday, trooped out in their numbers to protest against what they see as an attempt by land grabbers to displace them from their ancestral homes.
Located about two kilometres away from Mararaba, the centre of commerce in the North Central state; Zhehun-Yelwa boasts of sprawling arable land and lush green vegetation. Populated largely by the Gbagyi ethnic nation, the community also houses Nigerians of other ethnic nationalities including Tiv, Idoma, Yoruba, among others.
Gathered in their numbers at the Yelwa Primary School for a peaceful rally, the protesters bearing various placards reading, “Our fathers’ graveyards are not for sale,” “Land grabbers, leave us alone,” “Allow our ancestors to rest in peace,” “We are going nowhere,” among others; they vowed to resist any attempt to deprive them of the only community they have known as home for years.
From the Primary School premises, they marched to the Palace of the Village Head, Chief Bebunwa Haruna, who received them warmly and directed Emmanuel Danjuma, a youth leader, to speak on behalf of Yelwa indigenes.
Amidst thunderous shouts of “We no go gree,” Danjuma narrated how three men purportedly from the Nasarawa state government came to the community a little over a week ago to inform the inhabitants to prepare to quit the community on the orders of government.
He said: “We are here to protect our ancestral land. On the third of May, some people came here, saying they were sent by the Nasarawa state government to our chief, Mr. Bebunwa Haruna to inform us that the government has taken over our land here in Zhewun-Yelwa. We are gathered here to say no to this. This is our land and it is our heritage. Our forefathers are buried here for centuries past. We have had more than three successive chiefs in this community who have ruled us peacefully.
“We are predominantly farmers. They told us that our land has been acquired and that they will bring forms for us to fill and attach our passport photographs. But we are saying the land housing the remains of our ancestors cannot be taken over from us. We will remain here as long as we live. We have nowhere else to go. Our land is not for sale.
“We have been abandoned by the government. They did not tell us what they intend to use the land for. It appears they just want to take it from us with the use of force but we won’t accept that.”
Although Lucky Itodo originally hails from neighboring Benue state, he has lived in Yelwa long enough to see himself as part of the agrarian community.
He told Saturday Vanguard that the manner the men presented themselves smacked of fraud, wondering why supposed emissary of a state government would be sent to a community for such important information as displacing a whole village, without an official letter.
His words: I am Idoma by tribe, but I was born and brought up in this community. My father lived here for years until he died. I have been here for the past 41 years. The present chief is 41 years on the throne too.
“There is a process on how government, being it federal or state, can take over land being inhabited by people. That process has to be legal. The governor will have to delegate officials of his government to speak with the people, particularly the Commissioner of Land and Survey. This is not the case here as we speak.
“You can see the mammoth crowd and how angry the people are at this attempt by some faceless people to take away from them their treasured heritage.
“They just told us verbally. They didn’t even present a written notification from the state government. They are threatening us. They said we are not educated. The state governor should listen to our cry and protect us from these people,” he pleaded.
Like Itodo, Mrs. Ujuaku Fairley, an Igbo lady married to a Yoruba man has been living in Yelwa for long.
A graduate of International Relations, Mrs. Fairley is a subsistent farmer, having toiled in vain in search of a job in the city for years. She wants the state government to come to the aid of Yelwa residents as quickly as possible.
She said: “We know that government owns all lands but there are rules to follow because you can’t just displace a community like that. We have been here for years. I have been here for 15 years.
“I believe these are land grabbers bent on taking advantage of people they believe have no one to help them. We are appealing to Governor Sule to come to our aid and save us from these people. They are using the governor’s name to perpetrate evil. The governor should stop them.
“There are no jobs and our youths are farming to make ends meet. Then, suddenly, they want to displace us. Everything you see here is a product of communal effort. We joined hands together to sink a borehole and we bought the transformer here that is powering our homes. We have primary schools and a health centre,” she added.
The most touching display of emotion at the protest was the lamentation of Saratu Ezekiel, an elderly woman displaced by Boko Haram elements in Gwoza, Borno state in 2011.
Speaking in Hausa, the dark-skinned woman decried the continuous reign of injustice in various forms, saying, “they pursued us from our homes in Gwoza and we found another home here. Now, they are asking us to leave? I will wait for them to come here and do their worse. We are not moving an inch from this place,” she said as the protesters applauded every word she uttered.
It is not clear if indeed the Governor Sule-led government intends to take over Yelwa. If indeed, the land is needed for some industrial or residential purposes by government; the process of informing these poor farmers should have been formal than the approach adopted by the supposed officials of the Nasarawa state government.