By Charly Agwam
TROUBLE is brewing between the Nigerian Army and some communities situated around the Shadawanka Army Barracks in Bauchi Metropolitan area over a quit notice issued by the army to them to vacate the land for its operations.
The quit notice issued by the army to the local dwellers has not gone down well with the residents who are claiming that the army came to meet them on the land and took as much land as it wanted. They said that it is unfair for them to be driven out of their ancestral land.
To register their resentment of the army’s notice, the communities mobilised in large number and stormed the Bauchi-Jos Highway with placards bearing various inscriptions to drive home their grievances over what they termed ‘illegal eviction’.
According to findings by Arewa Voice, the large expanse of land occupied mainly by the army in the centre of Bauchi city was home to many Bauchi indigenes for several centuries before it was allocated to the Army during the General Yakubu Gowon regime in the 1970s without compensation and resettlement of occupants of the communities.
Consequently, some of the inhabitants who moved to the fringes of the allocated land, are demanding justice in the form of compensation and decent resettlement plan for their families. An elder and head of the troubled communities, Haliru Abubakar, who claimed that his ancestors settled in the now disputed Guru village around the mid 1800s, has accused the Bauchi Emirate Council of colluding with the Army to forcefully eject them from their ancestral land.
Abubakar said: “We have been here even before the army barracks came. Why should someone just wake up one day and ask a whole community to vacate their ancestral land? We have been summoned to the palace on this matter, but who are we to challenge the authority? All we are asking for is fairness and justice.”
Another affected resident, Muhammad Tajudeen Ahmed, who was holding a placard with the inscription: ‘We have lived here for several years, our forefathers were born here’, said he was not ready to quit his ancestral land.
“We are here on the road to show our displeasure over the move to eject us from our ancestral land. It seems that the Bauchi Emirate Council in collaboration with the military authorities want to eject us from our land. Just last Saturday, some soldiers came and asked us to vacate our homes. But where do they want us to go? This is our land and we are not ready to leave it for any reason,” he said.
One of the middle-aged men in the crowd of protesters, Habibu Suleiman, said that in September of 2020, the District Head of Miri sent a message to them to vacate the land but later rescinded the decision for reasons unknown to him.
“We are here to let the world know that there is injustice going on in this place. We have been here for a very long time; those two rocks you are looking at were the abode of the first settlers of this area,” he informed, adding: “No compensation was paid to our forefathers over the acquisition of the land”. Suleiman said that they had written protest letters to the government, human rights organisations and the military, but nothing has been done to help them.
However, an army source familiar with the land in question, refuted claims of forceful ejection of the residents, claiming that the land which needs to be fenced for security reasons, was legally allocated to them some 48 years ago to build the barracks. The source said that the Army is not part of any compensation process to resettle inhabitants of the area.
“What I know and believe is that soldiers have no problem with anyone. The land was allocated to the Army for the purpose of building barracks by the Bauchi State government for more than 48 years. The map and certificate were issued to the Army and the Army is not part of the compensation process. The compensation that they seek should be from the Bauchi State government and Bauchi Emirate council,” the army spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, a source at the Bauchi Emirate Council said that the Emirate had reached out to the former Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, to appeal for an amicable resolution of the issue, but nothing was done for the people of the communities, while the army fenced the non-disputed area of the barracks.
“The issue has been lingering because I recall when General Tukur Buratai was the Chief of Army Staff, there was a fracas between the Army and the communities. They took their complaints to the Emirate and the Emirate intervened to broker peace between the two parties; but I am surprised that the issue is raising its head again,” the source said.
Special Adviser to Bauchi State Governor on Security, Brigadier-General Yake (retd), whose intervention helped to clear the protesters from the road, has pledged that government and all stakeholders involved will meet to resolve the matter. But until words are matched with action, the land dispute between the Army and the people of the affected communities is far from over.