Enugu State Governor’s Recurrent Penchant For Lawlessness

HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) is alarmed at the frightening and shocking rate that governors of Nigeria’s federating units have embraced lawlessness and impunity as their Modus Operandi and how they do so in total disregard to the Constitutional provisions of the principle of checks and balances.

In Zamfara State the governor abandoned the party that brought him to power and joined APC. His deputy decided to obey the constitution by staying back in PDP but the Zamfara state governor threatened to deal with him. This is impunity of the saddest dimension.

We are here to address a major evidence of lawlessness in display by the recent ceremonial commencement of a certain housing project on landed assets whose ownership is a subject of a plethora of litigation by many native claimants in Enugu State known as Ugwuaji in Enugu South local government area and many other nearby communities.

The vexatious decision of the Enugu State governor regarding this project is not that under the extant land use Act of 1978, the governor is not vested with the authority over ownership of landed assets in Enugu, but the same law makes it imperative that in ceding ownership of any land in the state for public use, it must be of strategic public interest of overwhelming dimension and importantly the state must of legal necessity pay compensation to the native owners of such lands that are to be converted for public use in any state.

Notwithstanding the clear provisions of the land use Act and the fact that ownership of the landed assets in Enugu are being litigated, the governor authorized the use of the landed assets for public use even when a panel he set up to resolve the dispute submitted its recommendations and there is, as of this moment, no white paper on the issue in which members of the public had made submissions.

The Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State as reported widely in the media, was accompanied by the State Commissioner for Housing, Hon. Vitus Okechi and his team of engineers and surveyors, to inspect what they illegally termed as the ongoing massive developments of Enugu’s biggest housing project, ‘The New Enugu City, according to reports, ’ is supposedly sitting on 2,667 hectares of land, in three phases, adjacent to Independence Layout, Phase II, Enugu.

The residential housing project being illegally constructed in direct disobedience of section 6 of the Constitution, which is being executed by Gov. Ugwuanyi’s administration through the State Ministry of Housing, supposedly proposes to have ultramodern facilities such as dual carriageway roads of 24m, 15m and 12m widths with over 20 river crossings/culverts, electricity, hospital, potable water, recreational centres, security network, estate plots, civil servants estate, international market, churches, organised open spaces, shopping malls, mixed used development plots and Central Business District (CBD), among others.

Gentlemen, the Governor of Enugu State doesn’t seem to accept that SECTION 6 OF THE CONSTITUTION CEDED JUDICIAL POWERS OF ENUGU STATE ON THE JUDICIARY THUS:- ”      “.
This same government under governor Ugwuanyi had published a public disclaimer on these massive lands and there has been no counter public notice. So why approbate and reprobate at the same time or is Enugu State a BANANA REPUBLIC?

Specifically, the Enugu State government had in a public notice dated November 20th , 2020 had stated thus: RE: PURPORTED NEW ENUGU CITY LAYOUT
The attention of the Enugu State Ministry of Lands and Urban development has been drawn to a purported New Enugu City Layout plan, which is in circulation now.

2. The Enugu State Ministry of Lands and Urban Development wishes to categorically DISCLAIM the purported layout plan/scheme in circulation as such neither emanates from, nor has the approval of the Ministry or any Government agency.

3. The general public is therefore put on notice and advised to ignore the purported New Enugu City Layout plan/schedule.

4. Anyone transacting or dealing on any land based on the purported layout
plan/scheme, does so at his/her own risk.
Signed by Dr. Surv. Chukwuemeka Nnam
Hon. Commissioner of Lands and Urban Development, Enugu.

This public notice was published in Daily Sun On November 23rd 2020.

Then on September 3rd 2020, the governor inaugurated a panel on the disputes over ownership of same land and this panel sat, collected and entertained public presentation, made recommendations but no white paper was issued. The governor has however proceeded to authorize the transfer of ownership for the purpose now indicated in the ceremony which was tagged “massive developments at Enugu biggest housing project named the New Enugu City” even when the parties in dispute are in courts of law and the panel the governor set up has made submission, but as is the case, no white paper yet.

Specifically, governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State had inaugurated the recently constituted six-man Administrative Panel of Inquiry into Ugwuaji land dispute in Enugu South Local Government Area of the state.
Inaugurating the panel, which was being chaired by Chief James Ikeyi, SAN, Gov. Ugwuanyi, represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Simon Uchenna Ortuanya, stated that the decision was in keeping with the unflinching commitment of the state government to sustain the enduring peace in the state for political and socio-economic development to continue to thrive.

The governor maintained that “no business or investment can thrive in any society without adequate peace and security of lives and property”.
He, therefore, directed that “all claims to, and/or activities on the disputed parcels of land should cease forthwith until final submission of panel’s report and state government’s disposal action on the matter”.
Responding on behalf of the members, the Chairman of the panel, Chief Ikeyi, thanked Gov. Ugwuanyi for finding them worthy to serve the state in that capacity and promised him that they will discharge their duties creditably, without fear or favour.

Shortly after the inauguration, the panel issued a public notice, calling for “Memorandum from individuals, groups and any other person(s) directly or indirectly affected by the land dispute or that may have any claim regarding the Land in dispute”.
A statement by the panel’s Secretary, Robinson O. Odo, stated that “your submission shall be in ten (10) copies on A4 paper size, double spacing and addressed to: The Chairman, Administrative Panel of Inquiry Into Ugwuaji Land Dispute, Room 2A, Abuja Building, Government House, Enugu”.
He added that “submission of Memorandum ends on Tuesday, 15th September, 2020”.
Other members of the panel are: Major-General Godwin Ugwoke (Rtd), Prof. Daniel Nwachukwu, Mr. Godwin Ishiwu (Surveyor-General, Enugu State) and Barr. Chudi Ozokolo.
These lands are Umunnugwu Ndiaga Layout: Co-owned by Umunnugwu and Ndiaga Nillages in Ugwuaji Awkunanaw and jointly managed by individuals from both villages respectively. The said Layout is registered as DRG No: E/412 and approved on the 16th Dec, 2014 with the Enugu State Ministry of Lands.

It is being feared that the illegality by the Enugu State governor may allegedly be at the behest of  racketeers and Syndicate, and as stated previously in earlier briefings, these land speculators have insisted on framing innocent individuals in their community who would dare to speak against their dastardly acts, when in reality, they capitalized on a failed Police operation by the IGP IRT operatives. This is indeed, a very dangerous trend.

HURIWA had previously averred that Several innocent persons including Surveyor Chief Raphael Chukwu and Elder Sunday Ani were framed, arrested and incarcerated on this ground. In fact, the said Surveyor Raphael Chukwu, was held in Enugu Prisons on account of this frame up.

As learnt by us from media reports and calls, just before the demolition commenced on these landed assets, the night security earlier deployed on ground were intimidated, harassed and ordered out of the area. The
Umunnugwu/Ndiaga Layout Executives then arranged for some ‘maiguards’ from new Artisan to hold brief until an alternative arrangement could be put in place. They were given torchlights and whistles to aid their work.

We further gathered, that before they could settle in to their work, DSS officials, at the instance of the Honourable Commissioner for Housing allegedly rounded up the maiguards, in the guise that they were Fulani herdsmen sponsored by a company camped on the said land and planning attacks from there.

Again, at the instance of the Honourable Commissioner, the Independence Layout Police Station took over the investigations. The Policemen profiled the maiguards, and concluded that they do not constitute any security threat and consequently released them on bail.

These, and more, paint the graphic picture of the evolving nature of challenges within the Ugwuaji Lands.

Per the pendency of the matter in court, it will be wise for the government to refrain from any actions that may be perceived as an interference therewith, as we believe that the Courts reserve the rights to adjudicating on the matter or otherwise.

Considering the strategic position of Enugu State in the South East, and the myriad of pre-existing concerns within the Ugwuaji lands, HURIWA is convinced that the Honourable Commissioner for Housing may not have considered the legal implications and the plethora of legal matters that his actions and position on the matter, will portend for the state government, neither has he considered the security implication in a region that has her hands full with many security challenges nor do we think he has considered the political implications of his personal interest on this administration’s other goals and pursuits.

HURIWA therefore believes that the first step to restoring the confidence of all stakeholders would be for the Hon. Commissioner for Housing, working under the guise of government approval, to decommission the entire operation to acquire the Ugwuaji Lands and allow for public-private engagement in the development of the entire area. These and related positions were canvassed at the investigative panel set up by the Enugu State governor-HIS EXCELLENCY Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

There is an unfortunate intelligence that suggests that the governor plans to give out the land to the Federal Mortgage Bank so the owners will now go into land ownership dispute with the Federal Government. This will be beyond unfortunate, if confirmed true.

Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), in an earlier briefing had reported that the Enugu State Commissioner for Housing, Vitus Okechi, was using personnel of the Nigerian Air Force to take people’s lands and sell to land speculators.

Addressing newsmen in Abuja, National Coordinator of HURIWA, Emmanuel Onwubiko,  claimed that he had “become inundated with petitions from all over the country on the apparent professional misconduct of men and officers of some military outfits which goes against their constitutional mandates as clearly spelt out in sections 217-220 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 as amended.”

He said: “We are being told that officers of the Air Force of Nigeria are been misused and deployed to chase land owners around  Enugu because they (Air Force officers)  were allegedly bribed  by the Housing ministry officials to take people’s lands to sell to land speculators.
“This is not the first time we are been alerted that the military are veering off into purely civil matters even when there are grave threats to the nation.
“The situation was somewhat contained until Mr. Vitus Okechi was named the substantive Commissioner for Housing. He has, since then, sworn to annex all community lands to himself and a few cronies.
“Unsurprisingly, besides the many disappointing moves he has made thus far, he has recently gone as far as engaging the services of men of the Nigerian Air Force, whose focus and objective should have been on external and territorial incursions into the Nigerian Airspace.”

Onwubiko wondered, “how he manages to drag this expected-to-be-highly-disciplined officers to the role of land grabbing beats the imagination of the ordinary mind.”
He is however, appealing to governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, “whose antecedents suggest, is peace loving and subservient to the dictates of the rule of law to call this his lieutenant, Commissioner of Housing Mr. Vitus Okechi, to order, before hapless citizens resort to self-help and anarchy sets in.
“HURIWA is equally kindly requested to draw the attention of the Heads of Security agencies to wit; The Chief of Air Staff, to this dangerous trend of men and officers of the Security architecture, abandoning their core responsibility and becoming undertakers for land grabbers in Enugu.”

COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO:

NATIONAL COORDINATOR:

HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).

MONDAY JULY 19TH 2021.

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