Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
Residents of Ogui-Nike community in Enugu North Council of Enugu State on Saturday vowed to resist attempts by officials of the State Housing and Development Corporation, (ESHDC) to convert undeveloped portions of their land at the WTC Secondary School into a housing estate contrary to the purpose clause for the release of the land to government.
The residents, who trooped out in their hundreds, marched from the land through various parts of the state and chanting anti-government slogans, accusing the corporation of ‘ atyempts to forcefully convert” the said land into other purposes contrary to the agreement it entered with the people.
Even an attempt by the Corporation’s Managing Director, Chukwuemelie Agu who visited the site to pacify the protesting residents proved abortive as the rampaging crowd threatened to occupy the place till further notice.
THISDAY checks revealed that the community had several years ago freely given the land housing WTC secondary school, Ogui to the state government when it (government) indicated interest to build a school there and to return undeveloped portions of it to the community for their agricultural purposes.
Although the school built in the 70’s has existed since then with various parts of it being undeveloped and converted to agricultural purposes by the community, the state government yesterday mobilised bulldozers to clear the land.
Various farmlands with crops and economic trees worth several millions of naira were destroyed by the three bulldozers which pulled down perimeter walls to access the area on Friday.
> Obviously incensed by the development, the community which mobilized to the area and chased away bulldozers had accused the state ESHDC of invading the area without their consent.
Led by their President General, Ikechukwu Anike, the placard bearing residents deplored the activities of the government, insisting that they would not leave the area until further development of the land was stopped.
Anike said: “We are here to show our anger concerning the diversion of purpose. This place was given to the government by our community for the purpose of building a school. We are not protesting if they use it for that purpose, but the law requires that at any point in time that they want to change that purpose, the land will revert back to us. It is our right and nobody consulted us and we suddenly saw caterpillar everywhere. We want to stop this work.
“They invaded here to destroy our farmlands and crops. It is more than one kilometer of farmlands they have destroyed here. We know quite well that it is definitely not a school they are building here and as long as it is not a school, we are opposed to that. This thing has been duplicated somewhere else, the land was acquired for a different purpose and now it is being used for another purpose. We don’t want a repeat of that here and we are telling government to stop and give us back our land.”
Traditional ruler of the community, His Majesty, Tony Ojukwu, who demanded compensation for the crops destroyed in the farmland, said the people of Ogui-nike had continued to be marginalised by successive administration because of their location.
“Since the time of the colonial masters, before independence, the government has been encroaching on our lands without compensation, all the land they acquired from us, from the secretariat, the metropolis was acquired from Ogui Nike and they keep telling us that it is for public interest. Part of the clause is that when they cease to make use of the land, they return the remaining to us. Look at the place where we are squeezed in, we can hardly breathe.
“We want the government to exercise empathy on us, give us part of the land so that we can relax. Our people are basically farmers and we thrive on the fruits of our labour from the farms. With all these acquisitions we are nowhere and so we appeal to the government to tamper justice with mercy. The government owns every land, but our people are getting extinct and it is not a story for any generation to hear.
“The original clause is that they should return the land to us anytime the purpose for which it is meant is being changed. We have never demonstrated like this before, our people are dying of hunger, unemployment and starvation. We are not appointed into any position and that is why we are begging on government to look into our plight.
“We farm the land because it was free but now we are being forced to obtain loans to farm. Government should give us compensation for the destroyed crops”, he stated.