Endless Fight over Land

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The Ukpo and Abagana communities in Anambra central zone have in the last 21 years found themselves locked in a land dispute that is now tearing them apart. Charles Onyekamuo reports

The whole scenery looks sordid. The sight of carcasses of two burnt patrol vehicles belonging to the Anambra State Police Command and debris of a bungalow with suffocating grasses marched to earth all caught a picture of a desolate place abandoned after a war. And except for a handful of security police men who mounted a road block on the border between Ukpo community in Dunukofia Local Government Area and Abagana in Njikoka Local Government Area in Anambra central zone, frisking passers bye, you would think that the war was still raging.

But there was no war parse. THISDAY checks revealed that the havoc was visited on these properties by irate youths who allegedly came from Abagana, to protest the ceding of the land to Ukpo community after a Court of Appeal that sat in Enugu, Enugu State delivered a judgment in their favour. The action of the youths it was learnt was ostensibly to disrupt the implementation of the court judgment by Ukpo people, when they found that they were sharing out the acres of land in dispute to land prospectors.

The police authority in Awka was however silent on this, but said instead that it had arrested about 23 terrorists who invaded Ukpo community and destroyed a bungalow containing 10 self contained rooms serving as a barrack for its officers, a police post in the area, two police patrol vehicles and killed a native of Ukpo known as Emmanuel Okafor.

The police said the terrorists over powered a few officers manning their posts and blew up with the aid of a dynamite the police barrack, adding that dynamites and 47 rifles were recovered from those arrested.
THISDAY checks however revealed that the parcel of land in dispute had been a subject of litigation between Ukpo and Abagana communities with each of them laying claim to the land.

Following the dispute, the land matter went through a High Court in Awka and later the Court of Appeal in Enugu which the Ukpo community won this year and had begun the ceding and sale of the plots of land to interested members of the public and community people and demolishing houses already built by people of Abagana origin within the fringes of the disputed land. It was in the course of this THISDAY learnt that some irate youths stormed the place claiming that an appeal on the victory of Ukpo community at the Court of Appeal Enugu had been filed at the Supreme Court leading to the fracas which allegedly led to the death of one Emmanuel Okafor from Ukpo and the vandalisation of some police patrol vans among others.

The Traditional Ruler of Ukpo community, Eze (Dr) Robert Eze, a medical practitioner was initially taciturn on the matter as visits to his palace met a brick way without either asking the reporter to go because of his indisposition to talk being in a meeting with members of his cabinet or that you go and search for the Town Union President who was out of the country.

Eventually, the Ukpo Town Union in a statement said that they owned the land in dispute and won the ensuing court matter pertaining to the land in suit No: A/74/95, Ichie Austin Ezudu and others as representatives of Ukpo community versus Chief Augustine Ezenwa and others for Abagana.
They also alleged that youths from Abagana attacked Ukpo community on July 19, during which police patrol vehicles were burnt and a bungalow of 10 self contained rooms demolished; while a citizen of the community was hacked to death.

Ugochukwu Ogudo, a native of Ukpo and the Publicity Secretary of Oranto Progressive Union, (OPU) Ukpo told THISDAY that the aborigines of the land in dispute are the Akaezi village in Ukpo.
According to him, the people of Orofia village in Abagana used to invade the Akaezi people of Ukpo inhabiting the land, making them run for their lives; adding that the land in dispute is known as “Ofogbo land”.

He said that the land belongs to Ukpo people who had been inhabiting the land.
Historically he said the Orofia village in Abagana they were told migrated from Edda in Ohafia area near Arochukwu in present day Abia State, adding that the Akaezi people of Ukpo had inhabited the land before the arrival of Orofia people.

“Even my mother is from Orofia village in Abagana. She hailed from Okeke and Onyekwelu families in Orofia Abagana and she told me when she was alive that they came from Edda and settled there,” he said.
The land issue he said had been a protracted tussle to the extent that it became a court case which according to him Ukpo pursued with civility instead of violence.

The court case he said had been on for over 30 years during which Abagana people he alleged went and began erecting houses on the land before the court pronouncement.

“The court decided in our favour this year and from the best of my knowledge the Abagana people didn’t appeal the judgment,” he said, adding that it was when the Ukpo people started building police station and personal houses on the empty acres until some miscreants allegedly from Abagana invaded Ukpo, destroying government property, vehicles and a building as the police said with the aid of a dynamite.
He said it was barbaric and unlawful for some people to take the law into their hands, stressing that the problem has shifted from being that of Ukpo and Abagana, but between Abagana and the federal government.

He called on both the Anambra State and the federal government to take decisive action against those who perpetrated the arson and their alleged sponsors and ensure that justice is done.
But the Abagana community through the acting President General of Abagana Welfare Union (AWU), Chief Ben Ugha, said in a statement in Onitsha that the problem between Ukpo and Abagana communities borders on a land dispute.

He said that though the matter which had been on for long and in court was later adjudicated in favour of Ukpo community in suit No: A/74/95 but that the Abagana community had appealed the judgment in Appeal No: CA/E/86/2012 and motion No: CA/11om?2015 at the Supreme Court.

He alleged that the Anambra State Police Command and the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Sam Okaula took sides in the conflict because according to him, they were being influenced by an equally influential business mogul and oil Magnate from Ukpo even when the commissioner was aware of the pendency of the appeal.

That, he said explained why the police came and arrested some prominent sons of Abagana and dubbing them terrorists who were allegedly arrested in their hideouts.

He said the community was shocked by the way the police commissioner paraded their illustrious sons as terrorists and caused their photographs to be published in a national daily saying they were arrested with AK47 rifles and dynamites displayed alongside the suspects at the state police command.
He described the whole saga as false and the handiwork of mischief makers who had deceived the police because there were no terrorists in Abagana, adding that the Anambra State Police Commissioner took sides in favour of one party in a land dispute between Ukpo and Abagana communities.

“The entire people of Abagana are rudely shocked by the brutal and militant invasion of the homes, the violent and brute arrest and criminalisation of their responsible, respected and worthy sons as suspected terrorists,” he said.
He gave the names of those arrested by the police as Chief Eugene Anene, a reputable transporter and leader in the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Chief Amobi Ezekwe, an international businessman whom he described as confident and audaciously fearless but peace loving man who was arrested in his country home at Abagana while performing the new Yam festival of his community, Stephen Ezichiegwu, a successful distributor of beer and assorted drinks in Eke-Abagana and a dedicated Christian, and Charles Nwazojie a God-fearing and humble businessman as well as 10 staffers of Em Petroleum in Abagana owned by Chief Emma Nwude.

He said these workers arrested at Em Petroleum are not even from Abagana and that their arrest on trumped up charges was meant to embarrass and incriminate their proprietor, Chief Emma Nwude, a known leader in Abagana community.

“It is important to note that all these people were arrested in the presence of witnesses at noon time and no ammunition or dynamite was found on them. “Where was the hide out where they were nabbed and from where the AK47 and dynamite obtained,” he queried, adding that the people of Abagana with their faith in the country believe in the rule of law, and are pissed that somebody with prodigious financial backing would command security agents to blackmail Abagana people.
He therefore appealed to the presidency, the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, the National Assembly, the Inspector General of Police and the public conscience of Nigerians to save the lives of his people.

But the Ezekwe family of Abagana whose bread winner Chief Amobi Ezekwe was arrested had taken exception to the way and manner the police stormed their home, whisked Amobi away without identifying themselves nor conducting a search in their house only to start parading him as a terrorist.
The family speaking through his wife, Mrs. Juliet Azuka Ezekwe in their family house at Abagana accused the police of behaving like paid agents bent on tarnishing the image of their breadwinner, and father of five who plies his trade in the commercial city of Onitsha.

She said that though there was a land dispute between Ukpo and Abagana communities but that the police didn’t do well to go arresting illustrious sons of Abagana on the allegation that they were terrorists without any investigation whatsoever. Narrating how her husband was arrested, Mrs. Ezekwe said that on Thursday, August 18 when a fight broke out in the disputed land, her husband was in far away Lagos trying to clear his imported goods from the department of Customs and Excise.
She said that he came back August 20 being Saturday and in his characteristic manner of observing the “Iwaji” (New Yam ceremony) which he already fixed for the 21st of August before the incident, was with his kinsmen friends in his compound.

Midway into the ceremony, Mrs. Ezekwe said two plain clothed men worked into the compound and requested that he followed them outside the gate for a message.
Once outside, his family members who followed behind thinking that they might be conmen or kidnappers found to their chagrin that there were two buses packed outside with over 20 people whom they later understood dragged him into one of the buses and sped off; adding that they seized his phone when he wanted to make a call.

Mrs. Ezekwe said the plain clothed officers who invaded their home neither introduced themselves nor searched the building, a situation that made the family mistake them for kidnappers and went and even lodged a complaint that Sunday evening at the Abagana Police Station.

She now wondered how the police manufactured the dane guns, AK47 riffles, dynamite and all manner of weapons they placed besides him while parading her husband alongside other suspects, saying “imagine my husband who can’t even hurt a fly being treated like a terrorist by the police.”
“I was traumatised to see the police could brand my husband a terrorist, placing beside him the same dilapidated dane guns and AK47 rifle we use to see them on television place beside suspects in the past. How did they come about this? They didn’t search our house, so how did they get the guns with which they are now framing my husband. From who?” She asked.

She described her husband as gentle and peaceful alleging that his travails had been hatched by an influential businessmen and oil magnet from Ukpo who felt he was becoming two influential in the area and needed to be clipped.

Also the member representing Njikoka II constituency in the state House of Assembly, Hon. Pete Ibida said the police lied by labeling his constituents terrorists.

According to him, Anambra people are not terrorists and that most of the people the police arrested were law abiding citizens he had known over the years and wondered how they could suddenly become terrorists at their age.

He counseled the Anambra Police Commissioner to thread with caution in the discharge of his duty.
“I have read the profile of the new police commissioner. He is a solid policeman. He should be discreet the way he handles this matter. His predecessor did well here and Anambra was better for it.
“I don’t agree with the police report that those arrested are terrorists. It is a lie. To say that amounts to denting the efforts of the state Governor, Chief Willie Obiano who has a record of zero tolerance for crime and criminality.
“What happened was a quarrel between Abagana and Ukpo communities over land,” he said.
The State Police Commissioner, Mr. Sam Okaula told THISDAY that he would not comment on the matter again since it has been charged to court.
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Endless Fight over Land
The Ukpo and Abagana communities in Anambra central zone have in the last 21 years found themselves locked in a land dispute that is now tearing them apart. Charles Onyekamuo reports

The whole scenery looks sordid. The sight of carcasses of two burnt patrol vehicles belonging to the Anambra State Police Command and debris of a bungalow with suffocating grasses marched to earth all caught a picture of a desolate place abandoned after a war. And except for a handful of security police men who mounted a road block on the border between Ukpo community in Dunukofia Local Government Area and Abagana in Njikoka Local Government Area in Anambra central zone, frisking passers bye, you would think that the war was still raging.

But there was no war parse. THISDAY checks revealed that the havoc was visited on these properties by irate youths who allegedly came from Abagana, to protest the ceding of the land to Ukpo community after a Court of Appeal that sat in Enugu, Enugu State delivered a judgment in their favour. The action of the youths it was learnt was ostensibly to disrupt the implementation of the court judgment by Ukpo people, when they found that they were sharing out the acres of land in dispute to land prospectors.

The police authority in Awka was however silent on this, but said instead that it had arrested about 23 terrorists who invaded Ukpo community and destroyed a bungalow containing 10 self contained rooms serving as a barrack for its officers, a police post in the area, two police patrol vehicles and killed a native of Ukpo known as Emmanuel Okafor.

The police said the terrorists over powered a few officers manning their posts and blew up with the aid of a dynamite the police barrack, adding that dynamites and 47 rifles were recovered from those arrested.
THISDAY checks however revealed that the parcel of land in dispute had been a subject of litigation between Ukpo and Abagana communities with each of them laying claim to the land.

Following the dispute, the land matter went through a High Court in Awka and later the Court of Appeal in Enugu which the Ukpo community won this year and had begun the ceding and sale of the plots of land to interested members of the public and community people and demolishing houses already built by people of Abagana origin within the fringes of the disputed land. It was in the course of this THISDAY learnt that some irate youths stormed the place claiming that an appeal on the victory of Ukpo community at the Court of Appeal Enugu had been filed at the Supreme Court leading to the fracas which allegedly led to the death of one Emmanuel Okafor from Ukpo and the vandalisation of some police patrol vans among others.

The Traditional Ruler of Ukpo community, Eze (Dr) Robert Eze, a medical practitioner was initially taciturn on the matter as visits to his palace met a brick way without either asking the reporter to go because of his indisposition to talk being in a meeting with members of his cabinet or that you go and search for the Town Union President who was out of the country.

Eventually, the Ukpo Town Union in a statement said that they owned the land in dispute and won the ensuing court matter pertaining to the land in suit No: A/74/95, Ichie Austin Ezudu and others as representatives of Ukpo community versus Chief Augustine Ezenwa and others for Abagana.
They also alleged that youths from Abagana attacked Ukpo community on July 19, during which police patrol vehicles were burnt and a bungalow of 10 self contained rooms demolished; while a citizen of the community was hacked to death.

Ugochukwu Ogudo, a native of Ukpo and the Publicity Secretary of Oranto Progressive Union, (OPU) Ukpo told THISDAY that the aborigines of the land in dispute are the Akaezi village in Ukpo.
According to him, the people of Orofia village in Abagana used to invade the Akaezi people of Ukpo inhabiting the land, making them run for their lives; adding that the land in dispute is known as “Ofogbo land”.

He said that the land belongs to Ukpo people who had been inhabiting the land.
Historically he said the Orofia village in Abagana they were told migrated from Edda in Ohafia area near Arochukwu in present day Abia State, adding that the Akaezi people of Ukpo had inhabited the land before the arrival of Orofia people.

“Even my mother is from Orofia village in Abagana. She hailed from Okeke and Onyekwelu families in Orofia Abagana and she told me when she was alive that they came from Edda and settled there,” he said.
The land issue he said had been a protracted tussle to the extent that it became a court case which according to him Ukpo pursued with civility instead of violence.

The court case he said had been on for over 30 years during which Abagana people he alleged went and began erecting houses on the land before the court pronouncement.

“The court decided in our favour this year and from the best of my knowledge the Abagana people didn’t appeal the judgment,” he said, adding that it was when the Ukpo people started building police station and personal houses on the empty acres until some miscreants allegedly from Abagana invaded Ukpo, destroying government property, vehicles and a building as the police said with the aid of a dynamite.
He said it was barbaric and unlawful for some people to take the law into their hands, stressing that the problem has shifted from being that of Ukpo and Abagana, but between Abagana and the federal government.

He called on both the Anambra State and the federal government to take decisive action against those who perpetrated the arson and their alleged sponsors and ensure that justice is done.
But the Abagana community through the acting President General of Abagana Welfare Union (AWU), Chief Ben Ugha, said in a statement in Onitsha that the problem between Ukpo and Abagana communities borders on a land dispute.

He said that though the matter which had been on for long and in court was later adjudicated in favour of Ukpo community in suit No: A/74/95 but that the Abagana community had appealed the judgment in Appeal No: CA/E/86/2012 and motion No: CA/11om?2015 at the Supreme Court.

He alleged that the Anambra State Police Command and the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Sam Okaula took sides in the conflict because according to him, they were being influenced by an equally influential business mogul and oil Magnate from Ukpo even when the commissioner was aware of the pendency of the appeal.

That, he said explained why the police came and arrested some prominent sons of Abagana and dubbing them terrorists who were allegedly arrested in their hideouts.

He said the community was shocked by the way the police commissioner paraded their illustrious sons as terrorists and caused their photographs to be published in a national daily saying they were arrested with AK47 rifles and dynamites displayed alongside the suspects at the state police command.
He described the whole saga as false and the handiwork of mischief makers who had deceived the police because there were no terrorists in Abagana, adding that the Anambra State Police Commissioner took sides in favour of one party in a land dispute between Ukpo and Abagana communities.

“The entire people of Abagana are rudely shocked by the brutal and militant invasion of the homes, the violent and brute arrest and criminalisation of their responsible, respected and worthy sons as suspected terrorists,” he said.
He gave the names of those arrested by the police as Chief Eugene Anene, a reputable transporter and leader in the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Chief Amobi Ezekwe, an international businessman whom he described as confident and audaciously fearless but peace loving man who was arrested in his country home at Abagana while performing the new Yam festival of his community, Stephen Ezichiegwu, a successful distributor of beer and assorted drinks in Eke-Abagana and a dedicated Christian, and Charles Nwazojie a God-fearing and humble businessman as well as 10 staffers of Em Petroleum in Abagana owned by Chief Emma Nwude.

He said these workers arrested at Em Petroleum are not even from Abagana and that their arrest on trumped up charges was meant to embarrass and incriminate their proprietor, Chief Emma Nwude, a known leader in Abagana community.

“It is important to note that all these people were arrested in the presence of witnesses at noon time and no ammunition or dynamite was found on them. “Where was the hide out where they were nabbed and from where the AK47 and dynamite obtained,” he queried, adding that the people of Abagana with their faith in the country believe in the rule of law, and are pissed that somebody with prodigious financial backing would command security agents to blackmail Abagana people.
He therefore appealed to the presidency, the Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, the National Assembly, the Inspector General of Police and the public conscience of Nigerians to save the lives of his people.

But the Ezekwe family of Abagana whose bread winner Chief Amobi Ezekwe was arrested had taken exception to the way and manner the police stormed their home, whisked Amobi away without identifying themselves nor conducting a search in their house only to start parading him as a terrorist.
The family speaking through his wife, Mrs. Juliet Azuka Ezekwe in their family house at Abagana accused the police of behaving like paid agents bent on tarnishing the image of their breadwinner, and father of five who plies his trade in the commercial city of Onitsha.

She said that though there was a land dispute between Ukpo and Abagana communities but that the police didn’t do well to go arresting illustrious sons of Abagana on the allegation that they were terrorists without any investigation whatsoever. Narrating how her husband was arrested, Mrs. Ezekwe said that on Thursday, August 18 when a fight broke out in the disputed land, her husband was in far away Lagos trying to clear his imported goods from the department of Customs and Excise.
She said that he came back August 20 being Saturday and in his characteristic manner of observing the “Iwaji” (New Yam ceremony) which he already fixed for the 21st of August before the incident, was with his kinsmen friends in his compound.

Midway into the ceremony, Mrs. Ezekwe said two plain clothed men worked into the compound and requested that he followed them outside the gate for a message.
Once outside, his family members who followed behind thinking that they might be conmen or kidnappers found to their chagrin that there were two buses packed outside with over 20 people whom they later understood dragged him into one of the buses and sped off; adding that they seized his phone when he wanted to make a call.

Mrs. Ezekwe said the plain clothed officers who invaded their home neither introduced themselves nor searched the building, a situation that made the family mistake them for kidnappers and went and even lodged a complaint that Sunday evening at the Abagana Police Station.

She now wondered how the police manufactured the dane guns, AK47 riffles, dynamite and all manner of weapons they placed besides him while parading her husband alongside other suspects, saying “imagine my husband who can’t even hurt a fly being treated like a terrorist by the police.”
“I was traumatised to see the police could brand my husband a terrorist, placing beside him the same dilapidated dane guns and AK47 rifle we use to see them on television place beside suspects in the past. How did they come about this? They didn’t search our house, so how did they get the guns with which they are now framing my husband. From who?” She asked.

She described her husband as gentle and peaceful alleging that his travails had been hatched by an influential businessmen and oil magnet from Ukpo who felt he was becoming two influential in the area and needed to be clipped.

Also the member representing Njikoka II constituency in the state House of Assembly, Hon. Pete Ibida said the police lied by labeling his constituents terrorists.

According to him, Anambra people are not terrorists and that most of the people the police arrested were law abiding citizens he had known over the years and wondered how they could suddenly become terrorists at their age.

He counseled the Anambra Police Commissioner to thread with caution in the discharge of his duty.
“I have read the profile of the new police commissioner. He is a solid policeman. He should be discreet the way he handles this matter. His predecessor did well here and Anambra was better for it.
“I don’t agree with the police report that those arrested are terrorists. It is a lie. To say that amounts to denting the efforts of the state Governor, Chief Willie Obiano who has a record of zero tolerance for crime and criminality.

“What happened was a quarrel between Abagana and Ukpo communities over land,” he said.
The State Police Commissioner, Mr. Sam Okaula told THISDAY that he would not comment on the matter again since it has been charged to court.