Saturday comment2

No land has been set aside for Ruga, writes Sunday I. Owualah 

My attention has been drawn to the press conference in Umuahia on 17 July 2019 by the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Abia State, Mr Uche Ihediwa falsely accusing me that Abia State has already set aside land for RUGA at Arongwa. Nothing can be farther from the truth.


Umuobasi Autonomous Community has had a long standing personal relationship with HRM Eze Edward Ndukwe Enwereji, who I understand, was present at the press conference that he deemed it apposite to invite my cabinet to mediate between him and his people over a lingering dispute which had even become a subject of litigation.


On 21 April 2019, I led a delegation of some members of my cabinet to brief him on our findings from our preliminary investigation. At the root of the dispute was the land earmarked for a trailer park in his community that HRM Enwereji authorised its acquisition by government without due consultation and unanimity with the larger segment of his community, particularly the elites.


He equally informed us at this meeting, in his Palace, of the increasing number of litigations by his subjects and he showed us copies. He vowed he was proceeding to court himself and his entire household because he was being accused of enriching himself on account of the project. He lamented that he was being maligned and falsely accused by his people despite the amenities the trailer park would host viz: hospital, school, bank, hotel and police post. It was at this stage that I cautioned there was need for circumspection in view of the unfolding developments around cattle colony and cattle route in Nigeria presently. My word of caution stemmed from the size of land involved and the facilities to be hosted in the trailer park.


It was at this stage he referred me to Abia State Ministry of Land, Urban Development and Planning, Umuahia which he claimed had given approval for survey work. The survey of the expanse parcels of land covering parts of Umuonyeukwu Village and Umueje Village in Arongwa Autonomous Community has been completed awaiting compensation for members of the villages and other landlords who are non-indigenes.


On the same Sunday, 21 April 2019, I put a call across to the then Commissioner for Lands, Mr Uche Ihediwa which was abortive. I followed up with an SMS indicating interest to speak with him. It was not until Thursday, 25 April 2019 that I spoke with him on phone for some minutes.

He informed me that an MOU would be entered into between Abia State and the Federal Ministry of Works on behalf of the federal government for the purpose of the trailer park. He further confirmed that such facilities were part of the project and assured me that if the project was diverted for another purpose, then the terms of the MOU would have been breached. The community could approach the courts. He cited the case of Lagos State and federal government selling off its Ikoyi properties to private people. But recall that it was the Lagos State government, not individual Lagosians, that went to court. Contrast it with a situation where the trailer park is still there and people are settled within the park. Can it be rightly said it is not being used for the original purpose? Moreover, who are the people in Arongwa Community that will proceed to the courts? Is it those who have been duly paid compensation by the federal government or those who were not? Or would their traditional ruler, HRM Eze Enwereji go to court on their behalf?


This informed my drawing the attention of Ngwa Social Club to help me interrogate this project at the appropriate quarters because of the club’s strong stakeholder status in the affairs of Ngwa land over the years, through a WhatsApp group post on 26 May 2019.


Though the post went viral, the contents and my aforementioned conversations with HRM Eze Enwereji and the Commissioner Uche Ihediwa never alluded to RUGA (which by then was not known in popular lexicon of Nigeria) nor did I insinuate land being acquired for it. I challenge the commissioner to produce any evidence to the contrary in audio, video or print.


As a traditional ruler whose community is contiguous to Arongwa Autonomous Community, particularly the two villages in the location of the proposed trailer park, I consider it my moral and ethical duty to protect the overall interest of my people and others resident in it now or in the future. That is exactly what I did in taking up the task of drawing attention to the unintended consequences of this decision that might affect generations now and those yet unborn so that proper and due consideration is given to it by all stakeholders and not just only Eze Enwereji and his supporters.


Let me place it on record that I am a strong supporter of Governor of Abia State, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, in words and deeds, in his first and second terms. Our governor himself knows it. 


It is therefore unfortunate that instead of selling the trailer park project to Arongwa people in their homestead (the missing sore point), their traditional ruler chose to go to Umuahia and drag the Abia State Government into a mess he created by his inflexibility in the face of overwhelming and compelling reasons.


I feel vindicated since henceforth the Abia State Government “will scrutinise any request for land above five hectares from federal government”. The words of the former British PM, Theresa May recently at Chatham House are germane at this juncture: “Ill words unchallenged lead to ill deeds.”

HRH Eze Prof. Owualah MNIM

Ekeobasi 1, Umuobasi Autnomous Community, Osisioma LGA, Abia State