By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu, Awka
It was tears of sorrow yesterday in Obinagu Village, Ugwuoba, Oji River Local Government Area of Enugu State when some elders of the community bitterly complained of the plans of the Enugu State Housing Development Corporation to forcefully hijack 88.9 hectares out of their 150 hectares of their ancestral land.
The elders, led by 96-year-old Boniface Igweze decried the destruction of their property worth several millions of naira, including houses, cash crops, farmlands and ancestral deities by the Housing Corporation in order to forcefully take over their Anioma Obinagu Ogboo land for a housing estate, without their consent.
Addressing newsmen in Awka shortly after their village meeting to place ancestral curses on those bent on trespassing on their ancestral land, the elders in their 90's and 80's, appealed to the Enugu State Governor, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to use his good office to call the Housing Development Corporation to order in the interest of peace and humanity.
The Elders Council of Obinagu insisted that after 14 days, if Governor Ugwuanyi refuses to intervene as a father and Governor of the state, those trespassing in the land may have to contend with their ancestral spirits and no recourse to them when spirits fight their battle for them.
Igweze, flanked by other elders including Kenneth Nwangwu, 95 years; Dominic Anochili, 92 years; Chukwuma Ndibe, 85 years; Pius Madubuchi, 75 years, Chief Daniel Okeke, 79 years; David Ndubuisi, 70 years; and Chief Samuel Nnebeife 67, years; among others, said they have restrained their youths from engaging in violence over the ownership of the land because they believed in lawful pursuits and the Governor's understanding and intervention for peaceful resolution.
They appealed to Governor Ugwuanyi to call the Managing Director of the Enugu State Housing Development Corporation, Mr Chimerie Agu and all his cohorts to order, as their insensitivity has stretched their patience, hence their resolution to hand over the battle to their gods, aside continued pursuit of the case through all lawful means possible.
The community elders warned prospective investors and developers to stay clear of their own 88.9 hectares in the Ibrahim Abacha Estate Anioma Obinagu Ogboo Ugwuoba land, to avoid regrets and collateral damages to them, financially, and otherwise including undiagnosed health challenges from their ancestral gods.
They noted that government at their time was not known to support evil but to stand with the people for a better society, wondering why the excesses of the Housing Development Corporation MD is being condoned by its supervising ministry and the Government of Enugu State, led by Governor Ugwuanyi.
They claimed some of them have died of high blood pressure over the land, as the community has no other land aside that piece, hence Enugu State Housing Development Corporation should hands off their land.
This is coming as an Enugu State High Court, Oji River Judicial Division, presided over by His Lordship, Hon Justice C.V.C. Ezeugwu on 22nd December 2021 granted an order for status quo ante bellum to be maintained with regards to the Anioma Obinagu Ogboo land in dispute.
Justice Ezeugwu, after hearing the submission of O.C. Ugolo Esq for the plaintiff/applicant adjourned to 25th January 2022 for Motion on Notice.
The order on suit number: HOR/41/2021 was between Fabian Anyaka and Madubuchi Onyeka and four others on behalf of Obinagu village Ugwuoba and Enugu State Housing Development Corporation and Chiemerie Agu, the Managing Director Enugu state Housing Development Corporation.
On the strength of this State High Court that nothing shall happen on the land till after determination of Motion on Notice.
Governor Ugwuanyi, MD Housing Development Corporation react
Efforts to contact the developer, Seaman's Global and Ugwuanyi's relative blowing trumpet for Mr. Agu, for possible shedding of light on the matter proved abortive; while calls to the Managing Director, Enugu state Housing Development Corporation, Mr Chimerie Agu were not picked.
Also, several calls to the Governor's SSA on Media, Onyebuchi Louis Amoke were not responded to. Further efforts to reach the Governor on his mobile lines were not successful as the lines were switched off.
Petition to Enugu State Governor
Meanwhile, in a petition dated 30th November, 2021 to the Enugu state Governor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, through the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Obinagu village, Ugwuoba through their lawyer, Okechukwu C. Ugolo Esq frowned at the arbitral acquisition of their land - Anioma Obinagu Ogboo land without their knowledge and consent.
In the petition, Obinagu People reminded the Governor Ugwuanyi that the Anioma land is their's undisputably and it never belonged to Agolo/Okpuno and despite the several attempts to covet the land in court through appeals, Obinagu people remained the true owners of the Anioma Obinagu Ogboo land till date.
Obinagu people prayer Governor Ugwuanyi and the Attorney General to ask the Enugu State Housing Development Corporation to steer clear their land pending when the proper things are done.
They noted that Ugwuoba land holdings does not encourage general land ownership but lands are owned individually or by villages.
They further reminded that Anioma Obinagu Ogboo land belonged to them Obinagu People by virtue of the judgement in suit number ORCC/18/98: Rev Canon Dr J.O Iloeje and two others versus Innocent Ezeokafor and 6 others, hence the presence of Enugu State Housing Development Corporation is unlawful, amounting to trespass.
Reports have it that Anioma Obinagu Ogboo land has been a subject of litigation between Obinagu people and Agolo/Okpuno communities both in Ugwuoba, Oji River Council Area of Enugu State, but Obinagu won at the Ugwuoba Customary court on 9th November, 1998.
And all efforts by Agolo /Okpuno to set aside the judgment failed, hence the Housing Development Corporation wrote the community on November 10th, 2014 ,18 years after wrong acquisition of the land in 1996 by the backdoor from Agolo/Okpuno.
Enugu state Housing Development Corporation in their letter lamented that they were led to believe the said land belonged to Okpuno/Agolo villages of Ugwuoba, hence the Housing Development Corporation had executed a grant of the said land with the 2 villages and actually taken possession and commenced development with a C. of O. issued to the Housing Development Corporation, by Enugu state government.
The said letter noted that development stalled because of lack of funds but in recognition of the court judgment restoring the title of the land to Obinagu village, thus they wrote the Community through its Chairman stating that they have recognized Obinagu Ugwuoba as rightful owners of the land.
They equally noted in the letter signed by Barr. Ngozi Chibuoke as the Secretary, and Hon. Henry Achiekwulu as the Chairman of Committee, that all agreements entered into with Agolo/Okpuno villages regarding the land were hereby denounced and declared null and void.
The Enugu State Housing Development Corporation stated that it was desirous of perfecting her title to the land and continuing development of her proposed Ibrahim Abacha Estate and that wise made some requests.
The requests included that the Housing Development Corporation should provide infrastructural facilities, including asphalt roads , electricity and water in the proposed estate; perform the traditional 'Igba Mmanya Ani' ceremony in due course and grant 20 percent of the realized plots to the community as compensation of the land as well as both the community and the company shall execute a formal deal of grant on the said land. The Housing Development Corporation even requested for a date to start implementation of the demands, hence it is wondered what went wrong for the new Housing Development Corporation Managing Director to ignore all the protocols, and insist on taking the land by force.
This Anioma Obinagu Ogboo land, located along Enugu-Onitsha Express Road, according to the Chairman Obinagu Village, Hon, Onyeka Madubuchi, should be left alone, as they are now uninterested in any form of department, since it has caused their elders sleepless nights.
Hon. Madubchi said this latest illegal invasion or trespass on the land occurred on 20th day of October, 2021, when the land grabbers mobilized different types of earth moving machines and forcefully entered the land, cleared it and started digging foundations in furtherance of their desire to illegally parcellate and allocate the land to unsuspecting members of the general public who are not aware that the land validly belong to the people of Obinagu village, in Oji River Local Government Area of Enugu State.
He reiterated: "The Obinagu people wish to state that there have been unsuccessful attempts in the past by the people of Agolo/Okpuno Communities in Ugwuoba, Oji River to forcefully take over the said parcel of land (Ani Oma land) which prompted them to file an action in court against Agolo/Okpuno Communities in Suit No. ORCC/18/98- Rev. Cannon Dr. J.O. Iloeje & 2 Ors. V. Innocent Ezeokafor & 6 Ors. It is however instructive to note that the Court in the suit, held that the people of Obinagu village (Plaintiffs) are entitled to the customary right of occupancy over the land. The Court further made an order of perpetual injunction restraining the people of Agolo/Okpuno Communities (Defendants), their agents, servants and/or privies from further entry into the said Ani Oma land.
"On appeal to the Court of Appeal, Enugu Judicial Division in appeal No. CA/E/177M/99, the Court of Appeal set aside the decision of the Enugu State High Court delivered by Hon. Justice A.I. Umezuluike and affirmed the judgment of the Customary Court, Oji River, which held that the Obinagu people are the valid owners of the land.
"Interestingly, while the dispute over the Ani Oma land between Obinagu village and Agolo/Okpuno communities which started as far back as 1992 lingered on, and to the knowledge of the ESHDC, the self-same Corporation working in collaboration with the Agolo/Okpuno Communities contrived a Deed of Customary Grant where they purported to have acquired the Ani Oma land in dispute from Agolo/Okpuno Communities who are themselves trespassers per the judgment of the Enugu State Customary Court and as upheld by the Court of Appeal," he said.
He further added: "Perhaps, even more interestingly, despite knowing that the validity or otherwise of their title over the Ani Oma land rested on the outcome of the then pending suit between Obinagu and Agolo/Okpuno Communities on the question of which of the villages is the valid owner of the land in dispute, the ESHDC refused, failed and/or ignored to apply to be joined in the case as an interested party. Rather, it stood by, and watch the parties lock horns on the issue until it was resolved in favour of Obinagu Community up to the Court of Appeal.
"Needless to say, the Corporation, by electing to stand by instead of applying to join as a party in the then pending suit, is deemed to have accepted to be bound by the outcome of the suit. This is because, being privies to the Agolo/Okpuno villages from whence it purports to have acquired its title over the disputed Ani Oma land, by virtue of the Deed of Customary Grant. The Corporation is by law not only bound by the judgments and orders made by the courts in the suits, but also by the order of perpetual injunction which restrained her landlord or grantors from further entry on the Ani Oma land.
“Unsurprisingly, on realizing the above correct statement of the law and being at the time, under the leadership of a Managing Director who is God-fearing and law abiding, the ESHDC vide a letter dated November 10, 2014 wrote to Obinagu village, acknowledging that the land belongs to Obinagu village, and that her dealings with Agolo/Okpuno villages regarding the land are denounced and declared null and void.
"The Corporation thereafter solicited to re-acquire the land from Obinagu village but could not finalize their friendly approach with Obinagu village before the tenure of the then executives expired," he added.
The community said that they are thus alarmed that instead of toeing the peaceful and lawful footsteps of the immediate past Administration, Mr. Chiemerie Agu has preferred the path of brigandage by threatening the people of Obinagu village with impunity.
"In furtherance of these threats, our people are witnesses to the mobilization of different types of machines to aid forceful and illegal entry into the land.
“The people of Obinagu village in their usual peaceful and law abiding disposition, have refrained from taking laws into their hands but have rather commenced contempt proceedings against Mr. Chiemerie Agu and 5 other principal members of ESHDC.
"Yet, despite the pendency of the contempt proceedings, Mr. Chiemerie Agu and his cohorts without the consent and/or approval of the people of Obinagu village and in total and flagrant disobedience to the orders of the court have forcefully entered into the Ani Oma land for the second time to resume construction works, preparatory to allocate to members of the general public.
"Our people are worried that in spite of the huge damages land grabbing has caused in Enugu State with its attendant crisis, divisions and violence, Mr. Chiemerie Agu is hell bent on pitching the good people of Obinagu village against the Enugu State Government for his primordial and primitive interests.
"Consequent upon the above, members of the general public are therefore warned to desist from dealing with ESHDC or Mr. Chiemerie Agu in any manner whatsoever in relation to the Ani Oma land along Enugu—Onitsha Expressway.
“For the avoidance of doubt, whoever deals with them does so at his/her own peril. Pursuant to the judgments of the courts, the land belongs to Obinagu village and it is not for sale no matter the amount or consideration,” he concluded.