*Soludo Rescue Us To Avoid Bloodshed–Original Owners
By Chuks Eke
What started as far back as 2001 as a peaceful land deal between indigenes of Ogwugwu/Umueze village, Oba in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra state and Bukham Nigeria Limited, a construction firm handling an International market project at Oba for the then state government, has snowballed into a full-blown land squabble between the community and the construction firm.
At the last count, no fewer than five indigenes of the area have sustained various degrees of injuries in the hands of security agencies hired by the firm, arising from the land squabble, just as about 20 houses belonging to the natives have so far been demolished by the firm in the process of trying to acquire a vast hectare of land in the area which they claimed the government had allocated to them.
But undaunted by the alleged use of a combined team of policemen, naval officers and local vigilante operatives, indigenes of the community
at the weekend, staged a peaceful demonstration in protest against what they termed as the forceful acquisition of a large expanse of their lands by the construction firm and their representatives who they identified as land grabbers.
Armed with placards with certain inscriptions such as “leave our land alone”, Governor Soludo, rescue us from these land grabbers”, and ” this large expanse of lands is our inheritance”, among others, the demonstrators, numbering over 5,000, including, men, women, and children chanted some protest slogans against Bukham Nigeria Limited.
Conducting newsmen around the vast lands where caterpillars were seen still clearing and at the same time demolishing some houses, under the protection of the security personnel, the Chairman of Ogwugwu/Umueze village, Oba, Barrister Chuba Oranusi, stated that they inherited the land from their late grandfathers, grandmothers and their fathers and mothers who he said the late ones were buried in the same land when they died.
Flanked by the vice chairman of Ogwugwu/Umueze Village, Sir Emeka Montana, and the youth leader, Uchenna Obiegbu, Oranusi, a one-time legislator in the state House of Assembly that represented Idemili South state constituency, stated that the most annoying aspect of the situation was that as they are clearing the lands with caterpillars, demolishing their houses, Bukham and his representatives are busy mapping out some plots for sale to interested buyers and not even to build markets as they claimed.
He recalled that Bukham was awarded a contract for the construction of the Oba International market in 2001 by the former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju administration on Build, Operate and Transfer, BOT basis but the firm erected some shops halfway and abandoned the entire project uncompleted to date.
He said the firm used the land as collateral and obtained a loan of N5.5 billion from First Bank and when they could not pay back the loan, the bank reported them to AMCON which sealed the land, and Bukham left with nothing, decided to encroach into the nearby lands by force, under the protection of the police, the navy and some indigenes to forcefully grab as many hectares as they could lay their hands on, clear them with caterpillars as they are doing and then sell it in plots to interested buyers at N10 million per plot.
Oranusi, Motanya, and Obiegbu who insisted that no amount of intimidation would make the community give out their inheritance where their deceased parents were buried, said since one week now, precisely on Saturday, November 12, the firm and its security guards forcefully entered into the land, they have injured no fewer than five indigenes who had approached them to inquire what was amiss and also demolished many residential houses of the indigenes which cannot be quantified in terms of financial, material, emotional and psychological losses, and trauma.
Recalling that the community had only agreed to release only 30 hectares of land to the firm, through its representatives simply known as Micpan and Sunny Bigman, the trio said the firm is now encroaching into as much as 150 hectares and therefore appealed to Governor Soludo to come to their rescue before lives are lost.
When contacted, one of the firm’s representatives, Micpan told newsmen on the phone that they have a government Certificate of Occupancy, C-of-O that empowered them to acquire and take possession of the lands where they are currently clearing.