- …Oghara monarch, HRM Noble Eshemitan raises suspicion about C of O
- …Delta govt intervenes; Commissioner Okenyi halts further work by Navy
- …My role in the land saga – Barrister Ukunbeyinje, former Commissioner for Lands
- OGHARA—THE Ovie of Oghara Kingdom, Delta State, HRM Noble Oyibo Eshemitan, FCA, was speechless when the Flag Officer Commanding, FOC, Nigerian Navy Logistics Command, Oghara, Rear Admiral Begroy Iben-Enwo, dispatched to him, Monday, July 25 evening, a supposed Certificate of Occupancy, C of O, for the land in dispute between the community and the security agency.
Besides the fact that he is the custodian of the culture and tradition of his people, he was not aware of any previous discussion for the acquisition of the land in question, let alone the issuance of a C of O until that date.
- In fact, both the Delta state government and Nigerian Navy had rebuffed his efforts to find out the truth prior to the protest slated for the next day, July 26 by his subjects over alleged annexation of their land.It was ostensibly to avert the protest that the FOC desperately sent the C of O to him at about 6.00 pm that Monday, but rather than dissuade the people from protesting, it fueled their resolve to rise against the perceived injustice.Secret affair
Investigations by NDV showed that the state government actually gave a C of O to the Nigerian Navy for additional land outside the 500 by 500 feet (about 30 hectares) known to the community for a land originally approved for a Mobile Police Force in Oghara. However, government officials shrouded the process in secrecy.
The state government duly acquired the first 500 by 500 feet and paid compensation to the people, but the supplementary, which increased the total acquisition to 243 hectares, is strange to the people. Nobody negotiated with them and no compensation was paid.
No to fraudulent acquisition
The monarch, who spoke to NDV about a week after, thundered: “Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) or no C of O, the Oghara Kingdom wants its land back and if the Nigerian Navy wants land for its expanded project, we have land that we can give them, but not the land in the heart of the town.”
He said about four years ago when he became monarch, he received a delegation of some of the community people where the Navy land was taken in his palace with the delegation bringing correspondences they had with the Navy complaining that they were encroaching on their land without due process.
- He said it amounted to due process in the sense that the navy never met them to say that they want to take their land; they came to him and appealed that he should intervene.His words: “That was my first information on the land.
- When I got the correspondences, I went through them and found out they had written to the navy that they are encroaching the land without permission. I have a Council of Chiefs that oversees the lands of the community; I called the head of the chiefs to find out what he knew about the land encroachment. He said he did not know anything about it and that he saw that the navy was bulldozing and fencing land beyond the one they initially had.“There and then, I sent him to Asaba to find out if there is any document giving the land to the navy, he promised me he was going to Asaba. I also called the community where there is encroachment to go and find out too. Both sides went and said they found out that there is original 500 by 500 feet land, which the community gave to Mobile Police, MOPOL 51 Squadron during the time of former governor, Chief James Ibori.
“But somehow, police said that they needed another land in another area, he gave another one to the Mobile police, so Navy came to this community and they needed a place for barracks and the 500 by 500 initially given to the Police was given them for their barracks.”
He added: “Information I gathered was that compensation was duly paid for the 500 by 500 feet land given to them. I called a son of the soil, Engr Omimi, then working in Asaba, who confirmed that the government asked him to acquire the land legitimately which he did. Another surveyor, Akpabor from Benin also came and corroborated the story that they acquired it legitimately and they paid.”
He said the community was not aware of how navy started extending beyond the 500 feet by 500 feet and he had lodged complaints since then to the state government, including the former governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, the current governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and four previous and current FOCs of the command.
Cause of present fury
“But when the navy started bulldozing cash and food crops of the community and causing extensive destruction to our land, the whole community became worried. We said we would not watch them take our land by force; we have to protest to let the world know that the Navy is destroying our crops and other valuables and forcibly acquiring our land. It is not a bare land. We have estates on that land, food crops and cash crops,” the monarch asserted.
He disclosed: “We are not averse to having the Navy here, we want them to be here, but what we do not want is for them to forcibly take our land. If they need land and come to us, we will provide a suitable land to them. Moreover, if the very land is the one we want to give to them, like it is done everywhere, they will negotiate for compensation and we will give land to them. Not them, because they have guns and they decided to take our land without due process.”
Controversial C of O
On the contentious C of O, he said when the current FOC sent it to him on July 25 when he learned the community was going to carry out a protest against it over the illegal acquisition on July 26.
“I actually got a document, a so-called Cof O, which gave this large piece of land to the Navy. When I checked it, I saw that the Commissioner under Udauaghan, Barrister Misan Ukubenyinje is the person who signed it and there is a request to the Navy to pay N146, 233,200 to the Ministry of Lands in Sapele for the C of O.
“I was shocked; I called my people, made copies and distributed the Cof O. Now the question is this. When I looked at the C of O, it was signed on May 25, 2015, the very week I had a discussions with the former governor on encroachment by the navy on our land.
“The C of O we saw showed that there are a lot of things that we need to know about this land encroachment. We became more determined to protest bearing in mind that the community is growing in population. In a couple of years, we could be about 2.3 million persons. If they take the land in the heart of the town and give to Navy, it will affect our existence because we require it for our existence and well-being. The C of O we saw is suspicious and we will get our land back. We are very confident it will happen,” the traditional ruler asserted.
He further stated: “Looking at the paper, it is clear that the commissioner signed it, whether the commissioner acted on his own or through the proper decision of the state government, these are things we want to establish because I hear some people are denying that they are aware of it.
“If government acted wrongly to give that C of O, we must make sure that they retract (revoke) it. It is invalid because the procedure to give land is clear. You must meet the people, you want to take land for public interest, yes, but there are procedures. You make publication that government wants to take the land and the area in question but they did none of these. That is why I say that the C of O will not be of any effect as far as that land is concerned.”
According to him: “The C of O in question though may be from the government, but I am yet to be convinced that the government actually gave that land to the navy because some government officials could be overzealous and do a thing like that, but I am not defending any government or governor.”
Okenyi stops further work
Following the protest by the people on Tuesday, July 26, the state government intervened and invited both the navy and community to Asaba, the state capital, on Wednesday, August 3, where the Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Development, Chief Dan Okenyi, ordered the navy to stop further work on the disputed land.
Chief Okenyi, who described the meeting as “good” said he asked the parties to return in two weeks time for further discussions and the navy in particular, to come with relevant documents
I only perfected the documents — Ukunbeyinje
Contacted by NDV, former Commissioner for Lands and Survey, Misan Ukunbeyinje, said: “What I did on that matter was that I simply perfected the documents for the acquisition of the land by the Navy. “I cannot tell the measurement of the land as there were a lot of land documents I signed then while serving as Commissioner for Lands. But if you need more details on the matter, you can contact the Delta State Ministry of Lands for more.”