Insight

Ebonyi: Brothers baying for blood over community land

Indigenes of Amagu, Ishiagu in Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State and some people regarded as settlers are at daggers’ drawn over a vast land in the area measuring about 158 hectares, UCHENNA INYA reports

Amagu community is blessed with arable land. A piece of such arable land is Ovumte land settlement located in the community. The land measuring 158 hectares is very fertile which makes the people produce palm oil in large quantities. Also, the people produce cassava, yam and rice in large quantities from the land. Some have fish ponds on the farm, sell and make money. The vast land provided refuge for the people during the civil war.

Since time immemorial, only mud/thatch houses are built on the land in accordance with resolution of the community since it is a land settlement. This explained why no good house is erected on the land. But the ownership of the piece of land is being contested by two parties in the community; the natives and ‘settlers’.

While the natives hold that the land is a communal land, the ‘settlers’ claim that the Ovumte land settlement belongs to individuals in the community. The natives and the settlers have continued to disagree over the land, which is threatening the peace in the community. On March 3, the tension in the community heightened when the settlers protested against the parcellation of the land by the land committee.

Some people were reportedly beaten and injured on both sides while the parcellation was halted. But the Chairman of Amagu Development Union, Chief Ukah Livinus Okorie, said if anybody is claiming that he was beating, I don’t know unless that person fought elsewhere.

He said: “They broke our operator’s hand and gave other people internal injuries which we cannot determine by mere looking at them. They beat them up, carried the two batteries of the operator in the dossal, they took his money, they scattered everything and stopped our work that has been going on all this while. When the community heard about it, we came en masse and all of them ran away.

We didn’t beat anybody. “When we went to the police, the police called the local government chairman who, through the Ivo Development Centre coordinator, conveyed a meeting. All of us went to the local government for the meeting. The local government chairman addressed us and we told him our grievances. We told him we are not happy how our tenants beat us and made it clear that we cannot continue to allow them to beat us. The local government chairman appealed to us to remain calm, that violence cannot give us anything.

At the end of the day, we abided by what the local government chairman told us and then dispersed.” Okorie explained that Ovumte land is a communal land and accused the ‘settlers’ of claiming its ownership. The chairman argued that there was an oral agreement by their forefathers in the community that the settlers can stay in the community and that any time the community wants to make use of the land; the community is free to do so. He said: “As far as I know as the chairman of the community, Ovumte land is a general land that belongs to the whole community.

Though some people might come up, trying to claim ownership of the land, right from time immemorial, such people have been here and the community kept them as tenants, they pay rents to the community and the community allows them to stay. Our fathers made oral agreement that they can stay here but any time the community wants to make use of the land, the community is free to do so and we have been doing that. “All of a sudden, these people started laying claim to the land, saying that it belongs to them.

But the community has been making plans to parcelate the whole Ovumte land so that every family in this community will have a share. This arrangement has been ongoing for the past 20 years. When this administration started on 1st January, 2020, was when the community finished every arrangement to start parcellation.

When the parcellation started, some people came in but they have been part and parcel of the community, part of the meeting that the community has been having for more than 20 years. “The community is so surprised to see them come up with some allegations and claims that they own part of the land whereas the community is trying to let them know that despite the fact that the community has kept them here for long, the community is not pursuing them totally, the community will still make provisions for them to stay within that side they have been staying while other areas will be parcellated and given to other members of the community. So, there is no much problem.

If they want to attract public sympathy, they call the name of our illustrious son, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, that he is claiming the land. Anyim is not claiming any land in Ovumte. Whatever that is happening here is just the brainchild of the whole community, not the brainchild of any individual.

“So, they are just calling his name, placing their hands on him so that they will attract sympathy. Anyim is never part of what we are doing; he is not involved in any land matter. He is an indigene of Amagu and anything that Amagu is doing, he is supposed to follow them and do it but he is not involved in this particular thing the community is doing. What we are doing is the brainchild of the community; it is not the brainchild of any individual.

So, anybody calling his name is just trying to attract public sympathy because they know that when they call his name, his detractors will start saying this man has come again to do this and that. Anyim is never involved in this matter. Now, the community is ready to parcellate the land and make it reach every family in the community and that is what we are doing.” Okorie argued that the case instituted against the community by the ‘settlers’ has been quashed based on multiple suits. The chairman accused two men – Moses Orji and Aloysius Obineche – of leading those opposing the community to parcellate the land.

He added: “The land is about 158 hectares. These people we are talking about are very few and Moses Orji is their leader; he was the person that instigated others. Others have not even started all these movements until he came up, laying claim that his forefather disvirgined the areas whereas we have elders that senior him, some are the age mates of his father and they know that this land is a communal land. As a grown up like him, he is just misleading young people in this community which we don’t like. Other people are Aloysius Obineche and some others.

“As of now, the case is out of court because the court quashed the case on 17th of November last year based on multiple suits. As at now, the case is not in the court and since it has been quashed, that means we still own our land and whatever ruling they gave us, it is in our favour. Court quashed it and told them that it was not how to institute a suit, that if they want to institute a suit, they should go the normal way and institute a suit.

The case started last year and we have been going to court. After a month, some people will come and institute a new one, after a month, they will include the names of their children, after another month they will include the names of their grandchildren.

They kept on multiplying the suits until the court quashed and since it has been quashed, it is in favour of the community.” But the Coordinator of Ivo Development Centre and indigene of Amagu, Afudike Uchechukwu Emmanuel, disagreed with Okorie.

Emmanuel argued that the matter is still in court and that it is only the court that will decide who owns the land. According to him, the court simply ordered that the multiple suits instituted by the aggrieved persons in the community over the land be consolidated to enable it to decide on the matter.

He added: “The issue of who owns Ovumte land is already in the court of competent jurisdiction and I believe that the court so far is handling the matter. This is why one of the things we saw in the meeting we called over the crisis is a paper brought by the land parcellation committee; an order from the court.

The local government chairman read the order and it says there are many suits about the Ovumte land from different families and different individuals. “The court simply ordered that the suits be consolidated. We read the thing together and everybody understood the order. The order was not that the judgement has been given in the matter. So, that was the order and the council chairman asked everybody to step down and allow the court to finish the case.

So, it is not my own duty to say who owns Ovumte land and who is not the owner of Ovumte land since the matter is already in the court.” Also, the Chairman of Ovumte Land Parcellation Committee, Chief Chinedu Makwe, argued that the land is for every member of the community and not individuals. He said the decision to parcellate the land was borne out of the desire of the community to continue to live in the community and not scattering in other places in Ishiagu which can threaten their history as one people.

Makwe said villages in the Amagu community are already filled to capacity with no land for the people to build residential houses and that necessitated the decision of the community to set up a community to parcellate Ovumte land to enable it to be shared to every family to build houses and expand the community.

He added: “The idea of parcellating Ovumte land is something that came over 20 years ago. Some chairmen of the committee have come and gone and I became the chairman in 2008 following the death of Chief Cosmos Ajah, who was the chairman.

All we need is to revalidate the decision of those people that came before us and for each of the decisions we take, we take it to the Assembly for ratification. So that each time we are working, it will be the community approval. “This place is a land settlement; if you go round there, you will not see any good buildings standing. The decision of the community is you don’t build any concrete thing here. This settlement is for every member of the community.

We found out that this settlement can become a residential area because we found out that our villages (residential areas) are already filled up and people are in want of where they will build house and the community said instead of allowing this settlement remain like this and going to other villages to buy land, we have a land to give you so that we cannot scatter and our history get loss.

“We said okay, we are going to start work on the land settlement and our town crier went round the whole settlement to announce it. When we started work, we had no problem until when we got to a place where a 75-year-old man, Moses Orji, who should be an elder of this community, his wife who perhaps is not from this community, who perhaps doesn’t know our culture, who perhaps doesn’t even know the history of this land settlement disappointed us and started writing all manner of publications against us in the media. They started writing about Anyim Pius Anyim, who shouldn’t be dragged into this matter.

They dragged Anyim into the land issue just to curry public sympathy.” One of those said to be settlers in the community, Pastor Aloy Chukwu, claimed that their forefathers left Ovumte land for them to inherit and that he doesn’t know when it started. He said: “Well, Ovumte land is a land that our forefathers have lived before we came to inherit. Of course, we don’t know when it started but we were born there. Sometime last year, we saw some people coming to destroy our things; palm trees, our houses, our farms and we asked them what was the problem and they said the community wanted to use the place to develop an ultra-modern city.

“We told them that we have been living in that place for several years but they told me that it is a community land. Before then, we had a rumour that it is a community land. I was not living on that land, I was living in Lagos. They invited me for a meeting over the land. I told them in the meeting that we have a big brother we need to see because he is a member of the community and if anything is happening here, he is the one that will save us. I told them that I will convey a meeting with our big brother, Pius Anyim, which I did. On the meeting day, people were angry and were not satisfied with the way things went during the meeting.

“At the end of the day, I told them to calm down that we will still go to him again and they said no, they can’t go to him again. They said that what they are waiting for is that any day people will come to touch their palm trees, they will see what they will do. I told them that violence cannot solve our problem.

So, at the end of the day, something happened, they started somewhere and we landed in the court. “On Friday, they started bulldozing our farms again. On Tuesday, we organised a peaceful protest in the community. We did our protest and the Ivo Development Centre coordinator called a peace talk which was attended by the council chairman. We didn’t know that they planned to attack us and we held the peace talk. The chairman saw the truth. He ordered the bulldozer to be removed from the land and allow the court to decide since the matter is already in the court. They presented a court paper to the chairman.

The chairman opened the paper and saw where the judge said that we should go and prepare our case and bring it to representative capacity and consolidate it, that the people that filed the case on one matter are two too many – 45 families filed suit one by one. When the matter comes up, they will fill the court.

The judge said we should bring the suit to representative capacity so that the court will decide on the matter. “We finished the meeting peacefully and we didn’t know that they mobilised thugs and kept them at the gate. In fact, it was God who saved me that day.

They injured many people. We demand that the culprits be arrested and prosecuted for their criminal and in human conduct. We as well ask that police protection be extended to us, as we the people of Ovumte village live in fear.” Orji Paul, who claimed to be an indigene of Amagu, narrated what happened at Ivo Local Government Headquarters, Ishiaka, during the meeting. He said: “I was there that day with the local government chairman and the coordinator of the Development Centre. I was at the meeting when the local government chairman was addressing Ovumte village and Amagu people.

The local government chairman listened to both parties. The Amagu people said the case was against Ovumte and that the case was struck out. The chairman was with the judgement during the meeting; he opened it and read it to both parties.

The judgement is that the Ovumte people should go back and compile their case and bring it back to the court. “After that the chairman ordered that the bulldozer should be removed from Ovumte land. He appointed one Ajah to pray peacefully when the meeting ended. The coordinator of Ivo Development Centre and I started going for another meeting. On reaching the gate, we saw some hoodlums who blocked the gate.

They said the gate should be closed and I asked why. I saw one Ogo who the hoodlums asked to sit on the ground and I ordered him to get up. I warned the hoodlums at that gate to stop beating people. They stopped immediately. The coordinator of Ivo Development Centre and I headed for Abakaliki for the meeting.

“Immediately we got to Abakaliki, they started sending some videos; people they brutalised, people they beat even to the extent of some people were lying critically in the hospital. I am from Amagu and I know that people have been living in Ovumte for more than 40 to 50 years because I was born there. Both parties struggling over this land are my people. Let them stop beating people; let them allow the court to decide who owns that land.” The Women Leader in the community, Mrs. Victoria Ajah, called for peace in the area.

She said the crisis over Ovumte land ownership has been affecting women in the community. Ajah argued that the land belongs to the community and not individuals. She wondered why some people in the community would be laying claim to it. She said: “This crisis is affecting us because we are brothers and sisters; brothers and sisters don’t fight. We need peace in this community and we are trying to bring peace to the community. My father-in-law told me that this Ovumte land belongs to the entire Amagu community.

He told me that it was agreed that each time Amagu sons decide to build whatever they want on the land, nobody should struggle with them over the land. “I see no reason why a few people in the community will begin to claim that the Ovumte land is their own. Since I was married into this community, I never heard that Ovumte land belongs to a few individuals in the community. We have tried to resolve this issue and made them understand that this Ovumte land belongs to every member of the community.” The traditional ruler of Amagu community, Chief Godffery Makwo, who is angry over the situation of things regarding the Ovumte land, said elders of the community should not be pushed to curse those preventing parcellation of Ovumte land for the general good of the community. According to him, the community will pronounce a curse on them, if they continue to oppose the parcellation of the settlement.

Makwo frowned at the attitude of the settlers and threatened that elders of the community would be forced to pronounce a curse on anyone opposing the community on the parcellation of Ovumte land. He said: “I am 73 years old and this is my 27th year as the chief of this community which the entire Amagu community gave to me. My father is late and he told me that Ovumte land settlement belongs to Amagu and to the best of my knowledge, right from the time our ancestors agreed that if you want to live here, don’t plant anything and even if you do and your brother wants to erect a house, remove it. The settlers know this.

“The true story is that Ovumte belongs to Amagu. There is a playground in our community known as Ogbuji where decisions are taken and whatever decision we take will be agreed upon. “We only pity these sets of people because there is a custom that we will do and all those people that are fighting this community will have themselves to blame. If we hit our walking sticks on the ground for them, they will suffer. They should not push us to do this. “Recently, something happened at Okposi in Ohaozara Local Government Area. The people of Okposi went to their traditional place and something happened. So, we pray that we will not be forced to do that.”

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