Enugu: Families Vow To Die Over Gov’t Takeover Of Ancestral Land

Concerned family members of Ndiagu Amechi Uwanu in Enugu South LGA of Enugu State have said they are ready to pay the supreme price following moves by the state government to take over their ancestral land.

THE WHISTLER reports that the ancestral land is located at the Centenary Estate, located off-Port-Harcourt expressway in Enugu.

Members of the affected family had earlier protested the planned takeover as well as demolition of over sixty houses located on the affected area.

The Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority, ECTDA, had earlier given the affected families seven days to vacate the land, and fixed the demolition for May 4 2023.

Despite the protest, ECTDA, yesterday, mobilised caterpillars to the disputed area with a detachment of police, Department of State Services, and operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. The natives had earlier blocked the road to the disputed area, but were overpowered by security officials who shot sporadically.

One of the owners of the buildings in the affected area, Chief Nnaji Sunday Whyte, told our correspondent on Thursday that, “I’m from Ndiagu Amechi Uwani. I’m angry because this piece of land was given to me by my father to build my personal house. When I began to build this house, the authorities of ECTDA served me a paper that I must get approval from them before I could continue with the project. I told them that it is my ancestral land. They insisted that I do that.

“I accepted. I went to their office, and paid over N800, 000, and I was given the approval. We are protesting because a few days ago, ECTDA came and marked some of the structures. They told us to remove the buildings within seven days. Many of us obtained an approval of building permit from the same agency. I have the proof here. I have the building plan. I obtained these documents as a law-abiding person.

“Today, they are telling us to vacate without providing us an alternative. This is the only land that is left for my people. Where will our children’s children settle tomorrow? Today, the government is chasing us away.”

Our correspondent gathered that the disputed land was acquired by a private developer, Private Estate International, but the matter had been in court as the land owners resisted the process of its acquisition in court.

Whyte stated that, “When this private developer came into our ancestral land, and named it Centenary, we have been asking questions about their mission. We later found out that the land they want to acquire was not legal. We went to court. There are many suits against Private Estate International.

“Some weeks ago, they went and manoeuvred with a judge and got what they called ‘consent judgement’ between them and the government, and excluded the parties involved, which are the community and the original owners of the land. Even if they are going to have such settlement, why can’t they bring us into the matter so that our consent will be sought? It is the so-called consent judgement that they are today using to pursue us out of our ancestral land even without an order to execute it. We are ready to die before they will demolish these structures. We’ll surrender our lives and those of our children’s children in this fight.

“I have been arrested many times over this matter. They claimed that I’m a terrorist. They said we have a terrorist camp. I was freed because they didn’t find me guilty. Our traditional rulers are not part of the owners. The people agitating are the families that own the land. I call on well-meaning Nkanu people to hear us. We should rise against this anomaly.”

Another concerned person, Eze Chigbo Ede, said, “The people that brought ECTDA to our land don’t have a stake here. They are not the owners. We have been fighting this matter legally. We are crying to our people. We are being victimised. Centenary Estate is a private venture. They chose to demolish 68 buildings. Why did they choose some and leave other similar buildings for demolition?”

In a reaction, Gideon Eze, ECTDA’s public relations officer, said the affected buildings marked for demolition violated the city’s master plan. He also claimed that the action of the agency was in line with a court judgement.

In his words, “Our agency was duly informed by the state ministry of lands to carry out the enforcement of the order of the Enugu State High Court. This agency, since July 2021, gave notice to the owners of the affected buildings.”

He said he was not aware of any approval for constructing the buildings in the land. Quoting him, “If there was an approval of such, the agency would not have gone into enforcement. We scrutinise everything we do to avoid errors; unless if such approvals were got through the back door.

“We want to use this medium to appeal to the public to visit the agency to ensure that approvals they get are genuine. The agency cannot give an approval and still comes back to say it is null and void. We don’t witch-hunt any community. We are humans, but the right thing has to be done.

“If there is any injunction restraining the enforcement as being speculated, I am not aware right now. There was a judgement that brought about the directive. The primary reason for demolition is because the affected houses contravene the city’s master plan.”

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