Nigeria: Endless Fight Over Land

The Ukpo and Abagana communities in Anambra central zone have in the last 21 years found themselves locked in a land dispute that is now tearing them apart. Charles Onyekamuo reports

The whole scenery looks sordid. The sight of carcasses of two burnt patrol vehicles belonging to the Anambra State Police Command and debris of a bungalow with suffocating grasses marched to earth all caught a picture of a desolate place abandoned after a war. And except for a handful of security police men who mounted a road block on the border between Ukpo community in Dunukofia Local Government Area and Abagana in Njikoka Local Government Area in Anambra central zone, frisking passers bye, you would think that the war was still raging.

But there was no war parse. THISDAY checks revealed that the havoc was visited on these properties by irate youths who allegedly came from Abagana, to protest the ceding of the land to Ukpo community after a Court of Appeal that sat in Enugu, Enugu State delivered a judgment in their favour. The action of the youths it was learnt was ostensibly to disrupt the implementation of the court judgment by Ukpo people, when they found that they were sharing out the acres of land in dispute to land prospectors.

The police authority in Awka was however silent on this, but said instead that it had arrested about 23 terrorists who invaded Ukpo community and destroyed a bungalow containing 10 self contained rooms serving as a barrack for its officers, a police post in the area, two police patrol vehicles and killed a native of Ukpo known as Emmanuel Okafor.

The police said the terrorists over powered a few officers manning their posts and blew up with the aid of a dynamite the police barrack, adding that dynamites and 47 rifles were recovered from those arrested.

THISDAY checks however revealed that the parcel of land in dispute had been a subject of litigation between Ukpo and Abagana communities with each of them laying claim to the land.

Following the dispute, the land matter went through a High Court in Awka and later the Court of Appeal in Enugu which the Ukpo community won this year and had begun the ceding and sale of the plots of land to interested members of the public and community people and demolishing houses already built by people of Abagana origin within the fringes of the disputed land. It was in the course of this THISDAY learnt that some irate youths stormed the place claiming that an appeal on the victory of Ukpo community at the Court of Appeal Enugu had been filed at the Supreme Court leading to the fracas which allegedly led to the death of one Emmanuel Okafor from Ukpo and the vandalisation of some police patrol vans among others.

The Traditional Ruler of Ukpo community, Eze (Dr) Robert Eze, a medical practitioner was initially taciturn on the matter as visits to his palace met a brick way without either asking the reporter to go because of his indisposition to talk being in a meeting with members of his cabinet or that you go and search for the Town Union President who was out of the country.

Eventually, the Ukpo Town Union in a statement said that they owned the land in dispute and won the ensuing court matter pertaining to the land in suit No: A/74/95, Ichie Austin Ezudu and others as representatives of Ukpo community versus Chief Augustine Ezenwa and others for Abagana.

They also alleged that youths from Abagana attacked Ukpo community on July 19, during which police patrol vehicles were burnt and a bungalow of 10 self contained rooms demolished; while a citizen of the community was hacked to death.

Ugochukwu Ogudo, a native of Ukpo and the Publicity Secretary of Oranto Progressive Union, (OPU) Ukpo told THISDAY that the aborigines of the land in dispute are the Akaezi village in Ukpo.

According to him, the people of Orofia village in Abagana used to invade the Akaezi people of Ukpo inhabiting the land, making them run for their lives; adding that the land in dispute is known as “Ofogbo land”.

He said that the land belongs to Ukpo people who had been inhabiting the land.

Historically he said the Orofia village in Abagana they were told migrated from Edda in Ohafia area near Arochukwu in present day Abia State, adding that the Akaezi people of Ukpo had inhabited the land before the arrival of Orofia people.

“Even my mother is from Orofia village in Abagana. She hailed from Okeke and Onyekwelu families in Orofia Abagana and she told me when she was alive that they came from Edda and settled there,” he said.

The land issue he said had been a protracted tussle to the extent that it became a court case which according to him Ukpo pursued with civility instead of violence.

The court case he said had been on for over 30 years during which Abagana people he alleged went and began erecting houses on the land before the court pronouncement.

“The court decided in our favour this year and from the best of my knowledge the Abagana people didn’t appeal the judgment,” he said, adding that it was when the Ukpo people started building police station and personal houses on the empty acres until some miscreants allegedly from Abagana invaded Ukpo, destroying government property, vehicles and a building as the police said with the aid of a dynamite.

He said it was barbaric and unlawful for some people to take the law into their hands, stressing that the problem has shifted from being that of Ukpo and Abagana, but between Abagana and the federal government.

He called on both the Anambra State and the federal government to take decisive action against those who perpetrated the arson and their alleged sponsors and ensure that justice is done.

But the Abagana community through the acting President General of Abagana Welfare Union (AWU), Chief Ben Ugha, said in a statement in Onitsha that the problem between Ukpo and Abagana communities borders on a land dispute.

He said that though the matter which had been on for long and in court was later adjudicated in favour of Ukpo community in suit No: A/74/95 but that the Abagana community had appealed the judgment in Appeal No: CA/E/86/2012 and motion No: CA/11om?2015 at the Supreme Court.

He alleged that the Anambra State Police Command and the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Sam Okaula took sides in the conflict because according to him, they were being influenced by an equally influential business mogul and oil Magnate from Ukpo even when the commissioner was aware of the pendency of the appeal.

That, he said explained why the police came and arrested some prominent sons of Abagana and dubbing them terrorists who were allegedly arrested in their hideouts.

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