Why we haven’t compensated communities for acquired land – Enugu commissioner

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In this interview with RAPHAEL EDE, the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, Enugu State, Dr Victor Nnam, speaks on the controversy trailing the acquisition of 1,097 hectares of land belonging to Amechi and Obeagu Awkwnanaw communities by the state government

The people of Amechi Awkwnanaw and Obeagu communities have accused the Enugu State Government of failing to compensate them after acquiring their 1,097 hectares of land. Is this true?

From history, we are aware that sometime ago, the Enugu State Government started discussion with Obeagu and Amaechi communities during the time of Chief Jim Nwobodo to acquire some land for the permanent site of the state university. However, the Nwobodo administration was cut short by the military regime. So, Jim Nwobodo didn’t complete the acquisition process.

The military regime came and we have record that the regime did an acquisition and published a gazette in that area but we don’t have record of compensation payment to the communities and this is the bone of contention between the communities and the state government. But the government is currently making efforts to engage the communities to resolve this issue permanently.

You said the land was acquired by government for the purpose of siting the state university. How did it up end in the hands of a private estate developer, leading to the indigenes being displaced?

Sometime in 2009, the Enugu State Government allocated about 1,097 hectares of land to Private Estate West African Limited for developing a modern city. The purpose was to decongest the city and ease traffic. When the allocation was granted, government deferred the premium till when the company would develop the land and begin to sell the properties and then pay government. But it is now about 10 years after Private Estate West Africa Limited started selling the land and raking in billions of naira, yet the firm has not paid a dime to the government as premium, contrary to the agreement. And the failure of Private Estate West Africa Limited is part of the reasons government is having challenges compensating the communities. Everyone knows that land is one of the major sources of revenue for any government whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. That revenue comes from the premium, ground rent and other fees that people pay to government for their activities on the land.

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We know that the communities are not happy because their land was acquired and they claimed that they have not been compensated. But how can government pay compensation to the communities when Private Estate West Africa Limited has not paid government the due premium? The state government is handicapped because the company has failed to keep their part of the bargain by not paying premium to government.

What is the Enugu State Government doing about the alleged failure of the private estate developer to pay the agreed premium?

After due consideration, the Enugu State Government revoked the Certificate of Occupancy given to the company. The C of O was granted to the firm and the premium was deferred to enable the firm to start the development of the land and then pay premium to the government. But since the firm has been selling the land and making billions of naira but has refused to pay government after about 10 years, the government decided to revoke the C of O. But the firm sued the state government, contending that the revocation of C of O was illegal.  We are still in court with Private Estate Limited over the revocation. The court has advised parties to go and explore out-of-court settlement. The state government then set up a committee to resolve that issue. The committee was headed by the Commissioner for Environment, Honourable Chijioke Edeoga, but rather than embrace peace, Private Estate has resorted to arresting people and making false allegations. What they failed to understand is that land matters ought to be handled peacefully. The Igbo people believe that land matter is like marriage – getting land from someone is like marrying the person’s daughter. And when you are an in-law to someone you don’t fight that person because you will be seeing the person all the time. But unfortunately, Private Estate has resorted to defamation, arrests, litigation and blackmail. They will arrest the youths today, lock them up today, tomorrow thy will be released.

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Why did the company accuse you of forgery?

It is a false allegation. The company claimed that I, a commissioner, forged documents in order to survey some land. They also claimed that I was their staff member. I am a lecturer in the Enugu State University; I am on leave of absence to serve the public, and Private Estate has never employed me. Private Estate only gave me a consultancy job to survey some land for them, which I carried out and they paid me for the job. Also, I am an estate developer, I have an estate. I paid Private Estate N285m to acquire approximately seven hectares of land for me. They collected the money but they have still never paid any premium to government. I was never their staff member. I carried out a survey for them and then I moved on. So, the allegation that I forged documents belonging to the people of Obeagu is unfounded. In any case, the Obeagu people, whose documents they claimed I forged, have written to the Attorney General of the Federation, stating that I did not forge their documents. On the contrary, they stated clearly that I surveyed their land for them and that they enjoyed my services. But the forgery case is in court. The Attorney General filed charges against me. We believe in the rule of law and our justice system is still working, I believe that justice will prevail. It is just a matter of time, all these things will be over because these are mere trumped-up charges by people who desperately want to get me out of their way and grab community land.

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