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Enugu CSOs Petition EFCC, Accuse State Government of Land Grabbing

There are strong indications that Governor Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi could face a difficult time when he leaves office next year.

There is a flood of petitions to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by different groups and individuals against reported grabbing of large expanses of land across the state.

The latest petition is from an alliance of civil society organizations in the state demanding the anti-graft agency to immediately start “a thorough investigation into several allegations of land grabbing and commence his prosecution once he leaves office in May, 2023, when his constitutional immunity against civil and criminal prosecutions will have automatically elapsed.

In the petition on Monday and signed by the leader of the Coalition of Enugu Civil Society Organizations (CECSOs), Comrade Aloysius Mba, the group described land grabbing tendencies of top members of the government as absolutely unconscionable.

One of Governor’s predecessors, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani, now a senator, admitted acquiring housing estates, the Rainbow Communication Company and Cosmo FM Radio in Enugu illegally while in office between 1999 and 2007 and entered a plea bargain with the EFCC which saw him lose many assets to the Federal Government.

Giving an example of land grabbing deals in the state, the CECSOs wrote: “Governor Ugwuanyi entered the Ugwuaji community in Enugu South Local Government Area under the guise of mediating between kindred groups struggling over the ownership of over 100 hectares of land and announced the acquisition of this large swath in the overriding public interest only to convert it to a private property, using fronts who are serving in his government”.

According to the CSOs, the state government also acquired the extensive Idume Layout between Ugwuaji and Emene and handed it over to the same private firm to join the original place earlier acquired in Ugwuaji. 

It identified the swath of land as the new Valley Layout, Isiagu Village; Umunnaugwu-Ndiagah Layout; and Promised Land Layout, Umunnaji, Ngene.

“The layouts are owned by Coal City Layout Eastern Extension Layout and Alliance Ltd”, the coalition asserted, adding: “This is a private firm incorporated on December 29, 2021, and its registration number is 1878141 and the address Liberty Estate, Independence Layout.

“With one million shares, its directors as shown in the documents from Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja are Professor Samuel Ortuanya, who incidentally is secretary to the Enugu State Government; the Managing Director of the Enugu Housing Corporation, Chiemere Lambert Agu who is alleged to represent the interests of Professor Uche Ugwuanyi of the Enugu State University of Technology and Governor Ugwuanyi’s younger brother; Ken Chukwuegbo, younger brother of the Honorable Offor Chukwuegbo who represents Enugu South and North in the House of Representatives; one Robinson Odo; and the secretary to the board, Mrs Ijeoma Oluchi Mbah.

 “The postal address is Liberty Estate, Independence Layout, Enugu”, it continued, “with its e-mail address as coalcityeasternextensionestateallianceltd@gmail.com”.

The social activists stated that to perfect the land acquisitions, the Ugwuanyi government issued a public notice on February 9, 2021, announcing the revocation of lands in Ugwuaji, Ogui Nike and Amechi, all in Enugu South LGA but backdated it to November, 2020.

It promised to compensate the land owners and those with the Governor’s Consent, according to the coalition, but said that no persons have been paid.

“In fact”, the activists stated, “a list of those entitled to compensation was drawn up, but it turned out to be all fictitious names”.

The Alliance of Enugu CSOs recounted that the Ugwuaji land acquisitions were preceded by the government takeover of another large swath on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Amechi, Awkunanaw in Enugu South LGA where Heliu Estate is cited.

The International Centre for Investigating Reporting (ICIR) has also accused the government of creating a culture of land grabbing, describing it as “a silent official state policy of the government”.

In its report of November 20, 2021, the centre recalled how in the middle of 2020, “several communities protested against the new culture of land grabbing.

“The people of Ibagwa Nike in Enugu East LGA are still in agony over the forceful takeover of ancestral lands of Umuaneke ode family with over 150 buildings already erected without compensation.

“In 2018, indigenes of Ogbagu Agbani in Nsukka LGA held a peaceful protest for payment for the food crops and economic trees worth over N50m for a proposed housing estate.

“Across Nsukka, Orba in Udenu LGA, Ndiagu Attakwu in Akagbe Ugwu in Nkanu West LGA and Ibagwa Nike in Enugu East LGA have been protesting for compensation”.

The several land deals in the state in recent years are generally believed to be responsible for the government’s failure to introduce the Geographic Information System in land administration in the state.

Dr Victor Nnam, the immediate past Commissioner for Lands, gave the failure as one of the two reasons for his resignation last October, the other being the removal of heads of professional departments in the ministry.

Dr Nnam was the following month arrested and charged with a land fraud committed when he was on the staff of a private estate developing firm in Enugu.

His stand-alone storey building was marked for demolition by the Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority for allegedly standing on a proposed road.

“We want the investigation and prosecution of Governor Ugwuanyi to serve as a deterrent to public officials who love the culture of impunity rather than an environment of due process, law and order as well as commitment to the common good”, declared the Enugu CSOs in the petition to the EFCC.

“Let us see who can come to his rescue when he vacates office in a year’s time”.

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