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Battle for Ovumte land settlement tears Ebonyi community apart

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The battle for ownership of Ovumte land settlement at Amagu Ishiagu in Ivo local government area of Ebonyi state has set the two factions in the community, known as natives and settlers, on a war path, reports Ruth Oginyi.

The natives and settlers in Amagu Ishiagu are laying claim to a fertile vast land known as Ovumte land settlement in the community. While the natives claim that the over 150-hectare vast land is community land, the settlers insists the disputed land was an individual land and not communal land. Already, the matter has shifted to the courts with multiple suits. The suit led to the court asking that the suit be consolidated and brought to a representative capacity. But there was melodrama recently at the land when the two parties clashed during the parcellation of the land by the committee handling the exercise.

The settlers were alleged to have gone to the land to disrupt its parcellation with one of the tractors used in the exercise attacked and destroyed. The settlers’ argument, it was gathered, was that the matter was still in court and that the committee’s parcellation exercise would pre-empt and prejudice the outcome of the case.

When our correspondent visited the Ovumte community and interacted with some residents of the area, 73-year-old Chief Godfery Makwo warned the group fighting the parcellation committee not to push the elders beyond their limit.  He said if the group didn’t allow the decision of the community to parcellate the land, the elders would be forced to use the traditional way to bring lasting peace to the land.

“I am 73 years and this is my 27th year as the chief of this community, a position the entire Amagu community bestowed on me.  My late father told me that the Ovunte land settlement belonged to Amagu and, to the best of my knowledge, right from the time our ancestors, it was agreed that if you wanted to live here, you do not plant anything and that, even if you do, your brother wants to erect a house, you 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. We are only pitying these sets of people because there is a custom that we evoke and all those people that are fighting this community will have themselves to blame. If we hit our walking stick on the ground for them, they will suffer. They should not push us to do this. Recently, something happened in Okposi, the Ohaozara local government area and the people of Okposi went to their traditional place and something happened. So, we pray that we will not be dragged to do this.”

Another stakeholder from the community and the chairman Amagu Development Union, Mr. Ukah Livinus Okorie, on his part, chronicled the stories surrounding the community land. He maintained that the decision of the community to create a new city in Ovumte was in the best interest of the people especially youths.

“As far as I know, as 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 an 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 the land belongs to them and the community has been making plans to parcel 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. As I entered into this administration, 1st January 2020, that was when the community had 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 coming up with some allegations and claims that they own some part of the land whereas the community is trying to let them know that, although the community had kept them here for long, the community is not chasing them away completely; the community will still make provision for them to stay within that side they have been occupying while other areas will be parcellated and given to other members of the community. So, there is no such problem. All they are claiming is an allegation. If they want to attract public sympathy, they will now go and call the name of one of our illustrious sons, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and claim the land. Anyim is not claiming any land in Ovunte. Whatever is happening here is just the brainchild of the whole community, not the brainchild of any individual.

“Each time these people want to attract people’s sympathy into this case, they will start calling names of persons like Senator Anyim Pius Anyim because they know that he is a prominent man. 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. So, Anyim is never involved in this matter.

“So, the community is ready now to parcellate the land and make it reach every family in the community and that is what we are doing. What is the area of the land and who are these people that are tenants who no longer want to abide by the oral agreement reached by your forefathers?

“The land is about 158 hectares of land. 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 a claim that his forefathers founded the whole area whereas we have elders that older than him, some the age mates of his father and they knew that this land is communal. 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 of last year based on multiple suits. As of now, the case is not in the court since it has been quashed. That means we still own our land and whatever ruling they gave us, it is in our favour. The court quashed it and told them that was not how to institute a suit; that if they wanted to institute a suit, they should go the normal way to do it. The case started last year and we have been going to court. After a month, some people will come and institute a new one, they will include the name of their children, after a month they will include the name 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.

“On the 3rd of this month, these people attacked our workers. 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 to mass and all of them ran.  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, convened 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 were not happy with how our tenants beat us and made it clear that we could not continue to allow them to beat us. The chairman appealed to us to remain calm, that violence cannot give us anything and at the end of the day, we abided by what the local government chairman told us and then dispersed. If anybody is claiming that he was beaten, I don’t know unless that person fought anywhere.

Pham Chinedu Makwe, chairman of Ovumte land parcellation committee, in his submission, said the parcellation of the land was revalidation of the demands of the people of Ovunte. “The idea of parcellating Ovunte land was something that came over 20 years ago. Some chairmen of the committee have come and gone and I became 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. Once they ratify, we go so that each time we are working, it will be the community approval.

This place is a land settlement, if you go round here, you will not see any good building 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 discovered that our villages (residential areas) are already filled up and people are in want of where they will build.

“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 don’t know our culture, who perhaps don’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 him into it.

Mrs. Ajah Victoria, a woman leader in the community while speaking with a correspondent, decried that women and their children are at the receiving end of the crisis and call for peace in the community.

She said, “This crisis is affecting us because we are brothers and sisters and 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 the land with them.

“I see no reason why few persons 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 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.

Afudike Uchechukwu Emmanuel- the Coordinator, Ivo Development center, who is also a stakeholder from Amagu Ishiagu acknowledged that the court will decide on the matter. Afudike expressed displeasure over the clash between the two parties at the council headquarters in Ishiaka last week and call for peace among them.

“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,  order from the court. The council Chairman read the order and it was simply a kind of there a lot of suits about that Ovumte land from different families and different individuals.

“The court simply ordered that the suit be consolidated. We read the thing together and everybody understood the order, the order was not that the judgment has been given over the matter. So, that was the order, and the council chairman as everybody to step down and allow the court to finish the case. So, it is not my duty to say who owns Ovumte land and who is not the owner of Ovumte land since the matter is already in the court.

On his part, Pastor Aloy Chukwu who claimed to be from Ovumte, said the land was not a communal land but land inherited from their forefathers.

The pastor called for the arrest of those he accused of attacking them at the local government. “Well, Ovumte land is a land that our forefathers have lived on before us we came to inherit. Of course, we don’t know when it started but 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 is the problem and they said the community wanted to use the place to develop an ultra-modern city. We told them that we had been living in that place since then and they told me that it is community land.

“Before then, we heard a rumour that it was community land and I was not living in 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, he didn’t give us a good response and we all dispersed from the meeting, people were angry.

“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 because they didn’t any result. They said that what they are waiting for is that any day people will come to l 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 ourselves to the court.

“On Friday, they started bulldozing our farm again. On Tuesday, we organised a peaceful protest in the community. They beat us, they always hire thugs so that they will be bulldozing our economic trees. We did our protest and 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 talks.

“The chairman saw the truth and ordered that bulldozer 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 and 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 much; 45 families filed suit one by one each and 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 mobilized thugs and kept them at the gate. It was God that saved me that day. They injured many people. We demand that the culprits be arrested and prosecuted for their criminal conduct. We as well ask that police protection be extended to us as we the people of Ovumte village live in fear.”

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