SOS: Umuenu Umuawulu Protests over alleged encroachment into their land despite series of court judgements

SOS: Umuenu Umuawulu Protests over alleged encroachment into their land despite series of court judgements

SOS: Umuenu Umuawulu Protests over alleged encroachment into their land despite series of court judgements

By Chukwudi Ebele

The  people of  Umuenu village, Umuawulu community in Awka South Local Government Area, of Anambra state at the weekend embarked on a peaceful demonstration in protest against what they termed as illegal encroachment into theiry ancestorial land called Agu Udo/Agu Ofu land, by a neighbouring  Abo Ani  village, Awgbu in Orunba North Local Government Area, country hometowm of Chief Ernest Ezeajughi, Chief of Staff to Governor Chukwuma Soludo'. 

Specifically, the protesters are pointing accusing fingers on Ezeajughi alleging that he is using his good office as Soludo's Chief of Staff and as an indigene of Awgbu community to influence the state Deputy Governor, Ifeanyichukwu Ibezim who is the Chairman of  the state boundary committee to suppress Umuenu villagers of Umuawulu who are the rightful owners of the land in favour of Abo-Ani villagers of Awgbu.

However, Ezeajughi has in a swift reaction, debunked such an allegation by the Umuenu villagers, describing it as very spurious.

Ezeajughi who debunked the allegation on phone, said the Deputy Governor is the Chairman of the Boundary Committee whose duty it is to look into boundary disputes in the state and resolve them amicably.

"I am not even aware of any meeting holding nor was I part of the team that went for land inspection or demarcation at the disputed land between villages in Umuawulu and another village in Awgbu community. Only  the Deputy Governor has the authority to preside over decisions on land matters brought before the Anambra State Boundary Dispute Commission, " said Ezeajughi

Also in  his own reaction, the Deputy ,Governor, Ibezim declared: “I brought in a change in our boundary committee. I took my time to go to these disputed areas physically and verified all sorts of claims. At least, we would be able to see every sign of demarcation like trees, rivers and landmarks that keep communities together,” the Deputy Governor stated.

Ibezim declared,: " in the case in question, I went there and walked kilometres inside the bush and stood there. The two villages and a community - because it is between Enugwu village in Umuawulu, Umuenu village in Umuawulu and Abo Ani in Awgbu, all of them for the case in my office and we fixed a date to go there. Shockingly, Umuenu did not come there.

“There, we didn’t also want to take our own decision, so I called the leader of Umuawulu and the lawyer representing them, only to find out that after all of us agreed to meet there, he went back, because he was part of the decision that we will go physically there, he told me that he decided later to go to court again"

“I made no statement there. All I told the people present was that we have seen things and that we will go back and take our decision, and that was all. I left. Whatever they are saying is just a matter of them not wanting to let peace reign. We have not released any official statement or taken a decision on the matter. They should wait for my decision first".

“I have not taken any final decision and they are carrying placards. I simply said that I have heard and I have seen the place but I have not made any decision.”

Asked if the Supreme Court judgment the people of Umuenu referred to was in favour of the village, the Deputy Governor said, “People lay claims to all sorts of things. Let them bring the Supreme Court judgment. You have this judgment and that judgment, we have lawyers".

“We, as the executive arm of the government, our statutory responsibility is also to protect the judgments of the judiciary. To even protect the laws put in place by the legislature because we control the forces to do that.
“I don’t have any piece of land there. I don’t want to have one and I am not from Umuawulu or Awgbu. So, when somebody is calling the Chief of Staff or anybody, the Chief of Staff did not go with us nor was he even aware that we were going there".

“There is what we call monumentation. Ask them if we have done monumentation which is when we physically go and use beacons and fix and establish boundaries. Let them say whether we have done that. Let them say whether I have pointed at any point as the boundaries".

“Many elders from other villages went with us and climbed the hills, but there was no single representative from Umuenu, meanwhile, you agreed you would be there on a date you even fixed. There is so much insincerity in this land case. Some people have alleged we do go and put beacons for us to get lands for ourselves. I only just wonder why I should do that," said Ibezim.

Some of the protesters, armed with placards with the inscriptions, "Governor Soludo come to our rescue, Abo Ani encroached on our land, we have supreme court judgment in our favor on the land,  Deputy Governor Onyekachukwu Ibezim is biased, Deputy Gov has been influenced by Chief of Staff who hails from Awgbu, Deputy gov writes scripts of Chief of Staff and former director of Anambra State Boundary Commission, Chief Davidson Nkala, Soludo intervene before they take over our land, we have no other land where we cultivate except the disputed land", among others.

Speaking to newsmen during the protest, the spokesperson of the protesters and former chairman of Umuenu Umuawulu community, Chief Humphrey Obi, recalled how the land dispute started in the 60s and how Umuenu won all the three court cases that included the Court of Republic of Biafra , Onitsha Judicial Division, the Supreme court of Nigeria and others which ruled against Abo Ani Awgbu community.

Specifically, Obi quoted the July 5,1967 judgement of the High Court of the Republic of Biafra, Onitsha Judicial Division, presided over by Justice W. O. Egbuna in the suit filed by Jerome Okpala and Nwanaka Nwankwo for themselves and on behalf of Umuenu village, Umuawulu against Richard Onyenegbu and five others for themselves and as representing the people of Abo-Ani village, Awgbu which gave victory to Umuenu village.

In the judgement which has its suit No. as 0/41/1963, Justice Egbuna declared: "I have monitored the evidence led by the plaintiffs and I am satisfied that this Aguofu land in dispute belongs to Umuenu people of Umuawulu and not to Abo-Ani Awgbu, the defendants".

The court further declared:"I am also convinced that the plaintiffs have been farming on this land and also got judgement over this very land in 1928 and still made use of the land until the defendants trespassed into it".

He said that not being satisfied with the three court judgments, the Abo Ani people proceeded to Anambra State Boundary Commission headed by the Deputy Governor, His Excellency, Onyekachukwu Ibezim, where they demanded for the demarcation of the disputed land.

"At the Commission we insisted that we are the owner of the land and also believe that the judgment of the Supreme court must be adhered to since it is still an extant law.

"Funny enough, our brother Enugwu community Umuawulu who supported Abo Ani and bear witness against us that Abo Ani owned the land in the court, now made U-turn and claimed that the land belongs to them, Enugwu, a claim which showed that they are being backed up by some powerful forces from the state government. 

"Deputy Governor while we were interfacing with Abo Ani at the meeting Presided over by the Deputy Governor, told us that he has no business with the Supreme court judgment and others and that he has not even gone through the documents we submitted that he only wants the inspection and demarcation of the land in dispute.

"It is clear that from the utterances of the Deputy Governor that he is biased and influenced by the Chief of Staff who hails from Awgbu and Davidson Nkala who hails from Enugwu Umuawulu and who was also a former Director of the Anambra State Boundary Commission that is why we call on Governor Soludo' to come to our rescue," Obi alleged.

"It is the secred duty of Anambra State Boundary committee to follow and apply the said demarcation as judiciously fixed to accord with judicial fixed boundary, as anything short of that will not only amount to Anambra State Boundary committee reviewing, reversing the judgment of competent court but will amount to stretch contempt of court," Obi warned.

In a petition by the President and secretary of Umuenu Umuawulu, Nze Okoye Godwin and Mr. Nwafor Tochukwu, respectively to Governor Soludo, they reminded him of his belief in the supremacy of law stating that as such should not allow any influence from any quarters to cede the land or part of it to both Abo Ani Awgbu and Enugwu Umuawulu as they were trespassers stopped by the courts of the land.

Reiterating the danger inherent in ceding the land to the unauthorized communities, the duo urged Governor Soludo to rather invite the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice to interprete to them the implication of disobeying court order.

Among those that spoke during the protest included, Tochukwu Okoye, aged 94 years, said "I am surprised that someone that signed witness for another now claims to be the owner of the land, let's just think twice. I am calling on Soludo as a peaceful man to intervene in this situation."

Chief Johnson Anazonwu Nwafor, 88 years, stated, "I was cultivating with my father in that land when I was a child, I know everywhere there. We have no case with Enugwu in that land only Awgbu people. Our village is a peaceful village if not blood would have been shedded in that land due to what they are doing to us". 

Mr. Roseline Adobe, a widow, added, "I cultivated yam, cassava, among others but they destroyed all my crops, seized my hoe, knife. That is the only place I feed my children from."

According to Mrs Susan Nwaeke Ogbunike, "They stormed in the farm where we are cultivating, chased us away, leveled all my farm, destroyed all my crops and as the result of that my BP rose which I started suffering it till today. Governor Soludo, we are calling you to come and help us".

Mrs Chinwendu Nwanaka, a widow, "I was on my way to get something in my farm and someone told me that all we cultivated were destroyed, yam, cassava, cocoyam, when I got there I couldn't get anything, I started shadding tears that no one could help me".

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