Gentlemen of the press,
On behalf of the Eastern Palm University Host Communities of Umueshi. Umuchima, Obiohia, Ogwume and Ogboko, all in Ebenmano Clan of Ideato South Local Government Area, I welcome you to this Press Conference. We are here today in protest, to ventilate and register disapproval over the brazen acts of intimidation, high-handedness and ill-treatments meted out to the host communities, the original land owners of the sites of the University Community, by the present Imo State Government Administration under the very watch of our son and brother-His Excellence. Owelle Rochas Okorocha, since the forceful take-over c our lands for the said university in 2012.
We believe that no society thrives on expediency and prejudice or by subverting principles. Thus, any society which demands soul-deadening conformity as a pre-condition “for its very existence is one which has ironically, sentenced itself to permanent instability. But because our people, in this clime, are noted for our elasticated tenacity for endurance, that is why all forms of injustices are thriving, accounting for our subjugation to various forms of psychological trauma all these past five years. There are limits to human endurance. The laws and the customs are not sacrosanct. They should be subjected to the searching right o reason.
We, as a people, for the past five years, have peen exercising all forms of dialogue known to history, to get our son and brother, the Governor, to see reasons to do the needful, by way of assuaging the ill-feelings of our people through the consummation of the Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) the proposals of which have been channeled to him, through the Ministry of Lands, without any fruitful result. This we have done, in order not to be seen as spoilers or anti-administration of our brother, yet here we are – no attention, no consideration.
The Ibeagwa Communities in Nsukka, Enugu State, are today making progress because of the scholarships, employment opportunities infrastructural facilities they attracted as donors of the lands where University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) is sited, because of the consummation of Memorandum of Understanding with government, to mitigate their losses as alternatives. Same applies to Ifite Awka Communities in Anambra State. The examples are endless. The albeit normative question to ask is “why is our own different”? Any law that lacks universality of application, is a bad law, reprehensible, retroactive, ill-tempered and ill- conceived. Such law has no place in civilization hence our protest today.
Gentlemen of the press, you may wish to recall that the sites for this University (E.P.U) were forcefully acquired from the land owners in the year 2012, without any prompting in terms of peaceful negotiation and dialogue. It was done without recourse to the very existence of the original land owners, whose future have been mortgaged and devastated by the forceful acquisition. Before we could raise our voice for disapproval of the arrangement, the government unleashed bulldozers on the lands and destroyed our farm crops and multiple economic trees, leaving the people’ in tumultuous wailings and shading of tears, facilitated by their own’ beloved brother. The destructions denied our generation their places of abode and widened the gaps between the haves and the have-nots here. If our society is to survive in the sense that makes survival what the while, we shall learn to create and not to destroy, to love and not to hate as is the case here.
What followed next was unmitigated disaster to the host communities, who today, suffer the concomitant devastations, made possible by heavy erosion of their remaining lands, leaving the pedestrian roads in these communities with deep gullies, fallen wall-fences, destruction of church buildings, school compounds and fields as well as submerging of homes in the said communities. The worst hit of them all are the Umuchima and Obiohia communities, which witnessed the worst form of flooding.
The above scenarios were bye products of planlessness and misplaced priorities, because Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and proper feasibility studies were not recoursed with, before the siting. There was no proper provision of sewerage and land-scaping which would have minimized the disasters as chronicled above.
While the communities above were licking their wounds on the cataclysmic consequences of government actions, which were carried out in total defiance of due process of negotiation or consideration, they resorted to mounting feable resistance which culminated in the election of ten man committee of the land owners, headed by Hon. Chief G.l. Okwara (JP), to quickly intervene and open up negotiation with the government, with a view to determining the fate of the land owners and their life benefits as last resort. This flowed from persuasive approaches to the communities by Hon. Chief Kelvin I. Amuka, who represents Ideato South State Constituency and some eminent sons of the communities who sued for dialogue and understanding.
The committee gallantly engaged the Ministry of Lands, Imo State, headed then by Hon. Chief Uche Nwosu, the present Chief of Staff to the Governor as Commissioner and extracted some understanding which disclosed that a Memorandum of Understanding should be consummated between Imo State Government and the affected communities, and also, that the damaged crops and economic trees, should be compensated for. Follow-up discussion to those effects, gave rise to the release by the state government of the sum of fifty seven million naira (N57m) for over one hundred and forty seven hectares of land, as compensation for damage to crops and trees in both sites A an B of the University projects.
The discussions also resulted to the proposals submitted to the state government, by the committee through the Ministry of Lands. To give effect to the whole arrangements, the committee engaged the services of Barr. Pascal Muoneke of Heartland Chambers Lagos, and appointed him as our Attorney. All these facts are documented and some of the documents will be made available to you after the press briefing. An area survey plan capturing site A and B is with our Attorney.
Ever since then, the government became adamant and no longer wishes to see members of the committee or have anything to do with them and/or hear from them, claiming that land belongs to government alone, who reserves the sole-right to do whatever it please with it. The danger inherent in that claim, is that government action seems to be limited to us, since such was not applicable to Oguta, Ohaji/Egbema, Ngor-Okpala etc.
As we speak, the University has metamorphosed from Imo State University, to Imo State/European University and ultimately, to Eastern Palm University contrary to our original oral understanding with the government which prompted our conceding the land abinito. To worsen things, the university has completed recruitment of staff-skilled and unskilled, without reference to the land owners or their inputs; most of their appointees are friends and well wishers drawn from outside, who have no visible stake in terms of ownership of lands in the university and to make issues worse, also concluded admission processes in the university without ceding any quota for the communities and their children. The university communities could not boast of any single infrastructure-Electric poles, good roads etc to assuage their losses.
It is because of the above developments, that we are here today, to tell the whole world, that except the government do the needful, i.e. The signing and implementation of the M.O.U, which proposals have been are with them for the past two years, the university would remain a product of litigations in the years to come and even after the life of the present administration in Imo State. This is because the principles upon which we acceded to the forceful conceding of our lands, have been brazenly eroded. We no longer know the true owners of the university and have not sold our lands to any body corporate government.
Again, we want to point out very clearly, that the Land owners through the committee, have not appointed any person(s) to represent us in any discussion or negotiation, be it Ezes or whosever named Only the owners of the lands through the committee, have powers to negotiate for them, because the lands involved are not communal lands, but lands belonging to individual land owners.
The land owners are therefore opposed to whatever arrangements that are already in place without their inputs and are poised to resist this forceful usurpation of our lands to feather private primordial considerations. We shall resist the on-goings with our full weights as communities, believing that to seek to apply the principles of democracy, selectively and on convenient issues, is the most naked display of double standard and offends the norms of decency.
Failure on the part of whosoever owns the university for now, to address the issues raised in the M.O.U which we hereby show to you, Gentlemen of the Press as encapsulated in our recommendations, would be witnessed by barrage of litigation/Court actions from the various communities to repossess their lands lawfully.
This our warning is timeous and a stitch in tune, they say, saves nine.