By Uche Enem
The peaceful community of Isuaniocha in Awka North LGA of Anambra State is about to lose her serenity. This is no thanks to a simmering land dispute between the community and three families over the ownership of a portion of the Community Secondary School, writes Uche Enem.
The three families in question who earlier donated a portion of land to the school are now claiming that the school has gone beyond the land given to them. They now want the school to return to the original portion given.
But in a press conference held at Finotel Hotel, Awka, July 16, the President General of Isuaniocha, Chief Tony Nkem Onyeagolu, said the land dispute was caused by the struggle over a piece of land at the Community Secondary School, Isuaniocha by some individuals in the community. The PG disclosed that the struggle for the land was triggered by what he called the selfish desire of the former Awka North Local Government Chairman, Chief Cosmas Okonkwo, to acquire some portions of land belonging to the Community Secondary School without the consent of the Council of Elders and the President General of the Community, who, the PG said, had given him their backing to protect the communal disputedland.
Onyeagolu recalled that several letters had been written to Security Agencies, Commissioners, Special Assistants and Special Advisers to the Governor, including the present Chairman of Awka, North but nothing had been done to address the issue.
He blamed the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Safety & Emergency, Chikodi Anarah, for exacerbating the issue by failing to act dispassionately.
The PG alleged that some groups of boys he described as hirelings of the town’s former Youth Leader, Onyemazi Ngini, and Cosmas Okonkwo, were terrorizing the community.
He warned that taking the Community Secondary School land could result in dire consequences in the future, noting that if Mgbakwu land was taken long before now, there would not have been space to house a Polytechnic there.
He therefore called on the Anambra State Government to intervene, even as he suggested a roundtable discussion and peaceful negotiation to end the lingering land dispute.
Reacting to the allegations made against him, Cosmas Okonkwo denied the existence of any land dispute in Isuaniocha, insisting that the land belonging to Community Secondary School was not touched. He stated that the said school land was donated by three families in 1976 and gave their names as Amakpu, Irunnebo and Nkpume Families.
‘I am not contending with the land that has been given to the school, what I am contending is the land between the boundary of the school land and the other portion of lands belonging to the three families which were not donated to the school,’ Okonkwo said.
He told Fides that the land issue first came up during the reign of the late traditional ruler of Isuaniocha, Emmanuel Muofunanya Emebo. According to Okonkwo, the traditional ruler invited the three families and planted the Ogilisi tree to show a clear boundary between the land for the school and other lands belonging to the three families.
‘The three families have been invited by the Post Primary School Management Board through the Principal of the school to hear the sides of the story. We have stated our own side of the case and now they have understood that there exists a boundary between the school and the other lands belonging to the three families,’ he claimed.
Okonkwo said the PG never summoned any meeting or involved the elders fully in the case, accusing the PG of bribing some ‘illiterate elders’, rather than having a meeting with all the elders who were well versed with the land issues.
He said that the land dispute had nothing to do with the SA to the Governor, Anarah, noting that Anarah, who he said, wanted to mediate over the case, washed off his hands after it appeared that mediating over the case would smear his reputation and image.
Okonkwo also denied the allegation of harassment of the people by him and rather accused the PG of masterminding the pulling down of the school fence which contract was awarded by the state government. Advising the PG against breaching the law, he described himself as a law abiding citizen.
In a phone interview with Fides, the former Youth Leader, Ngini, also denied the allegation of arranging thugs to molest and harass people in the community.
Hon Anarah who is a close friend to both Hon Okonkwo and Hon Onyeagolu, claimed that he tried mediating on the case but it all backfired on him. He gave a background of how his advice to Onyeaglou based on his political ambitions could have been part of the reasons which paved way for misunderstanding and mistrust.
He told Fides that he met the parties involved in the case at the early stage to resolve the case. He added that his knowledge about the case was based on what the parties told him because he is a native of Amanuke in Awka North Local Government. He said that the current harassment in the community could be as a result of the youth war in the community because of the removal of their former youth leader by the PG.
He said that presently, the government was fencing some select government schools in Anambra State, of which Community Secondary School, was one of them. He said it was a SEPIP programme anchored by the Ministry of Education to help reduce community crimes in schools like theft and rape which had been reported severally in Anambra State. Anarah added that when they started the fencing, he got a report that some boys came to beat and chase away the workers allegedly sponsored by Onyeagolu.
The Principal of Community Secondary School, Mrs. Happiness Ikedimma, said that she and the Vice Principal, Herbert Ibeh, were beaten by some people who were working at the land when she came with some students to remove the beacons. She recalled how during the kick off of the dispute, she invited the Community Council of Elders and the families who donated the land for a meeting but that the meeting did not reach any conclusion because the two groups had conflicting views on the boundary of the school.
According to her, a surveyor had visited the school to inform her that he was sent by the government to survey the land and that the government had given Okonkwo the contract to fence the school.
When Fides asked her about the school survey, she said that the fencing of the school did not include the places that were in dispute and that when the fencing of the school started, the PG returned from Ghana and stopped all the work on the land, while she was assaulted.
Also speaking, one of the elders who claimed anonymity told Fides that the community secondary school ran from the old road to the new road, later taking fides on a tour to see the supposed boundary of the school. He confessed that he was aware when the donors asked the late Igwe Emebo to give them some portions of land around 2003/ 2004. He told Fides that after much pressure on the then Principal of the school, the Igwe stepped in and pleaded that some portions of land be given to the donors which then marked the original boundary of the school.
He described the present claim by the families and some other groups for an extra portion of the land as an afterthought and an act of greed as the late Igwe never planted any boundary marking tree after he granted their request the first time.
‘After the portion of land was given to them by the late igwe, it was assumed that the boundary of the school was now permanent. When they came claiming another portion of the land, I saw it as a misplacement of priority. Secondly, the Igwe didn’t plant any ogilishi tree after he allotted some portions of land to them. The tree has been there for long and since ogilishi tree is symbolic, they used it as a chance to claim for more lands.
‘The boundary of the school is at the last story building where the land developer stopped building while the boundary from the other side of the road is at the last wall towards the road. If they are sincere to themselves, they know that the plot of land they are acquiring belongs to the college. Any other story apart from this is not true,’ he added.
A native of the community who equally claimed anonymity told Fides that Isuaniocha had a policy about lands donated for community purposes. He stated that the seminary, market and schools, were donated by people freely, noting that it was greedy for anyone to desire to take back what they had freely given to the town.
Prince John Emebo, the Crown Prince and the son of the late Igwe, advised the parties to put away their grievances and embrace peace in order to end the lingering crisis.
He said that he was aware when the families who donated the land came to plead for a portion of land belonging to the school from the late Igwe which was granted to them, even though he was not aware of any ogilishi tree planted by his father.
He equally sued for dialogue and for all parties to place the town first.