… As Church, Obeagu Community, Claim Ownership
The contention over the real ownership of a farm land situated behind the premises of the Catholic Diocese of Awka-owned Bubendorf Memorial Grammar School (BMGS), Adazi-Nnukwu, Anaocha LGA, is yet to abate, ten years after an Appeal Court had ruled on the matter.
BMGS, Adazi-Nnukwu, and the people of Obeagu Village, Agulu, both in Anaocha LGA, are the parties involved in the land dispute, reports Ifeoma Ezenyilimba.
Fides gathered that the Appeal Court in Enugu, had, in a judgement delivered by Justice Ayobode Olujimi Lokulo-Sodipe, JCA, on Monday, July 4, 2011, upheld the earlier judgment of the Awka High Court, and ruled in favour of the Anambra State Education Commission .
which was the 1st respondent in the case, stating that the land in dispute belonged to the respondent for use by Bubendorf Memorial Grammar School, Adazi-Nnukwu.
Findings revealed that the Court in the judgement, perpetually restrained the defendants, who were Chief Dan Ogbuefi and five others of Agulu, their agents and privies, from further trespass on the said land.
But what appeared to be a fresh crisis involving both the school and Obeagu Village, broke out on the land on June 8, 2021.
Obeagu Village Indigene Speaks
In an interview with Fides in front of BMGS, Adazi-Nnukwu, on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, an indigene of Obeagu Village, Agulu, Chief Daniel Ogbuefi, who was the 1st appellant in the case, said the land belonged to Obeagu Village.
According to him, it was the forefathers of Obeagu Community that gave the land in which Bubendorf Memorial Grammar School, Adazi-Nnukwu, was built, and the farm land behind the school premises belonged to their community.
Chief Ogbuefi, who said he was the chairman of Obeagu Village when they went to court over the land issue in 1997, said the Anambra State Education Commission that was managing BMGS at that time, filed a suit against Obeagu Village in Suit A /107/1997, with him as the 1st defendant; While Adazi-Nnukwu Community filed a motion as a co-plaintiff in the matter.
Ogbuefi, who was the 1st appellant, explained that the matter later went to the Appeal Court, and the State Education Commission, as the 1st respondent, and the people of Adazi-Nnukwu as the co-respondent, at the court, tendered the premises of BMGS, Adazi-Nnukwu, as exhibit A and pledged another plan which was A/18/66.
According to him, the respondents during the trial, abandoned the second plan, and the Court of Appeal in its ruling, nullified the purported claims of Adazi-Nnukwu Community that they gave the land where the school was situated to Adazi Education Association for the school project, and ruled that Bubendorf Memorial Grammar School did not belong to Adazi-Nnukwu people.
On the farm land behind BMGS, Chief Ogbuefi said the Appeal Court also ruled that the farm land behind Bubendorf School belonged to Obeagu Village, Agulu, and that the plan of Adazi-Nnukwu people to acquire the farm land was null and void.
He claimed that the Court also ruled that Obeagu people should not encroach on the school premises as contained in exhibit A.
He continued, ‘When the matter was concluded, the State Education Commission came to Obeagu Community for negotiation since the Adazi-Nnukwu Community had lost out. Along the line, the government that earlier took over the school handed over the management of BMGS to the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, and as the Church took over the management, the principal/manager of the school, Rev Fr Ekwem, started encroaching into the farm land of Obeagu people.’
Ogbuefi claimed that his people (Obeagu people) had been farming on the land and alleged that the priest, in the course of the encroachment, destroyed the boundary between the school and Obeagu Community. He said that upon his advice, the community wrote series of letters to the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese who then formed a committee to re-establish the plan of the school.
The former Obeagu chairman alleged that while the process to re-establish the plan of the school was still on, the principal/manager was instigated again to encroach on their farm land, and on that June 8, 2021, he received a call from the DPO who informed him of a fracas between the students of the school and the people of his community, asking him to call his people to order so as to avoid bloodshed.
Chief Ogbuefi also known as Ide Agulu, said he then called the secretary of the village on the phone and requested that his people withdraw from the farm.
He explained that after the June 8, 2021 fracas, both parties agreed in a meeting that the services of an independent surveyor would be employed so as to re-establish Bubendorf Memorial Grammar School, and submit the report on 30 June 2021.
‘Based on the report from the surveyor, the BMGS church building under construction and the buildings around it have encroached into the premises of Obeagu Village land. It is now clear that it is the manager that is causing problems and using the students to attack my people in our own farm land.
‘They destroyed some buildings that belonged to Obeagu people in the process,’ Chief Daniel Ogbuefi alleged.
He continued, ‘They have encroached into our land, and if there is any criminality, they are the people guilty of it and they should not blackmail my people. If they want more land, they should approach us, and not try to intimidate us. If they approach us peacefully and apologise for tainting our image, our people, who are predominantly Catholics, would be willing to assist in giving more land for the development of the children.’
Ogbuefi, who described himself as a stakeholder in the Catholic Church, called on the diocese to toe the path of peace on the issue. According to him, the pontiff was living by example to ensure that peace reigned in the world. He urged his followers to toe the same line.
Management of Bubendorf Memorial Grammar School, Adazi-Nnukwu Reacts
Reacting to the development, the Principal/Manager, Bubendorf Memorial Grammar School (BMGS), Adazi-Nnukwu, Rev Fr Theodore Ekwem, in an interview with Fides at the school on the same June 30, insisted that the court had in its judgment ruled that the said farm land belonged to the school.
The priest who said he challenged Chief Dan Ogbuefi to take the entire court judgment to lawyers who were indigenes of Agulu for clear interpretation, revealed that the farm land was originally the school field of BMGS for those that studied in the school from 1962 to 1964.
Rev Fr Ekwem, who explained that upon his assumption as the Manager/Principal on April 22, 2013, and while going through some documents to acquaint himself with the happenings in the environment, he had come across a court judgment which revealed that the school was in court with Obeagu people over the ownership of a farm land.
According to him, the matter went from the lower court in Awka to the Appeal Court in Enugu, and was settled on July 4, 2011, at the Appeal Court.
Fr Ekwem said he had read the basic issues in the judgment and because he was not a lawyer, also took the Appeal Court judgment to two independent lawyers, as well as to the Counsel of Awka Diocese, for better interpretation and understanding. According to him, the three lawyers gave the same interpretation that the ruling was in favour of the Anambra State Education Commission; that the farm land belonged to the school.
He explained that in 1997, BMGS which had been in possession of the land from inception, cultivated on the land and the then principal was surprised that Chief Dan Ogbuefi on one fateful day in that 1997, came with bulldozer, destroyed all that the students planted in the land and prevented the students from continuing with their farm work.
According to the priest, the then principal alerted the then Chairman, Anambra State Education Commission, Mr Chukwuma Okoye, the chairman, alongside the principal, went to the site and saw Chief Ogbuefi at the land. He explained that to avert more mishap that might affect human life, the school in her wisdom, sued Chief Dan Ogbuefi and Obeagu people for trespass on the farm land. While Adazi-Nnukwu, as the host community, joined in the suit as co-plaintiff, seeking a reversionary right.
Fides gathered that Adazi-Nnukwu Community tendered a 1955 survey plan which indicated that the community provided the land for the school. According to the 1955 survey plan, east, west and south of the school were all Adazi lands which included the farm land behind the school.
Rev Fr Ekwem explained that the Anambra State Education Commission as the 1st plaintiff, and the Adazi-Nnukwu people as the 2nd-4th plaintiff, got all that they prayed for in the lower court. Then the Obeagu people led by Chief Dan Ogbuefi, appealed the judgment in the Appeal Court.
The Manager/Principal, who cited pages 36-37 of the Appeal Court Judgment, noted that the part of appeal by the appellants (Chief Dan Ogbuefi) that Adazi-Nnukwu Community did not have right to reversionary interest, succeeded.
According to him, the court said Adazi-Nnukwu people could no longer lay claims to the land since the government had in the 1970 takeover of schools, paid compensations to some proprietors of mission schools who included Adazi-Nnukwu people.
Citing pages 38 and 39 of the same judgment, Fr Ekwem noted that the Court insisted that Obeagu people could not lay claims on the same land, and thereby forbade them in perpetuity from trespass on the land which according to the judgment belonged to the Anambra State Education Commission for use by the school.
The school manager/principal noted that the people of Obeagu had since 2013 been trespassing the same land, with either planting on the land after the students might have cleared the land, destroying farm produce planted by the students and even harvesting the farm produce which were planted by the students.
He said that the Church had through many fora appealed to the people of Obeagu to understand the real meaning of the judgment which stated that the land was ceded to the school and belonged to BMGS.
Fr Ekwem further explained that when the school started the ongoing church building project in 2018, the Obeagu people came up again with the dispute, but following police intervention, the school was allowed to continue with the project.
He noted that due to the current cases of kidnapping of students and other attacks on schools in the country, the Church decided to fence all her schools for optimum security. The Principal/Manager, who was visibly saddened, regretted that on June 8, 2021, some group of armed persons, who, he said, were sponsored by Chief Daniel Ogbuefi, invaded the land, pulled down the fence, destroyed some parts of the church building nearing completion and wounded some students of the school.
Fr Ekwem wondered why Chief Ogbuefi would say that the court forbade him and Obeagu people from trespassing the school when he, Obeagu people and their privies, were actually forbidden in perpetuity from trespassing in the farm land which they were in dispute with the school, and awarded them a fine of N500.
The priest agreed to the fact that Obeagu people were told to bring their independent surveyor, but explained that the surveyor must marry the 1955 survey plan with the 1966 survey plan, which, he said, was at the moment the survey plan of the school that began in 1959.
Pointing out that the matter had since been concluded in court, Fr Ekwem berated Chief Ogbuefi for trying to make issues with the survey plans in a bid to make a fresh case.
On the stand of the school regarding the new survey plan that was tendered by the surveyor, which, according to him, was brought by Ogbuefi, the Manager/Principal described as laughable the claims of the surveyor that he could not marry the 1955 and the 1966 survey plans in his findings. According to him the report depicted incompetence or complicity in achieving dubious means. He revealed that the 1955 survey plan did not have Obeagu or Agulu in its boundaries, but had only Adazi lands in all its boundaries, and Adazi/Obeledu at one end.
Reacting to the allegation made by Ogbuefi that he had been instigating encroachment on Obeagu land, Rev Fr Ekwem described it as a sign of a failed institution and berated Chief Daniel Ogbuefi for ‘trying to deceive his people with some parts of the court judgment,’ and saying that the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese was instigating violence, since the school belonged to the Catholic Diocese of Awka.
The June 29, 2021 Survey Plan Submitted by Surveyor I.E. Okonkwo
Surveyor I.E. Okonkwo in his report stated that he received a letter dated June 18, 2021 from Obeagu Village, Agulu to undertake the re-establishment of BMGS land/premises with the survey plan EC 56/55 which was the 1955 plan that covered 22.11 acres. Okonkwo said he received another letter from the Diocesan Catholic Secretariat, Awka, signed by the diocesan legal adviser, for the same assignment, but that he should marry the 1955 with the survey plan SE 18/66 which was the 1966 plan.
The surveyor, who said he carried out the survey exercise on June 23, 2021, stated in his report that he did not marry the two survey plans as directed. According to him, the survey plan No SE 18/66 of June 27, 1966, did not have an orientation, as well as distances and bearings between the peg points, and he could not compare it with the survey plan EC 56/55.
The 47-Page Appeal Court Judgment
Fides gathered that the Appeal Court Judgment was delivered on the case between Chief Dan Ogbuefi as the 1st appellant, Mr Kenneth Ezeani, 2nd appellant, Mr Christopher Okafor, 3rd appellant, Mr Paulinus Efoagu, 4th appellant, Mr Bernard Oniyi, 5th appellant and the entire Community, Agulu, 6th appellant, and Anambra State Education Commission, 1st respondent, Chief M.N. Obiadi, 2nd respondent, Chief Lawrence Nwogbu, 3rd respondent and Chief Enemuo, 4th respondent. The 2nd to 4th respondents, represented Adazi-Nnukwu Community.
The Court in pages 38 and 39 of the July 4, 2011 judgment delivered by Justice Ayobode Olujimi Lokulo-Sodipe, JCA, and before Justice Abou Aboki, JCA, the president and Justice Samuel Chukwudumebi Oseji, JCA, the Court, ruled that the appellants never established their title to the land in dispute and had no right to it. Court also maintained that the fact that the 2nd to 4th respondents’ claims that the revocation of the land by the government was not validly done, did not remove the fact that the land in dispute belonged to the 1st respondent, who was Anambra State Education Commission, for use by Bubendorf Memorial School, which had been existing on the land since inception.
The Court in page 44 of the judgment, granted the appeal for the 1st respondent, Anambra State Education Commission against the appellants (defendants), and ordered that the appellants shall pay N500.00 damages for trespass to the respondent. The Court also ordered that the appellants, their agents and privies, were restrained perpetually from further trespass on the land. The case of the co-plaintiff (the 2nd-4th respondents) in the appeal, was dismissed in entirety.