Posted by Pamela Eboh, Awka | 20 June 2019 | 715 times
The protected land dispute between Abba in Njikoka Local Government Area, and Ukpo in Dunukofia LGA, both in Anambra State, on Wednesday, took an ugly dimension when hundreds of men, women and youths of Abba were teargassed during a protest by Police.
It was gathered that Abba community had planned the peaceful demonstration along the Onitsha-Awka expressway to protest alleged takeover of their land by Ukpo community.
Though the tear gas sent protesters scampering for safety, twelve of the protesters including three women were arrested
The Supreme Court had delivered a ruling on the land dispute earlier in January 2019.
But the alleged missing of court documents relating to previous ruling on the matter led to the Supreme Court urging the two communities to return to the High Court for the case to begin afresh.
Following the planned protest, hundreds of stern-looking policemen took over Enugu-Onitsha expressway and the road leading to Abba community as early as 6:00 a.m. ordering women coming to the community’s market in the area to vacate.
As the people mobilised to get on with the planned protest, tins of teargas canisters began to fly around landing on them, even as some landed inside the Community Secondary School in the town, forcing the students to abandon their classrooms to join the protest.
Movement of vehicles was hindered for several hours in the area, forcing motorists to use alternative roads to their various destinations.
Mr. Obinna Chukwuma who spoke on behalf of the protesters, said that their decision to embark on a peaceful demonstration was to let the world know what they were passing through over a land they own their land.
Chukwuma said: “Abba is a peace-loving community, but Abba is under siege. We have been living in harmony with our neighbours, but all of a sudden, a money bag from our neighbouring community, Ukpo, decided to take over our land by force.
“Anybody approaching this community from Awka would see the sign post with the inscription, ‘welcome to Abba’. That is our boundary with Ukpo and they know it very well. That was why, when they wanted to build their local government headquarters; they built it on their land. When they wanted to build a police station, they also build it on their land. They also plan to build a market called Eke Agu Ukpo on their land. So they know where their land is located.
“But unfortunately, they have come into our own land to mount a banner with the inscription ‘welcome to Ukpo junction, Dunukofia local government’. In other words, they erected their sign post in another local government because Abba is in Njikoka Local Government.
“That is why the people are protesting. We don’t have arms, we are not fighting anybody. We just want the world to know what is happening.
“It is unfortunate that someone who feels he has so much money is using it to intimidate us. Look at the large number of policemen firing teargas on innocent people and women who wanted to go to our market being chased away from the market.
“Last week, the security operatives blocked our community with 12 Hilux vans. Today, there are more than 500 policemen and over 20 Hilux vehicles, including anti-bomb vehicles, just to mount a signpost on our land, even when Boko Haram is driving people out of their homes in some parts of the country.
“We are going to use peaceful means to let the world know what is happening in our community. We know that the person we are dealing with is highly connected and he has been boasting that he has security people on his payroll.
“If he wants to mount a signpost on the highway, he should do it on his land. This issue did not just start today. The states government is aware of it.
“On January 15, the Supreme Court delivered a judgment where it said that all the parties in the land dispute should go back to the High court because records of previous ruling on the matter were missing and therefore the ruling cannot be enforced. That is what we have done as a peace-loving community.
“We have gone back to the court and filed a case and July 8, 2019 has been fixed for hearing. Our neighbours know all these but chose to pursue the matter illegally. We are demanding that due process should be followed. The land is not running away. If eventually they win in court, no problem, but let the due process be followed.”
While regretting the way the protest turned out, he recalled that the case started in 1963 as land dispute between Abba and Ukwulu communities.
He added: “At that time, the then traditional ruler of Ukpo, the late Igwe Walter Eze entered the witness box and testified for Ukwulu, only for Ukpo community to remember in 1986 that part of their land was in the area they testified for another community earlier.
“Having become interested party; they are now charming the whole of Abba, even where we are living, as part of Ukpo. That is the irony of the story; from being a witness to claiming ownership.”
Chukwuma, however, urged President Muhammadu Buhari and Governor of the state, Willie Obiano to intervene in the matter in the interest of peace and harmony, saying: “If Ukpo people could wait for 44 years for the case in court, they could as well allow the court to decide on it finally.”
He also called on the boundary commission and the surveyor general of the state to demarcate the appropriate boundaries for the two communities, to avoid a situation where the people would be tempted to embark on self execution.
Some protesters arrested during the protests were yet to be released at the time of filing this report.
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