Posted by Okodili Ndidi, Owerri | 27 July 2019 | 489 times
Host communities of the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), have described the recent claim of hostility against the institution by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, as a ploy to blackmail and intimidate the communities to abandon the ownership of their lands and legitimate demands.
The Federal Government had on Friday, threatened to relocate FUTO over encroachment of the University’s land by the host communities, which it said will no longer be tolerated.
Reacting to the threat, the communities described the allegation of encroachment on the University land as a misrepresentation of fact, intended to paint the communities in bad light, adding that the University has not complied with laid down procedure on land acquisition in line with the Land Use Act.
They insisted that, “the hue and cry and probably threat to remove the University does not move us in any way, we are dealing with people in citadel of learning and we expect them to come with facts, not with propaganda, they are not politicians”.
The communities however restated their wiliness to cooperate with the Federal Government to resolve the impasse, “we are willing to cooperate with the Federal Government to see that the issue is resolved in the interest of both parties, in the interest of those that willingly allowed their land to be acquired and in the interest of the Federal Government itself and not in the interest of any individual in FUTO”.
Addressing journalists on behalf of the eight communities, an Estate Surveyor, Sam Anokam, disclosed that the University has not paid full compensation for the land 37 years after it was acquired.
According to him, “the allegation of hostility and encroachment intends to make the host communities look wicked or that they want to eat their cake and have it, but land acquisition has a procedure as set out in the Land Use Act and due compliance of the procedure obviously will not create any problem with any acquiring authority or institution of government that has been given the land in any way but in the case of FUTO, there was no compliance with procedure of land acquisition and that has been the crux of the matter”.
He continued that, “when you acquire land, there is an understanding, even if the state government acquires land and hand over to the Federal Government, the expectation is that there must be payment of compensation, whole and entire in compliance with the relevant provisions of the Land Use Act.
“In 1982, the state government supposedly acquired over 4455 hectares of land for FUTO and handed over to the Federal Ministry of Works, neither the state government nor Federal Government paid compensation. But FUTO mapped out an area out of the entire land it called an Action Area in their first development plan and met with the host communities of Ihiagwa, Eziobodo and Umuanunu- Obinze, that area consists of at least 1300 Hectares and this Action Area was to house FUTO, they cannot pay for all the entire land and for this area they agreed to pay compensation on two installments, it was haphazardly done because up till today some people were not paid. FUTO started there but today they now claim to own the whole 4555 Hectares and that they have paid compensation and we said they should show us evidence, I petitioned to NUC, I petitioned to Federal Ministry of Education and the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing.
“I stepped into this issue to ensure that the conflict does not aggravate to a point where there would be loss of life and property because FUTO was trying to exact the force of a government institution, they use the Police to arrest and detain the youths of the various communities, they used the Police and arrest the traditional rulers from Umuanunu-Obinze and that was happening and I said no, this situation may aggravate to something else and maybe the Federal Government on hearing it, may look at the community as hostile and worst thing could happen.
“Then I went into this action, brought the Minister for Works here, visited FUTO and the host communities and said no more hostilities, let us set up a Committee of the Federal Government to look into this matter, the host communities were requested to nominate members, FUTO nominated three of their Professors and other technical Staff, as well as Surveyors and we sat with the Federal authorities, at that point the facts came to the open, we discovered that FUTO did not pay up to 10% compensation of the recommendation of the Valuer that was appointed in 1982 as compensation, but they keep claiming that they have paid full compensation, they should show us who they paid to, but when you don’t have that evidence, you can’t lay claim to the land.
“At a point in 1982, the University Council agreed that for the area the University has not paid for, the host communities are free to farm on it until they are ready but it will surprise you to hear that about one year ago, the FUTO VC bulldozed the cassava farm of the women and surprisingly replanted cassava on the plot of land, they went further and chased the youths dredging sand on Ottammiri river and brought in their dredgers, after chasing the villagers, while I called this press conference is to put things in clear perspective, to make the entire public understand that FUTO is the cause of whatever problem they have.
“If you acquire land through the due process, it requires that you should pay compensation and promptly too but 37 years ago they only took about 1000 hectares out of the entire area and paid part compensation and now you claim you have paid for all, thank God we have the records.
“We have given a bill and the proper thing they will pay for the whole land is now is N5.4 billion for Unexhausted Improvement alone, not including structures, we sent it to the Federal Government, they should bring the money and pay, the law is clear, we cannot panic because you are threatening to relocate the university and you go out to tell the people that we are not cooperating, what have you given us to make us bulge. If there is a law that says that compensations are not paid on lands where universities are sited, they should quote it let us know. The Federal Government has always paid compensation for lands acquired for Federal Universities, so why must our own be an exception.
“On the other hand, we have said, those areas you have not paid for, which our people may have somehow had scattered development within, return them to us that we are prepared to give them back1300 hectares of land in lure of compensation for the encroachment so are we not fair? Here we are, our indigenous population is increasing, settlers are coming in droves within the area so if we don’t have legitimate right over our land we cannot put into proper use.
“When you now deny us the use of our land then it means you want to impoverish us deliberately but we refused to be impoverished for whatever reason, so their hue and cry and probably threat to remove the University does not move us in any way, we are dealing with people in citadel of learning and we expect them to come with facts, not with propaganda, they are not politicians.
“It is important the entire public understand that FUTO does not want to face facts and that is why they are coming up with this propaganda. The Federal Ministry of Education does not have the capacity to solve the problem; the Ministry that has the capacity to solve the problem is handling it”. (The Nation)
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