‘Army encroachment on our land can trigger off unrest in Effurun’
Interview with the Ovie of Ovwie Kingdom, His royal majesty Emmanuel Sideso Abe I
Who is the actual owner of the land in dispute?
Ovwie kingdom owns the land. It is our land. The land belongs to different families. In this part of the country, families own land, unlike in other parts of the country where the traditional rulers own the land.
However, if there is a request for investment, of course it comes under the jurisdiction of traditional rulers. When that request came that the army needed land to establish the Defence Academy in 1974, Ejoor was then the chief of army staff, we accepted to give it for that purpose. We believed army education will bring development to the community. As a result we gave about 4,640 acres, and they came here. But unfortunately, the Defence Academy was moved from here to Kaduna. So, they could not make use of the land they requested, but the army barracks was there. Request for land to build defence academy is different from request a to build barracks because the school would require a bigger space and that was the reason we gave the army a bigger size of land then. So we requested the unused part of the land be returned to the community for agric and other uses, but the army refused. Later, we also found that the land is now being used for other purposes. And this has been the contention since 1974. The army even refused an opportunity for dialogue. Please go to the place they call barracks to see the kind of mansions they build there. We also found that they floated a company to be selling our land, and we have evidence of it. We wrote to the president, and to the chief of army staff who sent some delegation to come and see for themselves. When they returned to Abuja, they sent us a very annoying letter that they did not acquire land from us, that they have got a c of o [certificate of occupancy], and we should direct our complaints to the Delta State government.
But we are saying the Delta State government did not acquire land from us. It was the military that acquired the land , and if they are not using the land for public purpose, they should return it because we need the land for agriculture. To worsen the case, they have added an extra portion to the land they have acquired in 1974. Now, they are encroaching on other villages, and marking people’s houses for demolition. And this can trigger off unrest in the kingdom. This is what I have been preventing since I came to this throne because if it starts, there might not be an end to it.
Even the letter sent to us by the army signed by one Colonel Taiwo stated that yes, they acquire this land in 1974 and the extra of about 400 acres were added to what is stated in the gazette. If you encroach on people’s property illegally, you have to return it.
Note that this kingdom hosts most of the federal institutions such as WRPC[ Warri Refining and petrochemical Company], the Nigerian Gas, PTI, Federal University Petroleum Resources. If there is any problem here, it would not only affect the state, it will affect Nigeria as a whole. This is the reason why I have been trying to ensure that we maintain peace in this place. My door is open to dialogue because that is the only way we can achieve peace.
What we are saying is: the extra you have already agreed that you took illegally, return that part first, and the unused one let us sit and negotiate.
Let us know what you actually need for your service and operation, and give the rest back to the villagers for their agricultural use. This is the point we are trying to raise, and that why was we demonstrated peacefully on the 28th of August, 2017.
But the Defence Academy you mentioned was established in 1964, and not 1974. Well, that was what they told us they needed the land for.
What response did you get from the presidency when you complained about the illegal acquisition of your land by the Nigeria Army?
Nothing, but the Chief of Army Staff sent officers in the Special Investigation Bureau to inspect the land last year and that was the last we heard of them, except the letter sent to us stating that the army has a c of o to the land, and therefore is the owner of the land .
The representative of the kingdom, Chief Otomiewo, said some army officers are directly involved in the sale of the land. What do you say to that?
Yes, I am aware some army officers are involved and that is all I would say.
How long are you willing to go in the agitation for the return of the land?
I will continue till I pass on, till justice is given to my people. But I will not go on the violent way. I will follow the due process and the way of peace.
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