On May 17, 2018, a group of land developers under the aegis of the “Oqua Royal Family Land Developers Association, wrote to Cross River State governor, Ben Ayade, appealing against the proposal by government and her agents to acquire the private land and buildings behind the garment factory at the Goodluck Jonathan by-pass, Calabar, Cross River State.
The developers’ letter specifically said “…the land was leased to us by the Oqua Royal Family of Ikpai Qua Town, Calabar, who was also the owner of the land on which Calpharm factory and the garment factory are located. By an Acquisition Notice published in the Nigerian Chronicle of 29th May, 2011, the State Government acquired most of Qua Royal Family land and left the family with only a small parcel measuring about 4.6 hectres.”
It is this 4.6 hectres (approximately 100 plots of land) that government says it wants to build a staff quarters for the garment factory on, that remain at the centre of a seeming controversy that has pitched the state government and her agents against the developers with visible anomalies that the www.calitown.com investigations examines.
First, documents sighted by www.calitown.com show clearly that the 4.6 hectres have an attached plan No. EEA/CS/CR/2865/2012, dated March 2012, charted into the master plan of the state via a charting certificate of March 31st, 2014. It is this appropriate certification that validly attracted 40 developers to pay for and acquire the land. We discovered also that several of such individuals had gone ahead to develop vast portions of the land before the Ben Ayade administration came along and ordered that they stop work and vacate their acquired pieces of land. Government followed that order up with the creation of what she refers to as the Cross River State Development Control Agency, which has been used to “enforce” compliance. The ‘Agency’, headed by one Oxford Jonah Egbe, quickly went to ‘work’, marking out and demolishing structures on the land. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, January 24, 2018, while inaugurating this ‘Agency’ as a task force, state governor, Ben Ayade, warned the task force against embarking on structure demolition without his approval, but …! We can for certain say from our investigations that this task force, draped in an Agency’s garb, can best be described as an illegal assemblage because the House of Assembly is yet to grant legislative backing to her existence and operations, even though the ‘Agency’ has been hurriedly assigned a vehicle and tasks that seemingly fester the nests of a few unidentified persons, we gathered. This is an aberration.
Even the body of surveyors in the state has also roundly condemned the deployment of this ‘Agency’ to do work they have no professional capacity for. In a press conference she recently addressed in Calabar, Nigerian Institute of Surveyors averred that the ‘Agency’ was unfortunately taking over the responsibilities of the Town Planning section of the Ministry of Lands. “The trick is to use this ‘Agency’, which is always walking about with armed security personnel, to intimidate us into running away from our plots of land, grab the land for themselves and then offer us pittance as compensation”, one developer said.
But John Inyang, Lands Commissioner, Cross River State when confronted with this unfolding scenario, told www.calitown.com that, “if we follow the Land Use Act of 1978, government can take any land for personal reasons. But in this particular instance, we held two meetings with the developers and explained government interests to them. We told them clearly that what we are doing is in the interest of the people and that we plan to relocate all interests in this area, especially those who have paid money to government.” Inyang further maintained that, when land for the Jonathan By-pass was acquired from the Ikpai Qua Town community, 150 metres of land, right and left of the by-pass, were included in the deal and appropriately paid for by the Liyel Imoke administration. “Technically, these people don’t even understand that the plots of land in contention legally belong to government and not them. In fact, we had marked portions of this land where government interests will likely expand to and we told these people not to go to this land early enough.” An affected source, who has elected to remain anonymous, maintain Inyang is not telling the truth.
His insistence that no Building Permit on the land has been approved became a clear misinformation when www.calitown.com obtained from his Ministry a “Building Regulation, 1984 (as amended 1987) Building Permit)”, dated 20th April, 2015, issued to one occupant of the land is question. “We got these pieces of land and started development during Imoke’s administration, a long time before Ayade came, and how sensible is it for the Commissioner to now tell the world that Ayade, during Imoke’s administration had marked out portions of this land where government interest was likely expand to? These people in a bid to cover up their unquenchable land grabbing appetite say things that can even annoy a kindergarten kid”, the source added.
“Look, let us get some things in their proper perspective”, Inyang insists, “the demolitions done were carefully done. Not one building above lintel level was affected. You won’t even believe that not one of them has an approval plan, only building plans were generated for them. Sites analysis and some other things which ought to have been done, were not done, the very integral things will before final approval will be done, they can’t show. That a plan number has been generated is just the beginning of this process and not the end” But our concerned sources maintain again that Inyang is economical with the truth. “Most of us have approval plans and just weeks ago, the Ayade administration started issuing Certificate(s) of Occupancy, C of O, and funny enough, only one person among all of us, has been issued a C of O, and we know why, he is one of theirs and it doesn’t matter to this administration if the wrong thing is done for so many of us to suffer”, one of them insisted.
While www.calitown.com painstakingly dug deep, we were pointed to the fact that the Ayade administration cannot insist that it wants to build a staff quarters on the said piece of land when it is yet to clearly ascertain and faultlessly inform the public that the garment factory is entirely owned by the state government.
“You people can see what this administration has done with the fallow plots of land on the CRS Water Board premises, nothing it appears can stop them from acquiring our own plots of land. But let me clearly state, most of us obtained loans to buy these plots and the only way we can work at paying back those loans is to let us put what we have acquired to good use”, another developer pleaded.
Boldly, John Inyang, maintains again that going by the regulations spelt in the Land Use Act, 1978, every piece of land belongs to government and she can take any piece of land for reasons that bother on “overriding personal interest”. Government he added, plans to relocate all interests in on this parcel of land, especially for those who have paid money to government. “It is a process that we have activated especially when you consider that in a few instances, communities in the state have given land to government but unscrupulous community members of those same communities have turned around and sold these pieces of land to unsuspecting members of the public. We have a particular instance in Ikot Effangha, Calabar, where one Chief Ekeng has sold government land in the area to multiple unsuspecting individuals who have a desperate need to build their own houses. Particularly, I am referring to government land in that area, originally acquired for the Agricultural Development Project, ADP, hatchery.”
“The Commissioner for Lands can attempt to say all he has to say to justify his pay masters but let Cross Riverians be notified that this administration has a grand design to grab and redistribute land in this state to individuals we have identified, against all odds. While they will not fail at offering flimsy excuses, most of us are determined to ensure that we are not robbed. Tell them too that the Ayade administration will not be the last and further too that while they can hide under and deploy criminal tendencies to attempt these acquisitions, another government will surely come and revoke this daylight robbery”, an affected source volunteered.
For now, there are indications that a long drawn legal battle is in the offing and the individuals affected are daggers drawn with the state government on this issue. Government officials who spoke to www.calitown.com on this issue believe that government is high handed and may regret this contentious acquisition in the days ahead.
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