By Israel Adeleke
Owalla, Uratta Autonomous community in Owerri North council Area of Imo state witnessed a fervent protest as residents came together to voice their concerns over the purported takeover of their ancestral lands.
The protest, uniting elderly citizens, women, and youth, aimed to draw the attention of Imo state’s Governor, Hope Uzodimma, to the unsettling situation.
In a demonstration that unfolded on Sunday, the protesters accused suspected government agents, allegedly acting through the Ministry of Lands, of forcefully seizing their lands.
The protestors recounted how this land seizure had already led to severe consequences, including the destruction of farmlands, triggering food scarcity and economic challenges within their community.
Among the community members, Mr. Michael Mbata, shared a distressing account of the events, stating, “On August 12, 2023, caterpillars abruptly entered our community, wreaking havoc on our crops, palm trees, and lands. Our cassava and vegetables were decimated.
When we inquired, security personnel obstructed us, resorting to tear gas and violence. Even our traditional ruler was unaware. We sought intervention from the Commissioner of Lands, Noble Atulegwu.
While he initially halted the work, it resumed as soon as he left. Despite a court injunction, they persisted in destroying our lands.”
Mbata expressed support for the government but voiced concerns over alleged collaboration between certain individuals, including Malachy Emeghara, and the Commissioner of Lands, suggesting a forcible takeover of their ancestral property.
Elder Vincent Ahuekwe echoed their distress, saying, “Our ancestral lands are under threat. Our people are suffering. One widow was brutalized and remains in pain.”
Mr. Richard Omire, another protester, claimed that those behind the intrusion were attempting to tarnish the governor’s reputation and undermine his achievements, suspecting opposition involvement.
Responding to these accusations, Imo state Commissioner for Lands and Survey, Noble Atulegwu, clarified that the government had acquired the disputed lands for public interest projects.
While acknowledging the protesters’ grievances, he stressed the inevitability of similar protests for any land acquisition.
Atulegwu underscored community participation in the land claim survey process and reiterated that the government’s intention was to benefit the community through the land’s utilization.
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