Abia govt’s N500 b EEC project in trouble as Asa communities revolt

*Accuse govt of plots to acquire land by force

*You are resisting development – govt

From Steve Oko, Umuahia

The proposed N500 billion Enyimba Economic City project of the Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu -led government of Abia State may have run into trouble.

This is following an allegation by communities in Asa clan, Ukwa West Local Government Area (one of the host LGAs) that the state government is using “intimidation and force” to acquire their land for the project.

The multi-million dollar economic city initiative of the Ikpeazu -led administration in partnership with some international bodies including AfreximBank and IMF already has the nod of the federal government which secured 20 per cent equity shares according to the state government.

Gov. Ikpeazu had at the second edition of the AfDB -led Africa Investment Forum (AIF) held in South Africa in 2019, secured US$ 430 million funding for the 9,803- hectare economic city which cuts across three LGAs.

Government said the N500 billion project would create about 625,000 new jobs in the next 10 years, thus making Abia Africa’s new industrial hub.

But the apex socio-cultural body of Asa people have cried foul over the attempt to acquire their land for the project.

The oil -rich communities which claimed that they no longer have enough land for farming activities asked government to take the project to other LGAs “like Obingwa” with huge landmass.

In a press statement signed by Dr. Onwubiko Dike, and Dr. Ik Ajuzieogu, President and Secretary General of Asa Development Union, respectively, the people accused the eec development team of murder of Asa person on January 15, 2020.

The statement read in part : We Asa people declare that agents of Enyimba Economic City have deployed intimidations and naked aggression against Asa people in their morbid quest for forceful acquisition of Asa land.

“The high point of this impunity is the incident that occurred at Ugwati Asa on Wednesday, January 15, 2020 where the visiting EECD team murdered Mr. Nwamaka Ogbuji through gunshots. The two other victims of the gunshots, Mr. Chetachi Ihemata, and Chika Nwankwo are in critical condition in the hospital. ”

According to the statement, the community never attacked the visiting EECD team contrary to claims in some media reports.

“Ugwati people did not attack the visiting EECD team that fateful day to warrant the shooting which resulted in the death of Ogbuji and terrible injury of two others.”

The statement also refuted claims by the EECD Coordinator, David Akomas that Asa people had willingly surrendered their land to government, saying there is a pending suit by the people against government’s attempt to forcefully take over their land.

“That in the face of the subsisting court case against the acquisition of Asa land for EECD with suit no HUK/41/2019, it is absolutely reprehensible, repugnant and unconscionable for Akomas the feed the unsuspecting public with the falacy that Asa people haven given their land freely to EECD.

” The abundant truth is that Ukwa West LGA has about the smallest landmass in Abia; and as the only oil-producing area in the state a substantial landmass of Asa people interspersed with oil pipelines such that a small patch of land is left out for agricultural activities from which majority of Asa people eke out a living. In essence, EECD should be taken to other LGAs like Obingwa with huge landmass.

“Asa Development Union is saying never again will Asa land be appropriated for patently ill-fated developmental projects by successive administrations that have been the lot of Asa people as seen in Obuaku City Development, Ogwe Golden Chicken, Umudobia International Market, and Omumauzor Abattoir Project “.

Meanwhile the state government has accused the Asa people of resisting development.

Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Planning, Barr. Suleiman Ukandu who levelled the accusation, pleaded with the affected communities to cooperated with government in the overall economic interest of the state.

He, however, warned that “government’s development efforts should not be unduly and unnecessarily hindered in the interest of generations yet unborn”.

Abia State Government has condemned in unmistakable terms pockets of resistance from a few of the communities in Ukwa East, Ukwa West and Ugwunagbo L.G.A, hosting the Enyimba Economic City.

The Commissioner in a statement
by the Ministry’s Director of Information, Comrade Uzomba Ekwuribe , described the development as “unfortunate”.

According to him, acquisition of land for over-riding public interest was the sole responsibility of the state government and in tandem with the instant land laws.

The statement said that the state government under Ikpeazu’s watch “has always protected the interest of the people in all its developmental initiative and drives”, insisting that the state “embarks on land acquisition in collaboration with donor communities and leaders.”

The Commissioner who condemned the “unnecessary resistance to land acquisition in the state”, implored “every Abia citizen to accept the fact that land is a basic factor of production that ignites development”.

Calling on Abia communities and leaders to demonstrate patriotism, Ukandu argued that such pockets of resistance negated government developmental paradigm shift and counter productive.

He urged Abians “to assist the development based government of Gov. Ikpeazu, to meet its global target, improve its internally generated revenue, improve the industrial base of the state and enhance the welfare of the citizens.”

The statement further solicited the cooperation, partnership and support of all traditional rulers, community and town union leaders particularly where government has acquired land for development purposes.

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