*Allegations baseless, unfounded – Ebonyi govt
By Ngozi Nwachukwu, Abakaliki
The people of Okpanku, a community in Aninri Local Government Area of Enugu State, sharing boundaries with Ebonyi State, have accused the Ebonyi State government of allegedly attempting to chase them away from their ancestral land.
They equally accused the state government of allegedly using the military to intimidate and harass their people, even as they alleged that several federal have been deployed to carry out such nefarious activities.
But the Ebonyi State government dismissed all the allegations, saying they could only be fabricated by people who possess selfish desires.
The President-General, Okpanku Development Union, Mr. Obiora Obasi, made the land annexation allegations recently in an interview with our correspondent.
He said that sometime in 2018, Ebonyi State government commenced a road project spanning from Uburu across Okpanku to Akaeze community.
Obasi stated that in the plans for the road project, his community was not consulted before the Ebonyi state government allegedly began to “bulldoze part of their land for the road project.”
He further claimed that few weeks ago, two people from Okpanku community had gone to their farmland but were allegedly attacked by security men stationed at the construction site.
Obasi said one of the victims was allegedly abducted and has not been seen, while the other person escaped with a bullet wound.
He said: “Okpanku is an out layer community in Enugu State, bounded almost entirely by Ebonyi State, apart from one outlet which is a community called Mpu.
“We are bounded by Uburu in the East, Akaeze in the South and Ishiagu in the West.
“We have been enjoying cordial relationships with the communities, apart from Akaeze and sometimes Uburu.
“In Akaeze, we have been having challenges along our border line for a long time now, but those challenges are normal community boundary issues and none of which has escalated to any kind of tension.
“But since the current government came there have been clear signs of expansionist interests.
“They want to expand their territories and that has brought alot of tension, as Ebonyi people became emboldened to venture into places they had not farmed before and begin to lay claims to those areas.
“Somehow, when Dave Umahi became governor there has been intense quest to pursue us from our land.
“From what is happening, it is very clear that he doesn’t want us to live in that place again. It seems he has made up his mind to pursue us out of that place and take over it. There are clear signs to what I’m saying.
“In 2018, Ebonyi commenced a road project from Uburu to Akaeze in our southern part which passes right through the heart of our land without consultation, dialogue, no inkling to any of us.
“When our people wanted to protest and probably stop that road work going on, we sought the opinion of our very many representatives who felt that this was a developmental project that we shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize it, after all, that once the project was completed it would be to the benefit of everybody, that we should allow it pass through our place but that we should ask for compensation for our things destroyed.
“So we scheduled appointment with the Ebonyi State governor at his country home in March 2019.
“One of the reasons we went there was to ask him to take cognizance of the destruction going on there and also assure him that our people will not in anyway disrupt the work going on there.
“He received us warmly and gave us his word that under no circumstance will he be an instrument to destabilize the peace that has reigned almost all the time in our environment, and that he will want a special committee to be set up between the two communities.
“He appointed his representative and asked us to interface with him, but immediately we stepped out of his place, that assurance crumbled because nothing came out of it, instead, the work went on and his people became more emboldened”, Obasi claimed.
He noted that they were disappointed to see heavy military presence around the road project site, adding, “the presence of military men there is just a show of force, to intimate our people and cow us into submission”.
“We don’t want the military in that area. There is no war going on and for the military to be stationed there to intimidate and harass our people when there is no war going on, that is taking security measure too far.
“The military were stationed along the river bank because of the bridge they are doing over the river and that is a place that is within our community, it’s not even near the boundary”.
On his part, the President General of Ekoli Development Union, Hon. Mark Ogbonna, reiterated that Uburu and Okpanku communities had been at peace before the present administration in Ebonyi state.
He also corroborated Obasi’s allegations of intimidation and harassment of Okpanku people by Ebonyi State government.
“Ebonyi state government should stop embarrassing our people, it should leave our land we don’t need the road. What is happening there is unnecessary; just using it to annex our land.
“Why building the road on a farmland, is the road for Enugu State or Ebonyi state? They should pay for all the economic trees and crops he destroyed. They took over hundreds of hectares of our land that he is doing Ebonyi Rice, they should leave our land,” Ogbonna said.
In his reaction, the Commissioner for Information and Orientation in Ebonyi State, Hon. Uchenna Orji, described the allegations against the State government as unfounded.
He said that the governor didn’t commence the Uburu-Akaeze road project that cuts across the Okpanku community without consultstion and their consent.
“We are surprised such heinous allegations coming from a group of people in Okpanku community in Enugu state. As a matter of fact, Okpanku community is a wonderful neighbouring community bounding to different communities in Ebonyi State and we have enjoyed very harmonious relationship with them, in fact, we speak the same dialect.
“What the Governor is doing is to create a legacy of road construction that will be mutually beneficial to these communities that have the same dialect.
“The road called Uburu-Akaeze, obviously is passing through a connect that will be beneficial to the Okpanku community.
“The essence of that road construction is to develop all parts, and that should be commended instead of resort to blackmail and name calling.
“The Governor is not doing it for his family or Uburu community, but he is doing it for the entire neighbourhood around the place.”