Buildings at Fountain City Estate Umuodafe, Delta State, were recently demolished allegedly by the state government. The chairman of the tenants’ association, Mr Owen Ebubechukwu, and a property developer, Akeem Lasisi, speak to MATTHEW OCHEI about their losses
The land dispute at the Fountain City Estate has continued to generate controversy as the government is laying claim to the land. What actually happened?
I am one of the principal subscribers to that land. I said principal subscriber because I bought some land for myself and I brought in some clients who equally brought some clients under me. It is just unfortunate that we have lost a lot of lives, both the ones we know and the ones we don’t know, in the course of fighting over that land. We lost many of them.
I traveled home and came back to see them (government agents) bulldozing the whole place, and three people lost their lives in that place as a result of the shock of demolishing our property. Even the bulldozer operators can confirm what I’m saying. Over 10 people lost their lives; we said 10 because there are some we don’t know about. Recently, a woman close to me died of a heart attack.
Who was she?
The woman bought the land through me. She built the house with money sent to her by her child struggling in Lagos. She had advised the son to buy the land, so I bought about two hectares of land for them. And all the money the son was bringing was used to develop the land; we erected a gate. The plan was to sell part of the land much later and use the proceeds to develop the other portion.
Unfortunately, the government entered into the land and demolished every structure on the land. So, when the woman heard about the development, she became worried. The next thing I heard was that the woman died. We buried her two weeks ago. Her name is Mrs Alade. She couldn’t bear the shock and she died. The son should have been the one talking to you, but he is too demoralised. When I told him about this interview, he asked, “You want to talk about the land that killed my mother? You want me to die too?”
Where is the disputed land located?
The land we are talking about is the Odefe Isi-Uzo farmland in Ibusa community, behind the Immigration office up to the back of the Asaba International Airport.
Who sold the land to you?
We legitimately acquired the land from Umuodefe quarters in Ibusa community. As a developer, you don’t just buy any land you see. We conducted a thorough search concerning the land before we bought it, just to avoid trouble. We went to the lands and survey (ministry) and they charted the land and confirmed that the land was free. After that, we went into the community to ask because they had given the power of attorney to one Mr Ifeanyi Asiodu to sell the land. So, we met with Asiodu. Before we started developing our property, we paid heavy levies to the community, at four different levels. We paid the elders’ levy, task force levy, local government levy, and another.
I surveyed the whole land and lodged the survey at the Ministry of Lands and Survey, Delta State. The lodgment certificates are all with me. They approved my building plans. There was no issue, nobody told us that the government had acquired the land. If I had not run out of money, I would have finished processing my Certificate of Occupancy for all my plots.
When did you acquire that land?
I acquired the land in 2018. Some of us bought in 2015, but I entered the land in 2018 and since then, I have been developing it.
Did you receive any notice from the government before the demolition?
There wasn’t any notice to that effect. We just woke up one day in July 2022 and heard that the government was demolishing our property. It was the people who went to the site that informed us about the demolition. They said they (government agents) brought a bulldozer and destroyed our property. So, some of us started calling our members because we formed an association. We rushed down to the site; what we saw, we couldn’t believe! They levelled the whole place. We asked them questions but they offered us no explanation. This thing is happening in a country with laws! When I went to the hospital, I was told that I had started developing high blood pressure.
What do you and the other alleged owners want?
Okowa should return the land we legitimately bought to us. We have all the necessary documents. We surveyed and lodged building plans, and we paid the necessary fees to the government. It is confusing that the same government that collected the various fees from us is dragging the land with us. We voted Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to power; he should not use the power to oppress the people. God has blessed Okowa; he has handled many positions; what else does he want with the poor masses’ land that we purchased with our hard-earned money? Okowa should allow us to enjoy the land.
Since the land was taken by the government for overriding public interest, won’t you allow such interest and ask for compensation?
It is a lie; it was not in the public interest. In fact, as I speak now, the government has started allocating to its officials, and some other people. Some people even called to inform us that the government had started giving out C of O. In fact, one developer called me, telling us to bring buyers. If they want to sell the land to make money, the government should have called us and discussed things. It is unfortunate we try to reach out to Okowa but he was not forthcoming.
Gov’s attitude will scare investors from Delta – Estate chair
Can you describe the situation regarding the Fountain City land dispute?
It is terrible now; the destruction continued without minding what we are losing. All the buildings there have been brought down by the government.
Just as my brother (Lasisi) narrated, when I bought my land, I surveyed and lodged it at the Ministry of Lands and Survey. The records are there. The said land was free as of the time we went into it. But, unfortunately, we started receiving phone calls from all corners that the government was pulling down our buildings. We went to the place and started shouting to get their attention, all to no avail.
Have you made efforts to hear from the government?
Yes, we have made several efforts to hear from the state government but to no avail. We went to Government House and met Governor Okowa’s chief protocol officer. In fact, in one of our meetings, he begged us and said we should not make trouble as law-abiding citizens. He said the governor was not available and that he would tell him about our visit and we would be invited to meet with him. But to date, Governor Okowa has not called us and the demolition has continued.
We also went to the Ministry of Lands and Survey, and the Commissioner for Lands and Survey said her hands were tied because the governor was involved. We went to the community that sold the land to us. The said community told us the government never acquired the land. They said though the government indicated an intention to acquire the land sometime back, it never acquired the land. In fact, Umuedefe community advertised the land. That was how we subscribed to it and started buying because we received power of attorney from one of them who is a principal officer, Mr Ifeanyi Asiodu.
We also went to the Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu. He told us that if we had the documents to back up our claim, they (the government) would leave the land for us. But that is not the case now; things are getting worse daily.
It was said that some of the people affected by the demolition died of shock. How many such deaths did your association record?
More than 10 people died. We went to the site one day and met military and police officers there. We also saw bulldozer operators. They broke my hand when I confronted them to stop destroying our property.
How many people were affected by the demolition?
We are over 2,000 landowners who were affected and the property they demolished is worth over N30bn.
Are you and others asking for compensation?
We are begging Governor Okowa to release our land as a Christmas gift. This issue is affecting our health as well. This attitude of Governor Okowa will definitely scare investors away. Of course, with all the things going on now, it seems the state is now lawless. Though we know Governor Okowa is a medical doctor and he has been a lawmaker, he knows the law, so we are begging him to release our land as a Christmas gift and God will bless him as he (Okowa) complies.