Women of Poperi in Amasiri, Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State on Tuesday took to the streets to protest the acquisition of their land for a shooting range/training ground for the Nigerian Army.
The state government had in 2008 revoked the right of occupancy of the Poperi community through the Ministry of Land and Survey and the land to the military as a training ground.
The women numbering about 300 marched from Poperi to Afikpo, the council headquarters to table their complaints to the council management.
The leader of the protesters, who gave her name as Gladys Elechi, said that the land was the only inheritance from their forefathers, describing its acquisition by the state government as grave injustice.
“We are asking the government to leave our land because if the government takes the land, we are doomed to hunger and starvation. It is the only land we farm and use the proceeds to train our children,” she lamented.
She said that the community had written to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to intervene to avert a violent crisis, following the eviction order issued by the state government through the ministry.
Elechi alleged that troops have been deployed in the area while the outcome of the petition to the Acting President was being awaited, adding that the people were scared because the state government was resorting to intimidation by inciting the army against the helpless Poperi community.
She further said that troops had been shooting sporadically at the shooting range without considering the danger to humans and animals in the area, stressing that the community’s source of drinking water is in grave danger of being polluted as it has become the washing pool for the military personnel drafted from the 82 Division, Enugu.
“The breakdown of our lands acquired by the state government includes the fertiliser depot taken in 1982; industrial and housing layout/Afikpo North Timber Shade taken in 1985; Afikpo North stadium in 1989; Amasiri Development Centre Headquarters seized in 2009. In fact, the government has acquired over 60 per cent of our land,” she claimed.
Reacting, the commissioner for Lands and Surveying, Mr. Jona Egba, denied that the government was trying to force the community out of their land, stressing that the due process was followed in the acquisition of the land.
Egba stated that the process of acquisition of the land commenced before the tenure of present administration in the state began, adding that all the leaders of the three affected communities were involved in the negotiation.
”Though the state government has power over the land but it wasn’t taken by force. The traditional rulers of the three communities in the area were involved as well as the elected leaders and the chairmen of the two local government areas in the area. The government is ready to further negotiate, but the youths are frustrating our efforts. The community should channel its requests to the government. Government initially released some money we call ecological fund to them, but if they are not happy, they can still channel their grievances to the government,” he explained over the telephone on Wednesday.