A former majority leader in the Anambra State House of Assembly, Humphrey Chukwuemeka Nsofor, has sued his kinsmen in Umuezechem in Irefi Oraifite, Anambra State, over the sale of a large swath of land to Emeka Offor, a controversial government contractor from their hometown. The plaintiff states that his people were intimidated into parting with their communally owned land.
Named Ana Abo, the 30 plots of land at the center of the lawsuit, is located at Okwubulegbe, the site of All Saints Anglican Church, Irefi Oraifite.
Mr. Nsofor, a civil engineer now based in Abuja, says his reason for going to court to nullify the land transaction is to end what he calls the culture of impunity in the town created by Mr. Offor, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when it was in power in Nigeria for 16 years beginning in 1999.
“The 26 million naira which Offor paid for the 30 plots is a pittance,” said an elder in the Nsofor family who did not want his name mentioned in the press because he was not permitted to speak to the press on the issue. “The only reason a couple of old men in the village collected the money was the extreme intimidation which Offor, then a close friend of President Goodluck Jonathan, used on the old men. He used over 50 riot policemen to force them to agree to sell the land to them,” the man added.
In a brief telephone conversation, the former legislator confirmed that he sued his kinsmen over the land, but said he could not disclose further details at this time. Onyebuchi Ubachu of Agusike Chambers, based in Nnewi, Anambra State, is the lawyer handling the case for Mr. Nsofor.
Sources close to the erstwhile lawmaker disclosed that the court action has the blessing of most people in Umuezechem community because of the grudges they bear against Mr. Offor who hails from the same Irefi section of Oraifite.
Many members of the community accuse the controversial businessman of responsibility for the disappearance three years ago of one of their own, Nonso Adili, a 30-year old dealer in used motor spare parts in Nnewi. One community source alleged that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) under the leadership of Chief Superintendent of Police Nwafor arrested Mr. Adili on Mr. Offor’s instructions during the time Mohammed D. Abubakar, the government contractor’s very close friend and collaborator, was the Inspector General of Police.
“They just whisked Nonso away one day, and no one has sighted him since then in spite of all we have done in police facilities across the country to trace him,” our source, a former official of the Oraifite Improvement Union (OIU) said. He asked that his name be kept secret since he is a civil servant.
The ex-town union official added: “Nonso is one of the 46 persons from our town who disappeared at the hands of SARS. All the men had one disagreement or another with Sir Offor. The victims include Christian Okwumuo, an architect.”
Several members of Umuezechem community said they were not happy with Mr. Offor for the manner he acquired another swath of their land 10 years ago. The controversial businessman built an FM radio station on that other land known as Umuezechem Agricultural Farmland. The farmland was established by the Eastern Nigerian government in the 1960s and served as a rubber plantation.
“As usual,” recalled a retired schoolteacher from the area who requested anonymity for fear of harassment, “Offor used a lot of mobile policemen to force some old men to give up the land for a ridiculously low amount of money.”
Saying that Mr. Offor must have deep animosity against his people, another member of the Nsofor family wondered why the businessman, whose fortunes have dipped since President Muhammadu Buhari came into office, employed riot policemen to demolish buildings being erected by Edwin Nnodu, a successful clearing and forwarding agent in Lagos, and Emmanuel Ashikwe, an elder at home, on plots of land given to them by the community. He also accused Mr. Offor of using one Anthony Obi, a former forest guard who now works for the Emeka Offor Foundation, to connive with Umuezeagu community in Uruagu, Nnewi, to prevent Professors Goddy and Kenneth Nsofor from accessing lands given to them by the same community.
Charging Mr. Offor with attempting to set up Umuezechem against the Anglican Church by donating the land he “fraudulently acquired from us to the church so that we would be seen as anti-church when we protest against the illegal land transaction,” one communal source said, “In his heart of hearts, Offor knows that our sons like the Honorable Humphrey Nsofor are not against the church. After all, he [Mr. Nsofor] is the most senior knight in our place, having become a knight of St Christopher since 2004. But Humphrey is fighting for justice for his own people.”
Reliable sources confided in SaharaReporters that Mr. Offor used the occasion of his father’s burial last November to donate the land he purchased from the Umuezechem community to All Saints Church. The sources added that the businessman also donated to the church part of a loan from Ifeanyi Uba, chairman of Capital Oil, on condition that a proposed secondary school to be built on the site of the land would be named after Mr. Offor’s late father. The late Offor, an 88-year-old retired police sergeant, died in February, 2017, but was buried in November, nine months later.
Sources close to the businessman attributed the delayed burial of his father to Mr. Offor’s ongoing grave business crisis that began the moment President Buhari assumed office in May, 2015. Buhari has sternly warned his chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, against allowing Mr. Offor, whom he called “a mere Aso Rock contractor”, into State House because of numerous controversial contracts the businessman did for previous governments right from the days of the Sani Abacha dictatorship in the 1990s when Mr. Offor became the first African to carry out a turnaround maintenance (TAM) on the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Company. The turn around maintenance became a fiasco as the refinery soon went into a sorry state.
Of all three persons who mobilized the people against the land sale to Mr. Offor, only the ex-lawmaker is still in court. The Reverend Canon George Okafor, a retired Anglican priest, and Vincent Okonkwo, an evangelist and businessman based at home, reportedly abandoned their case after receiving several dire threats, according to a female source close to one of the two men who withdrew from the litigation.
She told our correspondent: “Nsofor has been consistent because of principles involved in the case. This is the only remaining communally owned land in Umuezechem. Secondly, we agreed that if any piece of land must be sold, our people must be given the option of first refusal. Thirdly, if our lands are given out now far below the market value, where do we hope to find land for our children and the generation coming after them?”
A communal source stated that, though Mr. Offor paid N26m for the land, only N19m got to the people of Umuezechem. “A whopping N7m was used for what was called logistics,” according to a confidential source. A lawyer familiar with the case said that “logistics” is a euphemism for bribery, exploitation, extortion and deception.
With Mr. Nsofor’s lawsuit set to proceed, one eminent member of the Umuezechem community stated that his people had drawn a line in the sand in the fight to recover their land.