People of Uvwie Kingdom, Uvwie Local Government Area, Delta State, on Monday staged a protest against the Nigerian Army over its alleged illegal acquisition and sale of their land measuring over 185.2 hectares.
The aggrieved demonstrators barricaded the Effurun roundabout axis of East-West Road while calling on the federal government to intervene on their behalf. The protesters also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the pending bill establishing the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, which has been passed by the National Assembly.
They chanted songs and carried placards with different inscriptions, such as “Our land has been sold by soldiers,” "Give our land back to us,” “We have no land to farm,” and “Mr. President come to our rescue.”
Speaking on behalf of the protesters, Maria Odjobu lamented that soldiers took over farmland belonging to Uvwie Kingdom residents.
“They chase us from our farms and fish ponds which we need in order to take care of our children. Now we are hungry and we have come out today to tell the soldiers to give our land back to us,” Mrs. Odjobu said.
The protest, SaharaReporters learned, disrupted all vehicular movement, causing a heavy traffic jam on the expressway for over several hours. The demonstrators also trooped out to the Uvwie palace and the local government council secretariat.
The Ovie of the kingdom, Emmanuel Sideso Abe I, told the protesters that the Uvwie people voluntarily gave land to the Nigerian Army, but the Army seized additional land that had not been given to it.
The traditional ruler said that the community has tried to reclaim some of the stolen land, but to no avail.
“We generously gave them [Nigerian Army] over 2,000 hectares in 1974 with the aim of establishing the Nigerian Defence Academy, but unfortunately, the academy was moved to Kaduna. We then asked that the unoccupied part of the land be returned since the Defence Academy is not here,” the monarch explained.
He added that all efforts to retrieve the land in question have been met with severe resistance from the Army.
“My subjects have been deprived from even living in the place. Three years ago, they marked even the villages to be demolished, which were not part of the land given to them. They have illegally extended the land without our knowledge," he said.
Addressing the protesters, President General of the Uvwie General Improvement Union, Austin Ukuwrere, stated that the land in question was the unused piece of land left over after the completion of the construction and occupation of the 3 Battalion barracks in Effurun in 1979 by the Army.
The community leader stated that after discovering that not all the lands purportedly acquired were developed and occupied, representatives of the Uvwie families requested that these lands be released to them for their farming activities, which was their main occupation before the acquisition.
Rather than release the unused portion of the illegally acquired extra land to the Uvwie families, "the various Commanding Officers of the Effurun barracks, in league with some serving and retired Army Generals, have been converting the illegally acquired extra acres into private use by leasing, assigning or outright sale of the lands to private individuals and organizations through the instrumentality of the Nigerian Army Properties Limited.” Mr. Ukuwrere said.
Speaking in the same vein, the former Delta State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Victor Otomievwo, lamented that it is unfortunate that a government in Nigeria would steal land from a people, turn it into a commercial venture and “at the same time harass the same people with the intention of occupying land not included in the 1974 agreement.”
See pictures from the protest below: