The Ovie (traditional ruler) of Uvwie Kingdom, Uvwie Local Government Area in Delta State, HRM Emmanuel Sideso, Abe I, and his subjects are currently locked in a battle with the Nigerian Army over the ownership of a large piece of land in the kingdom, which the military authorities lay claim to.
Last year, women of the kingdom, joined by youths and others took to the streets, paralyzing movement on the Effurun section of the East-West Road for hours to drum home their grievances against the Army, while the community also petitioned the House of Representatives over the matter.
Many communities in the Niger Delta are known to be grumbling over the land grabbing propensity of some of the security agencies, especially after they had been allocated lands in their areas for specific purposes. There is a case against the Nigerian Navy at Oghara, Ethiope West local government area, Delta state, where the villagers asked the Navy to vacate their land and in Benin City, Edo State and Asaba, Delta state, the Nigerian Police Force had turned part of the lands acquired from the communities to thriving commercial enterprises to the chagrin of the people. At Uvwie, the army had not only turned part of the land to commercial enterprises in which traders pay rent, portions of the land had been sold to non-indigenes, who have built palatial mansions, while the original owners, deprived of their lands used for farming and fishing, roam about jobless.
Dragging the Army to the House of Representatives appears to be a major test case by one of the affected communities in Niger Delta. Counsel to the kingdom, Mr. Victor Otomiewo and Company, had in a petition brought before the House through Hon. Evelyn Oboro representing Okpe/ Sapele/Uvwie Federal Constituency, Delta State, said that the land was illegitimately acquired.
He said: “Our clients are the owners in peaceable possession of all the portions of land purportedly acquired for the Nigerian Army barracks, Effurun in the Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta State of Nigeria."
“Apart from the area being claimed by the army authority as being acquired for the supposed army barracks at Effurun, soldiers, naval officers, etc are currently forcefully occupying acres of land and villages, which are not within the said purported acquisition and commit criminal acts of trespass, assault, etc.,” he stated.
It is indisputable that the community gave the N Army over 2,000 hectares of land, part of which situates the 3 Battalion, Effurun, otherwise known as the David Ejoor Barracks, in 1974, to establish the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, regrettably, the Academy was moved to Kaduna.
Five years after the ill-starred NDA arrangement, the 3 Battalion Barracks, Effurun, was constructed and occupied by the military in 1979, and nothing untoward happened back then until recent years when the people found out that the military was given unoccupied part of the land out to “strangers” for commercial reason through a business enterprise, Nigerian Army Properties Limited, floated by the army.
What is, however, disputable at the moment is if the army encroached on portions not given to it by the community, as the people have strongly suggested.
HRM Sideso asserted: “We generously gave 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 lamented: “My subjects have been deprived of 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.
He stated that all efforts to retrieve the untenanted land from the army had been met with Spartan resistance from the Army. HRM Sideso told Saturday Vanguard that for many years, he had been at pains sitting and witnessing the fact that his people have no land to build new homes, while the Nigerian Army was selling the community’s land to people and collecting money.
A community leader, who corroborated him, said: “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 unlawfully acquired extra acres into private use. "
"This, they do by leasing and assigning an outright sale of the lands to private individuals and organizations through the instrumentality of the Nigerian Army Properties Limited.”
Parts of the land unoccupied by the military are adorned with mansions built by politicians and businessmen from different parts of the country, who bought land from the army. Some of the houses are also owned by retired and serving military officers.
Sometime, last year, the House of Representatives issued a 14- day ultimatum to the Nigerian Army to produce documents showing its ownership of a contentious 1,363 hectares of land in the Uvwie Kingdom.