By Ofonime Honesty

Ewet Offot village in Uyo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State is set for protest against the Akwa Ibom State Government following revocation of the community’s right of occupancy on a parcel of land which hitherto hosted a building materials’ market (timber market).

The contentious parcel of land is situated along Uruan Street in the heart of Uyo metropolis. It was hitherto earmarked for the establishment of a primary school after the ‘timber market’ was relocated to Ifa in Etoi Clan axis of Uyo Local Government Area.

Governor-elect, Pastor Umo Eno, who was then serving as Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources, performed the ground breaking of the purported school project in March 2022. The large parcel of land was subsequently fenced and a signpost with the inscription ‘Permanent Site for Ewet Model Primary School’ erected at the site.

A couple of months later, the project was however moved to a landlocked plot of land behind Ewet Technical Secondary School, Uyo.

The school project which has been completed is a three-block structure with no modern facilities to befit its hype as a model school. Model schools are usually set up with up-to-date resources and facilities to elevate proper dispensation and assimilation of knowledge.

The government has now owned up the speculations of hijacking the land by notifying the community that the former timber market has been earmarked to host a palatial estate for officials of the Akwa Ibom State Government.

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To firm up its decision, the state government, in a revocation order sighted by our reporter, dated March 28, 2023, signed by Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources, Captain Iniobong Ekong Rtd, invoked the controversial Land Use Act, 1978 in usurping absolute power over the property.

The order reads in part: “Notice is hereby given that all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist in all that piece or parcel of land along Uruan Street, (Former Timber Market) Ewet Offot, Uyo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria, containing a total area of approximately 3.2978 Hectares shown on Akwa Ibom
State of Nigeria Town and Country Planning Plan No. TCP/AK/UY/1328, the boundaries of which are described below are hereby revoked for public purposes absolutely and particularly for Government Residential Estate and other Government projects.”

It announced that government intends to enter and use the said land at the expiration of 4 weeks from the date of the notice and warned that “any person(s) who shall willfully hinder or obstruct the Governor of Akwa Ibom State or any person employed by him from using the said land shall be liable on conviction to a fine, or to imprisonment for three months.”

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The Land Use Act 1978 (formerly called the Land Use Decree) was promulgated on March 29, 1978 by the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo. The Act vests all Land domiciled in the territory of each State (except land vested in the Federal government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of the State, who would hold such Land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the State and to organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes.

Reacting to the development, four members of the Ewet Offot community confirmed to our reporter that they will hold a peaceful demonstration on the matter.

One of the indigenes complained: “the timber market used to rake in income for the community. Our people used to render services there to earn a living. Government suddenly came in, relocated the market and promised to build a school there (on the plot.) The school wasn’t even built there. The state government has not even told us what we stand to gain as a community from the housing project which we heard is meant for government officials. There should an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] with us. Our people have not been carried along in this. It’s as if the state government has no regard for Ewet Offot despite our support for this administration and the PDP [Peoples Democratic Party].”

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Another member of the community said there was no going back on the planned peaceful demonstration: “we are going to protest in the coming days, we don’t want to disclose the date due to some obvious reasons. On the revocation, we are aware that the governor has the power to seize control of land in the state but I suggest that there should have been some measures applied to cushion the situation. For instance, the plot of land belonged to the community, it used to generate money for the community. Other parts of the timber market was owned by individuals. A kind government would have negotiated with the community instead of forceful seizure of the property. This is about people’s properties and source of livelihood.”

Two other respondents also condemned the development, labelling it as draconian and tyrannical.

Effort to speak with the village head-elect of the community, Eteidung Ben Bassey John was futile as his absence was met when this reporter visited his palace.

Culled from News Intel