By Silas Onwuagha
Recently, I was perusing through my social media accounts for news update, eventhough I have my doubts over certain news items being peddled on social media platforms these days. Suddenly, I stormed on one article titled Gov. Ugwuanyi vs PEIWA. Going through it, I saw a press release under it.
Reading through the release, I discovered that it was signed by a renowned economist and Chairman of Real Estates Development Company and his Vice, Numan Markgraaf with the title ‘Private Estates International West Africa Limited and Enugu State Government. The facts behind the lies’. As someone who is conversant with real estate investments and its attendant challenges and gains, I became much interest in reading, digesting and analysing this development.
Reading through the press release and points raised, it was obvious that the Enugu State Government and Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi were made subjects of ridicule and attack. I was baffled when I learnt from the press statement that it had been published in some national dailies with Utomi’s name on it.
My worry was not because of the content and tone of the write-up which was fraught with missing links, anger, bias, pettiness and malice, but why a personality of Prof. Pat Utomi’s calibre could be easily misled and deceived by Kingsley Eze in a land matter he has no deep knowledge about.
In short, for the mere fact that Utomi appended his name and signature on the press release without proper investigation of the controversies and loopholes surrounding the land agreement put a huge question mark on his integrity and motive.
Even if Utomi has vested interest in the company called PEIWA, which Eze used to secure the land deal that has gone awry, courtesy demands that he should embark on due dilligence and consultations with the host communities and Enugu State Government before going to the press or the public. After all, everyone knows that Gov. Ugwuanyi runs an open door government. Besides, not every matter especially a delicate one like land calls for display of intellectual prowess on the pages of newspapers as exhibited by Utomi in the published and circulated press release.
From my little knowledge about land matters, occupation, building and living on a land does not confer ownership on individual. This is especially when the land’s originating title and documentation is questionable, fake and illegal. I have seen where occupants of a land for over 25 years lost claim of ownership in law court because of illegal documentation and lack of due dilligence. So what is most important in land acquisition, leasing or buying is the authenticity and genuineness of its documentations especially its originating title and others.
Reading through the Utomi’s signed press release on Enugu State Government’s agreement with PIEWA over the more than 1000 hectares of land belonging to Obeagu and Amaechi communities in Awkunanaw of Enugu South Council Area of Enugu State, one will observe that there were several missing links and loopholes in it that requires Utomi and Kingsley Eze’s further explanations to convince the public.
According to Utomi’s claim in the press release, the Enugu Centenary City Project is a partnership between a company, Private Estates International West Africa Limited owned by Kingsley Eze and government of Enugu to plan, design and create a new township with world class facilities.
According to the new township agreement, PEIWA would provide the funding, technical and professional capabilities to execute the project, while the government would provide land that is free of any encumberances and pay appropriate compensation to host communities. Also included in the release is the claim that the final version of the plan was presented to and adopted by the EXCO of Enugu State Government on March 25, 2009.
All these alleged agreements and claims were signed and executed during the administration of Ugwuanyi’s predecessor, Sullivan Chime, who happens to be Kingsley Eze’s brother and kinsman.
I vividly remembered reading in some national dailies of the protests staged by the members of the two host communities that owned the land, where they accused the Enugu State government under Sullivan Chime and Eze of forging documents to illegally acquired their land without due diligence and adequate compensation. The allegations the communities levelled against Eze and Chime’s government coupled with their threats of being ready to die for it is too weighty for any responsible and responsive government to wave it aside easily without timely intervention.
The members of the communities also threatened that they are ready to die instead of allowing Eze to take their ancestral land through fraudulent and illegal means perpetrated by his brother and kinsman, Sullivan Chime while in office as governor of Enugu State.
From Utomi’s explanations in the press release, it is obvious that the land was encumbered from onset, taking into cognisance the weighty allegations levelled against the immediate past government in the state and PEIWA in the deal by the two host communities. That was the reason that despite the claims that agreement was signed and sealed between the Enugu State Government and PEIWA in March 2009, PEIWA has not paid a dime in government’s account as ground rent since then till now, whereas PEIWA has been parcelling and selling plots at the site to people and raking in money into the company’s account.
With this, where did the likes of Utomi and PIEWA expect Enugu State Government to raise money and pay the host communities compensation for their land, which the immediate past government claimed to have acquired without due process and handed over Eze’s company that had been selling it since 2009 without remitting any Kobo as agreed into government’s coffers till date? Why was it difficult for the administration of Governor Chime who signed the agreement since 2009 to pay the host communities compensation as agreed before leaving office in 2015?
Why didn’t Chime’s administration ensure that PIEWA abide by the agreement of paying state government the ground rent and others since 2009 the land was handed over to them so that government can use the money to pay compensation to the host communities? It is obvious from the press release that Eze and his PEIWA company have a lot to hide in the deal. If not how and why would they be selling plots in a land government claimed to have properly acquired even with alleged forged documents and handed over to them for almost a decade now without paying dime into government’s treasury?
What kind of land acquisition was that, that is not in the overall public interest as stipulated in the land use law? Were Eze and his PEIWA group saying that the Enugu state government under his brother, Chime’s watch acquired communities’ land and handed over to them free of charge? If PEIWA and Eze were smart and sincere enough as they want the world to believe, they would’ve rallied round, raised money and paid into government’s treasury and ensured that the administration of Chime paid appropriate compensation to the host communities as agreed and sealed the deal permanently.
Failing in this direction showed that both Eze and PIEWA are not genuine investors, but land grabbers and fraudsters, who used their closeness to the powers-that-be in Enugu State Government then to illegally corner communities’ ancestral land without due process. They appeared to be more of fronts for some people in and outside Chime’s government, who believed that it would be business as usual under Ugwuanyi’s administration.
How did Eze and his company, PEIWA think that after not paying a dime for the land over more than a decade, that the host communities will accept the same amount now even if state government wants to pay them now? It is not possible. No reasonable person will accept such.
Even though, it amounts to subjudice for one to comment or discuss a matter before the court in the public but since Utomi and Eze have taken to the press to discuss the issue, there is nothing wrong for one to discuss or analyse it. It is crystal clear that there were breaches of the agreement, especially by PIEWA and Eze. But instead of going back to the negotiation table with the host communities and Enugu State Government to discuss the way out, Eze and PEIWA decided to go to court and the media to disparage and malign Gov. Ugwuanyi and his government, using Utomi to lend credence to their antics. This is a very wrong and unfortunate step that will not let Eze and PEIWA anywhere.
While it is true that government is a continuum, it was expected of the Enugu State Government under Sullivan Chime, who started and signed the agreement to have sealed and concluded everything about it before leaving office in 2015 if the deal was genuine and altruistic.
The protest by the host communities against PEIWA, Eze and Enugu State Government over the alleged illegal acquisition and handover of the land is quite in order and expected. You can beat somebody and tell him or her not to cry. The host communities deserved to have been compensated financially and otherwise immediately the land was acquired and handover over to PIEWA by Enugu State government under Sullivan Chime.
Ugwuanyi government’s timely intervention to resolve the impasse to avoid bloodshed and loss of property is in order. That does not warrant media castigation and demonisation by Eze and Utomi, but commendations and support.
Even as it is now, it is not yet late for Eze and his PEIWA group to humbly engage the Enugu State Government and the host communities in a genuine dialogue and negotiations in a round table.
After all, there are other real estate investors in Enugu State that have been doing their businesses with their host communities and state government without any qualms. It is a public knowledge that under Ugwuanyi’s administration, Enugu State has been consistently ranked among the best in the country in the Ease of Doing Business by the World Bank.
As for Prof. Utomi, with due respect to him, being chairman of Real Estates Development Company and a respected Nigerian does not confer on him the legal and moral authority to pontificate on land matter that he is not conversant with or freely cast aspersions on state government and governors on the pages of newspapers, no matter his interest or what was offered to him. Doing such demeans his personality and what he has stood for over the years.
Having worked in government circle before now as an aide to the Second Republic President of the Country, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, it is expected that Utomi should have elementary knowledge of government and governance and how they operate. It is beyond pontification, public debate and rhetoric.
It was this kind of callous statement and undue attack against governors by Utomi that once pitched him against his then state governor of Delta, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan to the extent that they called themselves names on the pages of newspapers.
Uduaghan had described Utomi then as having distinguish himself as someone with bogus idea, but with no frame of mind for execution.
“He (Prof.Utomi) took us to his home town Ibusa, for the foundation laying ceremony of Silicon Valley, till date, there is nothing to show that the project has commenced,” Uduaghan said.
This little experience Utomi had in his own state is enough for him to know that it is not easy for anybody or even government to acquire or takeover community’s ancestral land for private project without proper negotiations, documentation and compensation.
It is not enough to hastily and fraudulently signed land agreement, flaunt it and lure people to invest for you to make easy money, but later face protracted litigations and crises that may lead to loss of everything in court at the end of the day. The best bet for Utomi is to henceforth stop dancing naked with Kingsley Eze on this matter, but to advise him to engage the state government and host communities in dialogue and renegotiations.
Silas Onwuagha, a real estate investment expert and lawyer wrote from Wuse, FCT Abuja.