In April 2017 an estimated 10 people were injured in a clash over ownership of a large expanse of land in Oba. They were hospitalised and about five people were arrested. The disputed land, in the Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State had been allocated for an airport by the now-defunct Government of the Eastern Region and acquired from various owners in 1963.
The airport project was abandoned when the administration relocated the project to Aguleri in Anambra East Local Government Area. The land in question now falls under the jurisdiction of Anambra State, which was formed in 1976. On relocation of the project the land was abandoned, giving rise to landowners from various villages attempting to reclaim it. Some villagers accused each other not owning land at the airport site, leading to clashes.
Nze Dozie Nweke, President-General of Aborji Akanano Union, one of the villages, said the injuries and arrests arose from confrontations between youths and that there were allegations that the crisis was triggered when a prominent man from the area hired caterpillars and entered the land under the pretext that he was brokering peace among the landowners. Nweke called for a truce and said all families, kindreds and village heads in Oba should come together in a roundtable and resolve the matter .
The Odogwu blog reported that four trucks of heavily armed soldiers were observed keeping watch at the abandoned airport site. Some members of the Oba community alleged that the land initially acquired for the airport was being sold to speculators for residential buildings. They argued that since the airport project had been abandoned the government should transfer the land back to its original owners or utilise it for a purpose serving the public interest.
Price Henry Ezenwa, a former chair of Idemili South council area, said that in 2014 the Oba community was informed that 30 hectares of the land were given to a shoemakers’ association. He alleged that subsequently, the Ministry of Lands gave the land to a speculator who in turn sold it to private residence developers. He urged the state governor, William Obiano, to investigate the injustice and said the affected people would explore legal means to get justice. He said: “Oba people gave government that land for an airport project and the law is clear that when the purpose is no longer feasible, such land should go back to the people. They said thirty hectares of the land was given to Emordi Shoe Association but it turned out that they are land grabber who are just plotting the land and selling it to private developers. No compensation was paid to this community in the first agreement and no compensation is being paid now, moreover there is no legal document showing the fraud going on here. I have personally written the governor on this and get no response.”
Another resident of Oba, Mr. Chibueze Chukwaka, said about 100 plots of land belonging to his family should not be sold to others without compensation and that people had been intimidated by soldiers and other security personnel, and that every attempt to openly demonstrate had been repelled by agents hired by the speculators. He called on the state governor to intervene to avert impending bloodshed as people of the town would no longer tolerate forcible takeover of their land. Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Board of Trustees said he was not concerned about having lost some acres of land to the airport project but regretted that somebody had taken over the land and was selling it. He had suggested to various Anambra government bodies that the area could be used for a mechanic village, but his advice was not heeded. He said there was urgent need for government and the people to find a way out of the crisis instead of using security operatives to intimidate people .
Indigenes of Aborji village called on the Anambra State government to rescue them from continuous harassment and intimidation from their neighbours. Nze Dozie Nweke, President-General of Aborji Akanano Union and leader of the Oba Youths Association, said attempts were being made to remove Aborji village from the compensatory scheme: “Okpuno Aborji in Aborji village has part of their land in that airport land but some people are working hard to remove our name from those who donated that land and ensure they did not benefit from compensation. We are calling on Anambra state government to know that the land of our people is involved and they should also consider every opinion on that matter to avoid working with those that want to hijack it.” He said there had been fights over the matter resulting in injuries and arrests of some youths. He called on the state government to consider the numerous petitions over the real donors of the airport land and ensure that all were accommodated, regretting that the people of Oba had become divided over the land issue. Reacting to Nweke’s comments the Divisional Police Office of Ojoto Police Division, Mr. Prince Ugochukwu, made assurances that the police were there for the protection of all and urged people with genuine complaints to report to the police .
Land conflict in 2017 Odogwublog reported another flare up in the land conflict in July 2017. About 100 youths took to the streets protesting alleged encroachment of the abandoned Oba airport land. Inscriptions on placards read “Offia, Enough is Enough, No more airport land, we want our rights, our land is not for Estate is for industries” among other statements. The youths disrupted and stopped work at the site, saying that the land initially mapped out for the shoe industry had enlarged into an estate extending beyond the 30 hectares of land allocated to it by the government. Chairman of the Youth Welfare Association of Okpuno Umuogali village, Udoka Uzocheukwu and Chairman of Umuagu Village Welfare Association Onyeka Enedah said that the land was approved for a shoe dealers’ market but the chairman of the Emordi Shoe Association was not abiding by the agreement, turning the area into an estate and encroaching on other community land. The youth leaders said: “Youths are agitating for proper explanation of what is going on at the old Airport land at Oba because what we were told by government that the land will be used for industry is not what we are seeing today. What we are seeing going on there is an individual houses being erected in the land instead of industry. What we are saying is that government should come and tell us what is going on with our land.” “…Our demand is that work should stop from the land until the developer of the estate settle with the land owners. Our elders are not happy again, some of them have died after their land was taken away from them without any compensation.” Enadah said that the community had lost about seven elders in the course of the land matter and that they had died from frustration and high blood pressure. In reaction to these statements the Vice Chairman of Emordi Shoe Association, Chief Matthew Okeagu denied all the allegations, saying that the land was allocated to the traders with a Certificate of Occupation obtained from the government plus a survey plan approved by the government. He said the association had paid compensation to villagers and landowners. He appealed to the government to intervene on the matter and said workers had been injured and pursued out of the site by youths for no just cause. He said the Commissioner for Lands, Physical Planning and Rural Development, Sir Okey Moka, had approved the allocation of the land to the shoe dealers as residential buildings .
On 23rd April 2018 more than 500 members of Emordi Shoe Dealers Association protested that funds collected from them by their former Chairman, Chief Nwabueze Umeh, to allocate them pieces of land at the Oba airport site, had not been repaid. Some of the protesters carried placards with inscriptions reading, “Anambra Governor please come to our rescue”, “Nwabueze give us our land or money”, “you have not rendered account or stewardship for eight years you were out of office”, “some of us have died because of the non-refund of the money”. Erosion caused by sand and laterite excavations In March 2017 gully erosion caused by mining sand, laterite (soil and rock that is rusty-red in colour and rich in iron and aluminium) and clay at the Oba airport site had become so severe that many homes and roads were in danger of being washed away in rain season which was due to begin in a few weeks. A correspondent from The Sun Nigeria saw heavy-duty excavation equipment being used by miners digging laterite, selling it on a daily basis. An operator of the excavation machines, who did not want to be named, said the laterite was sold to tipper drivers who delivered sand to construction sites. He spoke of dangerous working conditions, “One of our machines was trapped when a part of the site simply collapsed. It was God that saved the operator as he narrowly escaped death. The job is dangerous, that is why we are always careful since ‘man must whack and something must kill man’”.
A resident of the community, Chief Onuckukwu Okafor, said the onslaught of sand mining had previously been controlled to some extent, but operations had escalated the degradation of the area. He said they had written several petitions to the Ministry of Environment asking for a halt to excavation of sand but received no response. He said: “How could everybody including government officials who pass here every day turn a blind eye to this looming danger? Are they waiting until the entire community is destroyed by this impending disaster? The issue is that the present erosion is man-made. The problem has been there for some time but the people excavating laterite from there have added to the problem. As you can see this is now threatening roads and residential buildings close-by.”
A commercial driver said the gully had been a source of concern for road users due to the rate at which it was encroaching on the road and called for government intervention: “As you can see this erosion is moving closer to the main road. It is also moving towards people’s houses on the other end. Before now it was not like this; it was when those sand diggers began working here that this latest challenge started.” President-General of Oba community, Mr. Ifeatu Uzowulu, said the mining posed real danger to people and that the community had written a warning letter to the miners and tipper owners asking them to stop work on or before 31st March 2027. He said: “We have resolved to stop the miners and tipper owners from coming here; we have given them till the end of this month to completely vacate this place. We are still looking at the danger their actions pose to the Oba-Nnewi old road; at some point the community will take appropriate actions. But for now, we are doing our best to ensure that our environment is protected from disaster.” The Anambra State Commissioner for Environment, beautification and Ecology, Dr. Henry Ejikeme, promised to send an evaluation team to the mining site to ascertain the degradation of the area, stressing that appropriate action would be taken .
State government orders closure of sand excavation On 19th December 2019, following complaints to the federal and state governments over alleged sand mining excavation on the old Oba airport, the Anambra State government ordered closure of sand excavation at the site. Closure of the excavation site was contained in a letter by Dr. C.E.N. Okafor, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, on behalf of the Commissioner for Environment, Anambra state. The letter contained the flowing statement: “The State government has observed the negative effect of your activities in the form of excavation at Oyitraco Excavation Site along Old Oba Airport Oba in Idemili South, Local Government Area. This your action has no authority from the State Government is badly affecting the area and if not stopped immediately is likely to escalate to an unimaginable point and it is hereby closed down immediately. Against this backdrop, you are advised to clear of the area including your agents/privy and stop further excavation thereto.” The Oba community had, through its Regent, Chief Noel Ezenwa, written to the Federal Ministry of Environment complaining about the threat of the Oyitraco sand excavation. Ezenwa said that if sand mining continued it would be capable of causing erosion that could wash Oba away .
On 2nd June 2020 the Anambra State House Assembly called on the State government to issue an Executive Order prohibiting unauthorised excavation of laterite, stones and sharp sand at the defunct Oba airport site and called for prosecution of defaulters. The Speaker, Mr. Uche Okafor, said it was their duty to protect life and property of the people. He said: “I will set up a committee to monitor unlawful excavation in the state that will locate all areas of indiscriminate mining and indiscriminate deforestation. The Executive order followed a motion by Mr. Lawrence Ezeudo who said efforts by the Ministry of Environment and other related authorities and stakeholders to check the unlawful excavation had proved abortive. Ezuedo said that, since cancellation of the airport project: “…the area has become a centre for land grabbers, trespassers, unauthorised private developers, illegal miners with unlawful extraction of laterite, stones and local sharp sands. I am worried about the environmental hazards, caused by the unlawful excavation which is obviously carried out without due diligence or embarking on proper environmental impact assessment.
The gully erosion presently threatening the existence of several adjoining houses, factories, farmlands together with undeveloped lands within the said area is a problem too.” Mr. Chuka Ezenwunne, representing Idemili South, said of the Oba people who donated the parcel of land for the airport and did not take the law into their own hands by taking it back, “What they got in return is destruction of their environment because the excavators are systematically building disaster in Oba and Idemili as a whole”. He said that one man was leading the excavation operation, “he moves around with a large group of boys and almost two hundred trips of laterite are carted away daily”. In September 2020 residents of Oba community expressed concerns over allegations that certain lawmakers in the State House of Assembly to frustrate efforts to end illegal sand mining at the defunct Oba airport site. The Regent of Oba, Chief Noel Ezenwa, praised the House of Assembly for its efforts to address the problem, including arresting Mr. Osita Agina, the proprietor of Oyotraco, the firm involved. But he expressed alarm at the devastation cause by erosion and said some lawmakers were determined to scuttle the investigation and called for the House of Assembly leadership and the Minister of Environment, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, to intervene. He also urged them to take action over erosion caused by Oyotraco’s illegal sand mining that was “fast eating into Obosi”, the city immediately north of the Oba airport site .
Illegal mining and erosion throughout Anambra State Mr. Edward Ibuzo spoke about the serious problems of erosion elsewhere in Anambra State, “we have about 400 erosion sites in Anambra, Nnewi alone has 46 sites, Awka has 26 in addition to those in other communities. Onitsha erosion has swallowed some houses and many of them are man-made erosion. There is a need to find a solution to this problem urgently.” He recommended a task force committee to visit and oversee all mining pits, giving recommendations for optimal performance for the betterment of Anambra. Representing the Orumba South Local Government Area Mr. Emmanuel Nwafor said: “the illegal mining has gone more than 60 metres deep into the soil, after the sharp sand is water and they are already mining the sharp sand. When this lake will develop, the whole buildings in the area will be submerged. This is an impending doom; there is need to take action urgently.” .