Owalla, a self-governed district within the Uratta Autonomous community in Imo state, witnessed a fervent demonstration on Sunday as elderly residents, alongside men, women, and young individuals, raised their voices against an alleged forceful acquisition of their lands by suspected government agents. The community, situated in the Owerri North council area, united to implore Governor Hope Uzodimma to launch an investigation into the reported seizure of their lands, purportedly orchestrated through the Ministry of Lands.
The frustrated populace took to the streets of Owalla, venting their concerns to reporters during a march that encircled the community. Their motivation for the protest was driven by the distressing impact of their farmlands being destroyed, leading to widespread hunger and deprivation.
According to Mr. Michael Mbata, a community member, the distressing events transpired on August 12, 2023, when heavy machinery entered the locality. He recounted how crops, palm trees, and swathes of land were unceremoniously obliterated by these machines. Mr. Mbata revealed that attempts to seek clarification from security personnel were met with aggression, tear gas, and physical violence, leaving the inhabitants no choice but to mobilize in protest.
“Our community stands by the government, and we are staunch supporters of Governor Hope Uzodimma’s second term,” Mr. Mbata asserted. “However, there are individuals, like Malachy Emeghara, allegedly acting on behalf of the Commissioner of Lands, who are orchestrating the annexation of our lands. They are tarnishing the government’s reputation. This is an assault on our heritage, our birthright, as they exploit the government’s name to unlawfully seize our land. Our elders, women, and children have suffered beatings, shootings, and threats.”
Elder Vincent Ahuekwe echoed Mr. Mbata’s concerns, highlighting the perilous situation faced by widows and the elderly due to these land disputes. He noted that not only were ancestral lands at stake but lives were being disrupted and threatened.
Mr. Richard Omire weighed in, viewing the land takeover as an attempt to undermine the accomplishments of the government. “These actions seem aimed at sabotaging the governor’s positive initiatives. It’s possible that these forces are collaborating with the opposition to plunge our community and state into chaos.”
Responding to the allegations, Noble Atulegwu, the Imo state Commissioner for Lands and Survey, addressed the controversy surrounding the seized lands. He clarified, “These lands are the property of the government, acquired for essential public purposes. Understandably, protests are inevitable when any land is involved. Even the traditional ruler and community leaders initially requested a claim survey. However, legal proceedings were initiated without prior hostility on our part.”
As the Owalla community continues to grapple with this land dispute, tensions persist, revealing a delicate balance between the legitimate concerns of the inhabitants and the government’s intentions for development.