LAND USE Act gives the federal government the liberty to acquire land anywhere in the country for whatever purpose. This means any community can be deprived of its cherished possession. That was the case even before the act was promulgated as is evident by the experience of Ikwerre communities. Nigeria/Biafra civil war that took place from 1967 to 1970 may have come and gone, but the Ikwerres’ in Rivers State are still counting their loss. Displaced by the war, they sort security wherever it was possible including abandoning their homes and property. Sadly, on return, the communities, mostly located in the heart of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, were taken over by the military. Communities affected include Rumuokwurusi, Rumuigbo, Rumuolumeni, Rumuolukwu-Rumuomasi and Rumuokoro whose lands were taken over by the Nigerian Army, Navy and Air Force, respectively. Denied of their assets, the people hoped that with time the situation would be reversed for good. But that hope seems like a mirage. Recent development has shown that the military intends not just to lay claim to their land, but to hurt them by carrying out acts meant to impoverish them. Recently, the military began to develop and apportion parts of the land to some of their senior officers and to add salt to the communities’ injuries, they sold some portions of the land to individuals without giving a hoot to the original owners of the land. The communities are in dire need of land since farming is their sole occupation. The people are worried that the military is profiting from what really does not belong to them. Aside appropriating the vast lands, which were acquired by fiat, to establish social ventures that would not have direct impact on the communities, the military built schools and has gone ahead to lease parts of the land for expanded commercial activities. For the host communities, if the military must use their land for business ventures, then they must share in the proceeds. These were the submissions of HRH, Eze Simeon Wokoma, Eze Oha Orianwo XI, Rumuokwurusi Ancient Kingdom, when he spoke with Friday Magazine in Port Harcourt in reaction to the new multi-billion naira Bluesteel Boulevard market currently being constructed by the Nigerian Air Force along the Market Junction area of Aba Road in Rumuolukwu, Rumuomasi community. The monarch, who wondered if the Nigeria Air Force has stopped its primary duty of military operations, said it is bent on taking over more lands from the Ikwerres’ for their personal and economic benefit to the detriment of its real owners. “Every segment of the human society has its roles and usefulness. The Nigeria Air Force, NAF, was set up by an Act of Parliament and its traditional roles are spelt out by law. From the time of its formation, NAF has distinguished itself; some of its retired officers are the world’s most distinguished civil pilots. Owing to the achievements of this dedicated arm of the Nigerian military, international evaluators have scored it one of the best in military tactics, reconnaissance and discipline. That is why some of us are disturbed with the recent events, we have seen a worrisome descent from military and professional activism into trade and commercialisation.” Wokoma said while the communities are still grappling with the reality of their land being sold to Aero Contractors, Bristol Helicopter and Arik Air, respectively, for commercial purposes, Nigeria Air Force has gone ahead to unilaterally establish an ultra modern market without giving any hosting rights to the communities. “In the early 70’s, Nigeria Air Force acquired large swathes of land from the people of Rumuolukwu community for military purposes. The sacrifice of the people was worthy and considered so even by them as NAF deployed the vast acreage of land for military, tactical and residential purposes. “However, in the late 90s, it started to contract ‘Tenants’ like Aero Contractors and Bristol Helicopter, who deployed the space for civil aviation, a clear deviation from the acquisition of the land. In 2002, Arik Air and others acquired their own ‘landing rights’, as well as space for their operations within Port Harcourt. “The questions that came to our minds are: could the people of Rumuolukwu not enter into such lucrative arrangements for their own benefit? Why did NAF allow its officers to
commercialise the land? Is it with the property and sacrifice of folks who thought they were making sacrifices for the safety and security of their country and fatherland? “As though civil aviation on military land was not bad enough, it carved out boundary lands facing the popular Aba Road in Port Harcourt for the construction of stalls for army officers wives, a shanty affair that was nick- named Mammy Market by residents. The mammy market has now given way to a more sophisticated investor and concept, Bluesteel Boulevard, constituting streets, avenues and crescents of stores that are fitted with modern facilities. That in deed is the height of commercialisation.” He warned that if the trend is not checked, it could lead to civil unrest and called on the military to avoid public ridicule and possible angst against it. Already, he said there is tension and it could boil over if the Force continues to partition the land and give them out for commercial activities without involving communities in the deal. “Apart from security implications, there is an enormous moral question on the acquisition by fiat of people’s land for public safety and to deploy same for profit to the exclusion of the real owners. Are officers and gentlemen of NAF bereft of the virtues of honour, fairness and justice? “About the same time that the real estate holdings of Rumuolukwu were acquired, the Nigeria Air Force also acquired gratis, that is, by fiat, a large tract of land from the people of Rumuokwurisi, ostensibly for military communications; they followed up the acquisition by erecting communication masts on the land. Now, as though following up their successful test run with Rumuolukwu lands, it is again planning a concession for another mega market like Bluesteel Boulevard. “Feelings within the community that once had title and possession of this land do not bode well for the planned project. One hopes that NAF top brass would take steps to redirect this descent into commercialisation and save it from public ridicule and possible civil unrest,” he added.

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