Displaced Onitsha traders battle NIWA over alleged illegal allocation of land, threaten to petition EFCC

By Okey Maduforo

Four days after some traders displaced by the demolition of illegal Shops and plazas had accused the Onitsha South local Government Council of destroying their property at Niger street Fegge Onitsha some of the affected traders are demanding refund of the sum of about ₦30 billion they allegedly paid as cost of land allocation from the National Inland Water Ways Authority NIWA and Lake Petroleum Ltd.

The traders contended that since NIWA knew that the lands were in dispute between the body and the Anambra state government it ought not to have sold the lands to them adding that NIWA never informed them that there was a dispute before selling the lands.

Recall that the Onitsha South local government Council had been in Court with NIWA over the property at the banks of the River Niger and before the matter was filed at the Court the Onitsha South local government Council had carried out the demolition of those illegal Shops a development that led to the allegations by the traders against the Chairman of the local government area.

Recall also that Gov Charles Soludo at one of his visits to Niger street had stated that NIWA has no right to lay claim to the lands at the banks of River Niger and ordered that those illegal structures must be demolished immediately.

According to some of the traders led by Mr Uche Okafor and Mr Chidi Iheme who also lost their property to the demolition;

“Most of us bought land there and we were told that the land belongs to NIWA and we paid and started building shops there only to be told that the land don’t belong to them “

“Some bought land at N30 million some N40 million while many bought lands at the cost of N100 million and we are over seventy of us depending the part you bought the land and they gave us papers as proof that we bought land from them but today our shops and plazas have been demolished and if I tell you what we have lost you would definitely pity us because the cost of those lands currently is over N30 Billion and we have lost everything”

“When we got the notice from the Onitsha South local government that it would commence demolition of our buildings we approached NIWA and they told us that we should not worry but they failed to protect us and our property”

“We want them to refund us our money or we shall take the matter to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC and we have been in contact with our Lawyers for possible litigations” he said.

Meanwhile the Onitsha South local government Council is in Court with NIWA over the ownership of the lands which has already been sealed off by the state government and according to the Secretary of Onitsha South local government area Mr Paul Onuachalla while reacting to the initial protest against the Council by the traders;

“According to the code establishing NIWA , it gave the Authority 100 meters from the banks of the River Niger as right easement where boats transpiring goods anchor to off-load. Additionally equally 30 meters setbacks on major roads like Niger street is equally in contention”

“Against this backdrop the allocation of lands or authority to erect structures rests on the powers of the state government and Onitsha South local government Council and not NIWA”

“Consequent upon the above it is imperative to state therefore that all structures constructed along the Niger street banks of the river are illegal and should not be allowed to exist in the first place”

“It is indeed not in place for the Onitsha South local government Council to join issues with the so called traders and or victims of NIWA misappropriation of public land . They are perfectly entitled to sue NIWA and others who are laying false and bogus claims on the land belonging to Anambra state”

“The petitioners should direct whatever grievance they have to NIWA and others who gave them fake tittles and approval to construct Motor Parks and Markets and not the Onitsha South local government Council’

“In respect of said proceedings, the Onitsha South local government area had already taken full possession of the land of the in question before Messers Lake Petroleum Ltd took legal action. We cannot comment on the said suit because Onitsha South Local Government is not yet served with the originating process”

“For completeness, we received notice of hearing on 26th April 2024 at Federal HighCourt, immediately we notified director of Local Government Litigations at Ministry of Justice Chuka IKENNA Counsel and Council Secretary turned Paul Onuachalla ( Mr) turned up at Federal High Court Awka Court only to be informed that the matter is not on the list for hear. No apologies or sign of remorse from the ACR. We ceased same opportunity to register our protest of non service of originating, which has not been addressed by the ACR and Bailif”

“In any event, Onitsha South Local Government is in full possession of the said land in question and there is no eviction order and / or kindred judgment known to her” he said.

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