By Dave Okpogadie, Asaba
Land dispute that has lingered over 57 years involving legal tussle between Ibusa and Ogwashi communities of Delta State, has continued to heighten tension within the state capital territory.
The ownership of the stretch of land covering over a thousand hectares, presently hosting a Nigerian Navy stakeholding institution, the Admiralty University and a federal government dam project, has remained the subject of persistent legal contention between the neighbouring communities.
Although the Ibusa community of Oshimili North local government area of Delta state had obtained successive judgments from the lower court up to the Supreme Court spanning over a period of 23 years, Ogwashi kingdom, headquarters of Aniocha South local government area, insists that the judgments in question did not include the areas referred to as Odonkwu in Aboh-Ogwashi, now hosting the Admiralty University and the federal government dam project.
Prior to the lingering legal debacle, a proper court of jurisdiction had given title of the South East axis of the disputed expanse of land to Ibusa community in a suit W/35/55 brought against Olodu community of Ogwashi-uku kingdom in 1955.
Moreover, the High Court of the Midwestern state in the Asaba Judicial Division had also ruled in favour of Ibusa community in 1970 in suit No.A/28/66 between Obi NkadiOnwordi and three others versus the Obi Ezenwani Ezediunor, Obi of Ogwashi-uku and his community.
The crux of the 23 years litigation was the ownership of a so-called “Ani Umu-Ezemesa”, which comprised parcels of farmlands identified as Ubulu-Ubu, Oloko, Etekwushe, Akwu-Ubili, Adagba, Mgbago, Akwu-Ogili, Akwu-Ugboko, Akwu-Ukwu, Atagbo-Elue and Akwu-Nkata, captured in the litigated survey plan MWC/102/70.
But according to the Okwabani of Aboh-Ogwashi and spokesman of Ogwashi-uku community on the matter, Chief Paul Chiedu Onwuadiamu, their renewed agitation is prompted by alleged subterranean plot by the Ibusa community to subvert the subsisting judgments of the Courts by seeking to annex lands outside of the defined areas of farmlands disputed and determined at the Courts, which were captured in the litigated survey plan MWC/102/70.
On the strength of this discovery, the Obi of Ogwashi-uku, Prof. Chukwuma Okonjor declined invitation by the state government, through the Office of the Chief Justice, who had sought “to foster a harmonious way of complying with the Judgment of the Apex Court on issues concerning Land between Ibusa and Ogwashi-uku communities…”
Again, the Okwabani disclosed that Ogwashi-uku community refrained from overtures for mediation by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, when he sought to intervene on the matter to pave way for the smooth take off of the Admiralty University.
In a letter dated June 8, 2016 to Governor Okowa explaining their position on the matter, Ogwashi-uku community through their counsel, O. W. Chibuogwu said it was observed that the litigation plan pleaded and used by them (Ibusa community) in that case is not No. NWC/102/70. The plan they used is litigation plan MWC/102/70 prepared Matthias Chukwurah…”
“It is strange that instead of producing plan No. MWC/102/70, Ibusa people are now parading plan No. NWC/102/70. The question marks over the authenticity of “this latter-day plan” is part of what scuttled the immediate past Chief Judge’s earlier attempts to resolve this matter amicably by way of mediation”, the letter to the governor further read.
Chief Onwuadiamu said it was on this conviction that the Ogwashi-uku community approached the Supreme Court for interpretation of the judgments, when they observed that Ibusa community had “sent a rejoinder claiming that the land in question (Odonkwu in Aboh-Ogwashi) is part of the land adjudged to belong to her by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in Appeal Number SC/32/1985: Ezenwani&ors v. Onwordi&ors and produced one litigation plan No. NWC/102/70 to buttress her claim”.
Upon this application, the Apex Court on July 17, 2018, unanimously granted the application and held that “litigation survey plan No. shall now read MWC/102/70 and not NWC/102/70 as it appears in the judgment of B. O. KAZEEM JSC in the appeal”.
Before seeking the intervention of the Supreme Court, Ogwashi-uku community had challenged Ibusa community to produce the original copies of the said plan Numbers MWC/102/70 and NWC/102/70 or produce the record of the Supreme Court showing when an application to amend the plan used at the High Court and Court of Appeal was granted, adding that “whoever certified plan No. NWC/102/70 to produce the original copy of same for them and Your Excellency to see”.
After series of mediation by the state government and the facilitator of the university, Rear Admiral Ezeoba (rtd), an illustrious son of Ibusa, the disputing communities had agreed for the institution to take off, while Ogwashi-uku community awaited the Apex Court interpretation of its judgment.
However, the university had separately paid initial compensations of about 20 percent of the total sum to both communities, but was restrained from indicating the actual host community on its addresses, correspondences, signposts and billboards pending the determination of disputes.
The university management seemed to have held back further payments of compensations until the nagging disputes were laid to rest.
But Ogwashi-uku community is agitated that since it obtained the Supreme Court interpretation of its judgment in July last year, which had been served interested parties in the dispute, no action has been taken, particularly by the state government to settle the lingering dispute.
In a letter to Delta State Attorney General and Commissioner dated March 1, 2019, Ogwashi-uku community forwarded the Supreme Court ruling of July 17, 2018, which clarified the correct survey plan to be used for the delineation of the disputed boundary.
The letter written through the community representative, Hon. George Uwechue (SAN), read in part: “I have the instruction of His Royal Majesty Obi (Prof) Chukwuma Okonjor, the Obi of Ogwashi-uku kingdom, to write this letter as a follow up to your office dated 11-9-18, expressing a wish that you take the necessary action to amiably resolve the lingering issue”.