As Suspicion Trails ‘Plot By Youth’ To Vandalise Property

Road into OchoUdo City															 PHOTOS: IKENNA ONYEKWELU

Road into OchoUdo City PHOTOS: IKENNA ONYEKWELU

THERE are indications the acrimonious relationship between the incumbent governor of Ebonyi State, Chief David Umahi, and his predecessor, Chief Martin Nwancho Elechi, over the development of OchoUdo City, is headed in a dangerous direction.

The former governor, meanwhile, has decried plots by the state government to apply self-help in its desire to demolish his legitimate property in OchoUdo City. Already, Elechi has petitioned the Inspector General of Police and the Director General, Department of State Security Services (DG, SSS) on the matter. 

Elechi secured the large expanse of land known as OchoUdo City from the military while in office under a land swap agreement and planned to improve the capital city. Although the area was designated OchoUdo City, a recent letter by the state government points to an attempt by Governor Umahi to change the nomenclature to ‘NEW CITY LAYOUT’.
Residents of Abakaliki say the planned change could be part of the government’s efforts to ensure the defacing of the original master plan for the development of OchoUdo City. After a residential building belonging to the former governor was halted, both the incumbent and former governors engaged in finger pointing by proxies raising the possibility of impending litigation.

Signs that the incumbent administration may have other plans than the ones devised by the predecessor became public knowledge when on July 2, 2015 some staff of the Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Board (ACTDB) placed a stop work order on Elechi’s property at the OchoUdo City. Investigation revealed that the ACTDB officials were acting on the orders of the Secretary to the Ebonyi State Government (SSG) who might have acted on the directive of Governor Umahi. The hapless officials invaded the premises of the former governor, which was officially allocated to him. They inscribed the sign, “XXX” beside the words, “Stop construction” on the walls of the guesthouse and on one of the buildings under construction.

But, unknown to the ACTDB officials, when they were posting the signs, Elechi’s wife, Chief (Mrs.) Josephine Elechi, was within the premises and saw all that transpired. Perhaps to further demonstrate the vendetta surrounding the whole assignment, the governor drove to the site a few hours later, apparently to see things for himself.
It was gathered that following media reports on attempt to upset Elechi’s residential building under construction, the state executive council resolved and directed the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Augustine Nwankwagu, to write the former governor and explain “government’s concern for the safety of the former governor’s property in the light of alleged ire of displaced members of the community on whose land the OchoUdo City was located”.
  
A source within the executive council confided in The Guardian that the Attorney General was directed to “try as much as he could to do a kind of damage control” to douse public outrage over the bitter acrimony between the incumbent and the former governor over their differences during the last governorship election in the state.

Through the letter, the Attorney General informed Elechi : “Around June 23, 2015, some youth of Agbaja Unuhu, Inyimagu and Igbeagu communities staged a protest against government over the non-payment of compensation to those that were displaced from their homes, and failure to provide alternative location to resettle them.”
Further, the Attorney General also claimed, “the youth threatened to embark on destruction and vandalism of every property in sight” at the ‘New City Layout’, adding it was when exco received and considered the report of the protest and made general observations regarding the development of the New City Layout that it decided to sue for caution by intervening. The government, through the Attorney General, further said it resolved, “There is serious need to protect life and property of persons in the New City Layout.”

While contending that the New City Layout does not support erection of electricity poles, the government stated that only the laying of underground cables was envisaged, adding, “there is need for a central sewage system which will carry all wastes to a particular point.”

Part of the letter reads: “Arising from the consideration of the report of protest by the youth and general observations made by the Council, regarding the physical development in the New City Layout, Council directed that, Your Excellency be advised of the threat, danger and risks associated with continued construction work at the site of your property. Council urges Your Excellency to exercise due caution as the construction progresses to avoid unforeseen reactions by the restive youth, as government continues to find lasting solution to the problems of displaced indigenes of the area…Council further advises Your Excellency to ensure compliance with the development pattern approved for the area which includes but not limited to provision for central sewage system, underground cabling and service lanes for all property within the New City Layout.”

Many people find it rather intriguing and hard to balance issues because there have never been any threats or demonstration by youth of the host communities since the history of the lawful procedural acquisition of OchoUdo City. Even so, officials of the Lands and Housing Ministry, including Mr. Nwene Elem, say they find it “not only preposterous but also utterly ridiculous to educate Elechi about conforming to specifications on the engineering and structural designs of the OchoUdo City”, when he, as governor, authorized it.

It would be recalled that Elechi as Chairman of the Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Board (ACTDB) laid the foundation for the law governing the development of the city. It was while on seat, as governor, that he approved the master plan, which was produced by Integrated Consultants of the Ekwueme and Associates fame. The architectural designs were put up by the Tropical Team, while the engineering and structural designs for the guest houses were provided by the duo of Don Cliff Co. Ltd, the same firm handling Elechi’s construction works.

However, the source within the executive council, confided in The Guardian that the tone of the Attorney General’s letter did not impress most of the commissioners, pointing out that in their search for better reasons to explain their action of infringing on the building for which approval was duly given, the government did not know whether to accuse the former governor of contravening building codes or excuse its action on a spurious protest by youth.

“It is ridiculous that even the Attorney General who was a former Speaker of the State House of Assembly was referring to a certain New City Layout instead of the popular OchoUdo City Layout that everybody knows.”
 
Penultimate Friday, Governor Umahi held a media interaction during which he claimed his decision to embark on reconstruction of Abakpa Meat Market followed complaints by the traders that since the state was created, no access roads have been constructed or reconstructed. “So, I was touched and said we should do something about that road. In fact, government may designate that Market as Vegetable and Food Items Market,” he stated, explaining that the decision to cancel allocations in the New International Market built by the Elechi administration was propelled by the non-completion of work in the market, and the fact that some of those allocated stalls do not merit same. During the interaction, however, officials insisted that only journalists whose inquiries were vetted and accredited could pose questions for the governor.
 
But believing that either mischief has been hatched or that the Attorney General’s letter was a pointer to a possible resort to self-help, Elechi was said to have advised his lawyer, Chief Mudi Erhenede, to respond to the state government’s correspondence.
 Denying that his client, Elechi, has any property, whether completed or ongoing at or any place known as ‘New City Layout’, Erhenede stated that his client has a property which was at an advanced stage of construction at a “well known area, lawfully named as and called “OchoUdo City”.

In the letter, Erhenede excused the perceived mis-description by the Attorney General “in the belief that you inadvertently referred to the said OchoUdo City as ‘New City Layout’, Abakaliki, in your letter, more so, as the executive council of Ebonyi State, on whose instruction you wrote, is still relatively new and may not have known the true nomenclature of where our client has bona fide property.”
Erhenede reminded the Attorney General: “As the Chief Law Officer of the state, you are in the best position to address or resolve issues or matters that border on lawlessness, be they by individuals, communities, and or even government itself.”
  
Elechi’s counsel further informed the state government that the piece or parcel of land where the former governor has his property at OchoUdo City was duly acquired by him from the government of Ebonyi State, noting that he, the former governor, had sought and obtained the consent and approval of all relevant authorities of government before he commenced development.

The letter reads in part: “That about or since 2009 when the government of Ebonyi State commenced the development of OchoUdo City, there had never been a single report of youth restiveness and or protest by the youth and elders of Agbaja Unuhu, Inyimagu and Igbeagu communities as the government of Ebonyi State followed due process and obtained the consent of all concerned in its acquisition of the area in question.
  
“Our client, while thanking the executive council of Ebonyi State for the concern shown and the information shared on alleged threats by some youth to cause harm to property, including his in OchoUdo City, considers it necessary and expedient to remind you that sometime in July 2015, some agents or hirelings of the Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Board had gone to our client’s said property in broad daylight accompanied by camera men and painted the inscription ‘STOP WORK BY ORDER OF ACTDB’ on the fence and building of our client at the said OchoUdo City.”
   
The lawyer further explained that the former governor has not flouted the development plan approved for the area, stressing that the overhead electricity poles mounted along the road in the area was done by government.
 
“And as you know, electricity is in the exclusive legislative list of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended. Our client merely got the staff of the relevant electricity distribution company to get his property connected to the national grid by stepping down supply to a transformer,” Erhenede stated, adding, “there is adequate provision in our client’s building plan to get connected to the central sewage system at OchoUdo City as provided by the government…”
  
In the light of their observations and deductions, Elechi’s lawyers enjoined the state government, through the Attorney General, to: “Use your good offices to get officers of the Nigeria Police and other law enforcement agencies to unravel those behind the alleged threat to embark on the destruction and or vandalism of property at OchoUdo City. You may start with those who staged the said protest of June 23, 2015, as government should know their identity, as our law does not recognize self-help, threats of violence, as modes of resolving disputes.
   
“Use your good offices, if you have not done so already to call for records and information from all relevant government agencies, parastatals, especially the Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Board etc, to ascertain the level of compliance by our client in the development of his property at OchoUdo City,” he added.
  
The lawyer explained that the decision by the former governor to petition the Inspector General of Police and the Director of State Security Service was based on the double standards exhibited by sundry agents of Ebonyi State government towards his client and his property at OchoUdo City.
 
He added that the decision was also informed by the “probability of some overzealous persons, be they in government or otherwise, who may be powerful enough to sponsor, hire, recruit and or instruct some thugs masquerading as protesting youth to cause harm or damage to our client’s property.”
  
But while the former governor and the incumbent are busy crossing legal swords, The Guardian, gathered that youth and elders of Agbaja Unuhu, Inyimagu and Igbeagu communities are spoiling for war against the present administration over its plans to construct a proposed stadium on the stretch of land set aside for the communities to occupy and use. There are also fears that the state government plans to revoke all titles to the plots in the OchoUdo City in order to make its own input and favour cronies.

Many residents of Abakaliki express serious doubts that the contractors could construct outside their own specifications, saying Umahi should separate political differences from issues of infrastructure development of the state. It is possible the attack on Elechi’s building was a way to get at him, to revenge his perceived lack of support for Umahi’s governorship ambition. Ever since, Umahi has continued to reverse plans and policies of Elechi, especially in the implementation of urban development.

For instance, just last week, the state government cancelled allocations of stalls carried out by Elechi’s administration at the International Market and commenced the rehabilitation of the Abakpa Market, to the amazement of the traders who claimed they were not informed of the government’s plan. And while the present administration continues its revisionist practices, words started making the rounds in Abakaliki that the government plans to instigate street urchins to pull down Elechi’s building.
 
It is believed that the wrangling between the two Ebonyi leaders follows the incumbent governor’s anger that his former principal is behind the election petition filed by the Labour Party governorship candidate, Dr. Edward Nkwegu, against his (Umahi’s) return as winner of the April 11, 2015 election.



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