Time To End Ikot Offiong-Oku Iboku Crises

By Edikan Ekanem

There have been several but serious crises existing between Ikot Offiong and Oku Iboku communities of Itu Local government of Akwa Ibom State. It is a pity that some Akwa Ibomites have not given up alone on the crises but also castigate that the crises has gain perpetuity thus cannot be curbed or eliminated.

Owners and occupants of these communities have been maimed, killed and dehumanized. Passer-by and other road users are also victims of these uncounted crises that continually exist between these communities. Couple of days ago, it was reported that the Calabar Itu highway was blocked, movements curtailed and restricted, innocent people threatened and harassed.

Despite the doomed condition of this development, it is heart-warming to know that the state government is not oblivious on this issue. As reported on Sunday 12th February 2017, the deputy governor met with security personnel which include the Army, DSS, the Akwa Ibom state Commissioner of police and his Cross River state counterpart who assured the public maximum protection of lives and properties following the renewed clash on that area.

However, certain questions come to mind while trying to resolve this conflict. Does it mean that this problem cannot be exterminated? Does it mean that the Akwa Ibom state do not have the needed powers to abate this menace? What provisions of the Nigerian Law(s) can help in ending this violence?

The aim of this work is to give a concise suggestion on how this problem may be exterminated. Some positions of Nigerian law that bothers on land (boundary which breeds the problem) will be cited and deliberated upon. What does the law has to say on this disputed land? Which of the laws even regulate land transactions in Nigeria?

It is imperative to note that all land transactions are regulated by the 1978 Land Use Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. Section 1 of the Act states as follows : “An Act to Vest all Land compromised in the territory of each State (except land vested in the Federal government or its agencies) solely in the Governor of the State , who would hold such Land in trust for the people and would henceforth be responsible for allocation of land in all urban areas to individuals resident in the State and to organisations for residential, agriculture, commercial and other purposes while similar powers will with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on Local Governments…”

The above section confers the governor of a state with the power to take charge of every land in the state but for the common good of the people. The governor takes charge of only the land located in an urban area of the state.

The other limb of the section states: “while similar powers will with respect to non-urban areas are conferred on Local Governments…” It therefore means that before that the tittle of lands located in non-urban area is vested on the local government authorities. The local government take full charge and control of such land.

It follows from the above that before a person can reside or plant on any piece of land in a state, either the state or local government will must a hand on the land. These powers help authorises to minimise conflicts emanating from land.

Putting it differently, The Land Use Act did not abrogate private interest in land by vesting all lands in the state in the Governor rather citizens are allowed to hold an interest called a right of occupancy. It is also seen that the Act recognizes the existence of the title of a customary Land owner over his parcel of land as a deemed holder where such land existed before the commencement of the Land Use Act.

But in what ways is it practical?
Section 5 of the Act gives the governor the latitude to grant a statutory right of occupancy while section 6 do same to the local governments to grant a customary right of occupancy depending on the location of the land before individuals have a private interest in land. These grants of rights will be followed by the issuance of certificates of occupancy being statutory or customary.

But what could be done where these grants seems not to abate the crises over land as seen in the instant case?

Section 28 (1) of the Land Use Act 1978 empowers the Governor of a State to revoke a right of Occupancy. The grounds upon which a certificate of occupancy can be revoked include overriding public interest.

Relying on the above provision, either the state or local government (depending on the location) can lawfully revoke the certificates of occupancy of the affected land in the said communities. Doing so will render the villagers incapacitated in claiming the land thus exterminating the fight.

It is our humble suggestion that, if Akwa Ibom state government should act on the above recommendation, establishing either an economic or security institution at the scene of the crises, it will leave the occupants of the communities with nothing to fight upon.

Alternatively, section 8(4)(a&b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic Nigeria as amended has made a provision for the procedures to be followed in adjusting local governments boundaries in the states of Nigeria if only this will be a successful means in curbing this miasma.

We can no longer continue cutting our noses to spite our faces, it is high we started thinking positively about ourselves. We should no longer be fighting over land that we were born to see which we will also leave behind after dead. The bloods of the innocent once shed in the reoccurring clash of these communities are too many to continue going.

I hereby urge the executive governor of Akwa Ibom state, the commissioner for lands and housing, the Nigeria police force and other security agencies, all the traditional institutions and concerned indigenes of Akwa Ibom to rise and let us see the possible ways we can stop this fight once and for all.

Injury to one is injury to all. (mböhö itabake, mböhö idaiya)

Thank you.
Edikan Ekanem is a student of University of Uyo, a contemporary, a comparative analyst and a columnist. He can be reached at 08130015006 or [email protected] .

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