A High Court sitting in Owerri, and presided over by Justice Sabinus Ifeanyi Opara, has ordered the parties in the disputed 4,500 hectares of land within the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) to ‘settle the case out of court’.
The court threatened to commit any defaulter including the 10 host communities and the state government and FUTO officials to prison, in the case of contempt.
In an order in a suit number 772/2013, issued on September 8, 2016, the court in the matter between the claimants/applicants – Mr. Emmanuel Onyeubi, Jude Ugwuegbulam, Oliver Ngerem, IK Obiyo, Chiefs Alex Mba, Reginald Amadi and Cosmas Uboh, and Defendants / Respondents – Government of Imo State of Nigeria, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, the Commissioner for Lands, Housing and Urban Development and the Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO).
The host communities of FUTO – Avu, Obinze, Nekede, Ihiagwa, Eziobodo, Eziokele, Okolochi, Emeabiam, Obibiezena and Ogbeke, had protested the acquisition of what they termed as their ancestral lands measuring 4,500 hectares, demanding that 3,000 should be returned to them, while the institution, retains 1,500 hectares.
FUTO had acquired and relocated to the land from the former premises of the Federal Girls College, Owerri, before it was acquired by the Imo State University, Owerri, over two decades ago.
The order was given sequel to the leave asked for by the respondents on the matter. The order reads: “ Whereas this matter came before this court and whereas L.U.N. Nwakaeti (with A.C. Nwalozie, Miss) appeared for the applicants; I.C. Adindu, Mrs., Principal State Counsel appeared for the first, second and third Respondents and F.U. Unyimadu for the 4th respondents’
“And upon the application of Counsel for the 1st -3rd respondents for leave of this Court to enable the 3rd Respondent settle the matter with the Applicants and the 4th Respondent which was welcomed by all.
“It is therefore hereby ordered that leave for the parties to settle out of court is hereby granted.”
The order stated: “It is further ordered that on the agreement of all counsel, in this application, all parties in this suit are hereby ordered to maintain the status quo as at today and not to do anything that will adversely affect the red or destroy same.”
The court also issued Form 48 of ‘notice of consequences of disobedience to order of court” to five individuals (second set of respondents), Christian Anokwuru, Victor Onyewuchi, Uche Onyeaggocha, Baarnaba Ohaegbuchulam and Mike Uluma, stating, “Take Notice that unless you obey the ditrections contained in the order of the honourable court attached hereto you will be guilty of contempt of court and will be liable to be committed to prison.”
One of the community leaders, Chief Sam Anokam and the counsel to the applicants, Lawrence Nwakaeti, said advised those encroaching into the land to desist from such act and abide by the court’s order.
They said the host communities’ position remained that FUTO should only take about 1,500 hectares while host communities retains ownership of 3,000 hectares of land, adding that it was subject to the settlement as granted by the court.
The Vice Chancellor of FUTO, Prof. Francis Eze, had a few days ago, raised the alarm over the alleged encroachment of some persons into the lands, maintaining that its Teaching Hospital would be effected by the land encroachment by some persons suspected to be from the host communities.