…We Only Acquire Land In Best Interest of State – Obaseki
Human Rights Activist and fiery lawyer, Dele Igbinedion, has called out state governors in the country, fingering them as the number one land-grabbers under the guise of acquiring such lands in public interest. But Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, rose in defence, asserting that all land acquired by the state government were targeted at creating employment and improving livelihoods of the citizenry in the state.
Igbinedion, a former lawmaker in the Edo State House of Assembly, spoke on Tuesday in Benin City, at the annual public lecture by the Correspondents Chapel of the Edo State Council of the NUJ, where the chapel chairman, Mrs. Nefishetu Yakubu bemoaned the consequences of land-grabbing on victims and national development.
In his lecture titled ‘Menace of Land-grabbing and the Threat to Public Peace’, Igbinedion called for the repeal of Land Use Act of 1978, which vested authority over land on the state governments, arguing that the Act had created an avenue for state governors to see themselves as the owners of land. He blamed the government, through the instrument of Land Use Act, law enforcement agencies, legal system and the various communities, for some of the issues militating against addressing land-grabbing.
“I have travelled round the world. No country is perfect. The rate of depression in Europe is much higher than in Nigeria. We are all stakeholders in the Nigerian project, especially when it comes to land, the greatest resource that you can have, as it appreciates, thereby making people to always be interested in purchasing land. “Government officials are number one culprits in land-grabbing, which they do through the law, including the Land Use Act of 1978, as they revoke innocent people’s lands on the pretext that they are needed in public interest. Law-enforcement agencies, community leaders and the legal/justice system also contribute to the menace of land-grabbing, with land litigation lasting more than 14 years”, Igbinedion stated. Speaking further, he submitted that “Land grabbers are doing more harm than good. When you grab people’s lands, you are stifling development of the communities and retarding progress. Nigeria belongs to all of us. Victims of land-grabbing should always go to court, rather than taking the law into their own hands. Do not take sides with evil. Be enthusiastic about creating an equitable, functional, fair, and just society.” Igbinedion stated that to end the menace of land-grabbing, there was the need for formal and informal education.
But rising in defence of his government, the state governor, Godwin Obaseki” who was represented by his special adviser on media projects, Crusoe Osagie, insisted that “Edo state government does not acquire property for itself but the people. All decisions in that line are always in the best interest of the state”.
Out-going Edo State chairman of the NUJ, Roland Osakue, urged media professionals to continue to be courageous in exposing the evil of land-grabbing and the perpetrators.
Setting the tone for the lecture, the state correspondents’ chapel chairman in her welcome address, said the topic of the lecture afforded journalists the opportunity to brainstorm on crucial issues of national and state interest, and to set agenda for the government as part of their corporate social responsibilities (CSR) towards the people.
“Journalists are mirrors of the society, which bring out the truth, even in adverse circumstances, in the discharge of their constitutional duties. Land-related conflicts are not uncommon in Nigeria and in Edo state. They are as old as the society and rooted in structural, historical, and socio-economic dynamics, and are often compelled by urbanisation. “Though a national challenge, land-related crisis has become endemic in Edo State, a situation that led to the disbandment of the various community development associations (CDAs) by the state government. Sadly, buying a piece of land and developing the property, have become herculean task, even after the disbandment of the CDAs, due to poor implementation of the relevant laws” Yakubu posited. According to her, “The question on the lips of every Nigerian and Edo citizens at the moment is what can be done to eradicate land-grabbing, which has continued to expose poor people to economic exploitation, untimely death, hunger, violence and the threat to investments and real estate development in the state.” Like the state NUJ chairman, she similarly noted that the role of the media was to continually interrogate the fundamental issues involved in land-grabbing with a view to drawing the attention of government, traditional institutions, and other relevant stakeholders to eradicating its menace in Edo State, and Nigeria.
The well-attended lecture, which was chaired by Donald Odemwegie, also had in attendance the spokesman of 4 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Capt. Olayemi Sokoya; Edo State Police Public Relations Officer, (PPRO), Bello Kontongs, a Superintendent of Police (SP); and Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser to Governor Godwin Obaseki, on Media Projects, among other dignitaries.