Many years ago, the Federal Government acquired a vast expense of land located along Nwaniba Road as permanent site for the University of Uyo in Akwa Ibom State.
The land, which traversed over 10 communities, was said to have been acquired after compensation was paid to the owners.
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Until the administration of Professor Comfort Ekpo as vice chancellor, who moved the Faculty of Sciences, the Postgraduate School and the administrative office to the main campus, academic activities were concentrated at the campus of the institution, situated along Ikpa Road in the state capital.
Only the Faculty of Engineering and students’ hotels were located at the main campus.
Because a big part of the land was still empty and the institution’s premises were not properly delineated, indigenes of the area sold some portions to unsuspecting buyers, who went ahead to build houses and other structures.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that over the years, the management of the university had appealed to the Akwa Ibom State Government to help them in reclaiming their land and stop people from further encroaching on it, without much success.
Although the matter is in court, a group of persons under the auspices of Offot Usung Ifiayong Unity Assembly petitioned the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Professor Abubakar Rasheed, over an alleged harassment and intimidation by the management of the university.
In the petition, signed by a former speaker of the Uyo Legislative Assembly, Mr Tony Asikpo and 18 others, representing the elders, youths and women of Offot Usung Ifiayong in Offot clan in Uyo Local Government Area, the petitioners appealed to the NUC to call on the management of the university to end its series of harassment and intimidation against them.
The group alleged that the university was responsible for the invasion and destruction of properties in their community on Sunday night of May 24, 2020.
They claimed that on the said night, the university used its agents, aided by armed soldiers, to demolish about 10 houses in the community despite the curfew in place.
They also alleged that on February 15, 2015, the management of the school, led by the vice chancellor, Professor Enefiok Essien, authorised their chief security officer to attack the community, a situation that led to the destruction of eight houses.
They said the institution was in the habit of engaging in unprovoked and recurrent attacks on their community, using its agents, even while the matter is in court.
The group urged the NUC to prevail on the vice chancellor to return to negotiation already set in motion by the Akwa Ibom State Government to delineate the boundaries between the community and the university and put an end to the hostility between them.
However, the management of University of Uyo said they only learnt of the petition against them through our correspondent when he sought clarification on the matter.
The Director of Information and Public Relations of the university, Mrs Blossom Okorie, informed our correspondent that her office had received many inquiries on the mater.
She said the university management was putting together, a response to the petition against them, adding that they would soon come out with a policy statement on it.
She further said the management of the institution had directed her not to respond to the issue of demolition of buildings on the disputed land.
“A lot of people have been demanding information from us, but management has instructed us not to give out any information on that matter,’’ she said..
According to Mr Patrick Titus, a journalist and indigene of Use Offot, about 10 communities are laying claim to the land, including Ekpri Nsukara, Ikot Ntuen, Anua, Use, Ekamba Nsukara, Ikot Ibiok.
He said the disputed land, which is about 1,443 hectares, bounds a river, which is a tributary of Itu river, along Calabar-Itu road.
He added that after the Federal Government had acquired the land from the host communities, they brought surveyors and valuers to the land. He further said the Federal Government went ahead to pay compensation to the communities and individuals who owned the land.
He said the compensation only covered economic trees and shrines as it is believed that every land belongs to the government.
He added that the acquisition of the land and compensation was carried out when Obong Victor Attah was the governor of the state.
He, however, said some of the people felt cheated as they claimed that what they were paid was too small; hence they insisted on taking back their land.
It was on this basis that they took the matter to court.
He said the people of Use Attai, whose entire land was taken, reside in other communities like Use Offot and Ibiaku.
He added that according to history, the people fled to other communities following an epidemic that claimed many lives.
He revealed that their forebears, who received compensation, were no longer alive, so their descendants are insisting that they would not allow the Federal Government to take their entire community, which they said is their ancestral land; hence they must go back.
He further said other people trespassing on the land were simply troublemakers who constituted themselves into land donors.
“Some of the people in the community constituted themselves into what they called land donors. They were able to trespass into the university’s land because since the institution acquired the land in the 1980s, they have not been able to develop it. The people took advantage of the situation and sold some portions of the land to innocent people.
“Most times they did it in collaboration with the village head of that community, even to the extent of signing an agreement, especially if one was desperate to buy a land. Another trick they used is that the value of the land was always lower than the amount you would have bought it from the original owners. Such arrangement attracted a lot of buyers.
“The university authorities have been telling them to vacate the land. Some people bought the land but have not developed it. The land donors usually send young men to go there and cause trouble whenever the institution wants to drive the illegal occupants away. But you cannot fight government.
“UniUyo decided to demolish the structures at night, even though they have denied it. But if they did not go there to demolish the structures, no one else would volunteer to do it on their behalf.
“The problem is still on because land donors have trespassed into other areas. For example, villagers of Ifa Atai, who are not even part of the host communities of the university, have been brought into the matter as some people are allegedly using the situation to make money. That is the situation on ground,’’ he said.
Efforts to speak to the village head of Ekpri Nsukara, Chief Linus Essien, and the youth leader, Emem Dennis, were not successful as they were not available when our correspondent visited their homes, neither did they pick calls to their phones.