Authorities exonerate ex-lawmaker Ned Nwoko of land grabbing allegation

Authorities exonerate ex-lawmaker Ned Nwoko of land grabbing allegation

A review of land documents issued by relevant authorities has confirmed that a former lawmaker, Ned Nwoko, duly acquired the land on which he is building a golf course and a university in his hometown in Delta State.

Ned Nwoko’s acquisition of 90 hectares of land for a golf course and another two miles by two miles parcel of land for a university had sparked controversy at his native Idumuje-Ugboko in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State.

While all palace chiefs, the town development union and majority of residents, local and state governments authorities as well as law enforcement agencies are queueing behind the former lawmaker, saying he acquired the land legitimately, a camp led by Chukwunonso Nwoko, the first son of the late king of the community, has continued to battle the businessman over the property.

The land crisis soon became linked to a kingship succession tussle in the community after the death of the king, Albert Nwoko, culminating in a violent clash in May 2017.

A motorcycle taxi operator identified as Cyprian Kumiolu was allegedly killed in the clash during which some leaders of the community, believed to be backing Ned Nwoko, were also beaten up and their properties vandalised.

Following the violent clash, the police charged some suspects to court but the case was thrown out after some of the suspects had spent about three years in police and prison custodies.

The Ned Nwoko Land Acquisition

Ned Nwoko was a member of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003. On March 16, 2015, he applied to the then king of the town, Mr Nwoko, for allocation of 90 hectares from the land set aside by the community for development projects.

In the application he made through his company, Linas International Ltd, Ned Nwoko, who is also a member of the ruling family of the community, said he wanted to build a golf course on the land.

He also requested another two miles by two miles parcel of land to build the permanent site of his private university. The former lawmaker has started developing the temporary site of the STAR University on a part of a 33 hectares of land the community had earlier allocated to him in 2001 to start a dairy farm⁵.

In his response to the fresh application, through a letter addressed to Mr Nwoko and dated April 10, 2015, the king conveyed his approval of the application.

In the letter titled “Request for Additional 90 Hectares of Land for Golf Course Development and Land for Sport University”, the king said “the town will go into partnership with your company by investing the capitalized value of the land at appropriate rate in the golf course. The land for the university will be donated by the village.”

Ned Nwoko then paid one million naira to the community to cover the administrative cost of land cutting and allocation, as confirmed by a hand written receipt signed by the community secretary, Somanyina Nwoko, and dated June 2, 2015.

This was followed on July 16, 2015 by a “Letter of Allocation” also signed by the community secretary.

Aniocha and the Customary Right of Occupancy

On July 8, 2015, Mr Nwoko through his said company applied to the Aniocha North Local Government for a Customary Right of Occupancy (CRO) for the 90 hectares of land.

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In line with the law, the local government council published a Public Notice on the application on December 14, 2015, seeking any objection that might discourage it from granting the CRO.

Seven months later on July 20, 2016, the local government issued the CRO for the land through a letter addressed to Mr Nwoko.

Chuks Oseme, the chairman of the local government at the time, said after Prince Chukwunonso and his camp raised objection over the allocation of the land to Mr Nwoko, he made a fact-finding visit to the late king.

“As a result of an objection, I decided to pay the Obi a visit for further clarification in which I discovered that Prince Ned’s claims were genuine in which the then Obi confirmed issuing the approval letter following the recommendation by the land allocation committee,” Mr Oseme said. “The Right of Occupancy was therefore issued with all the necessary procedures followed.”

Chukwunonso Nwoko Vs Ned Nwoko: The battles

Although several documents and palace chiefs confirmed that Mr Nwoko duly acquired the 90 hectares of land, the acquisition is being challenged by the Prince Chukwunonso camp who also filed a civil suit on the matter.

According to the Memorandum of Understanding between the community and Mr Nwoko, the community would take a 40 per cent share in the golf course to be built on the 90 hectares of land.

Although it was stated in the MoU that the 90 hectares for the golf course is the community’s land, Mr Nwoko said the neighbouring town of Onichu-Igbo later established its ownership of about 80 per cent of the land and has taken compensation from him.

Mr Nwoko also presented evidence of compensation paid to some members of the Idumuje-Ugboko community who proved they had farms on portions of the land.

However, all that could not avert the dispute over the allocation of the land. The crisis, which has now snowballed into a dispute over the throne of the community, flared a few months after the king communicated the approval of the application to Mr Nwoko.

This occurred after a letter dated August 12, 2015 was read in churches in the community in which the late king was quoted to have disproved the allocation of the land. The letter was circulated by Prince Chukwunonso and two other princes.

Walters Eziashi, a former President of the Idumuje-Ugboko Development Union (IDU) and an ally of Ned Nwoko, said efforts by prominent indigenes to clarify the turn of event from the king were frustrated by Prince Chukwunonso and his brothers who blocked access to their father. At that time, the king was 89, weak and mostly kept indoors at the palace. He died two years later in 2017.

On January 16, 2016, the princes filed a civil suit at the Issele-Uku high court, claiming the process for the land allocation was improper. The respondents in the suit were Aniocha North Local Government council, Ned Nwoko, and his company Linas International Ltd.

The chief judge of the state later reassigned Suit No. HCI/2/2016 to another judge and it is still ongoing at the Agbor High Court. But one of the princes, Edwin Nwoko, has since withdrawn from the suit.

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While the princes accused Ned Nwoko of forging their father’s signature on the letter communicating the allocation of the land, the former lawmaker on his part accused the princes of forging the signature of their father on the letter of disproval.

The Police Wade In

The two sides then wrote petitions to the police in which they traded accusations of forgery of the signature of the king. In the petition by Ned Nwoko, his ally, Mr Eziashi, urged the police to investigate the veracity of the letter of disproval.

On their part, the three princes, through their lawyer, Ezenwah and Ezenwah, accused Ned Nwoko of forging the Obi’s signature and of threatening the life of Prince Chukwunonso. In another petition of March 17, 2017, they accused Ned Nwoko and others of harassment. They also alleged that he forcefully entered and desecrated the palace.

Nigerian police force used to illustrate the story

But the police have since issued an investigative report, saying the signature of the king on the two documents was genuine. But the report also indicted the princes of a criminal act and recommended their prosecution. It stated:

“The investigation further revealed that Prince Justin (Chukwunonso) Nwoko conspired with Ejimofor Nwoko, Izehumo Nwoko and Richard Nwoko and fraudulently used their relationship with HRM A. O. Nwoko (JP) to procure him to sign a document purporting to be denying the above portion of land which the community had earlier granted to the owner of Linus International Limited without the knowledge of the Izu-ani members,” the police said.

“It is glaringly clear from the foregoing findings that though His Royal Majesty, Obi A.O. Nwoko 111 (JP) signed all the documents in relation to Idumuje-Ugboko community land but the discreet investigation into the signing processes by Obi A.O. Nwoko unequivocally revealed that Prince Justin Nwoko acting in concert with Ejimofor Nwoko, Izehumo Nwoko and Richard Nwoko fraudulently used their intimate relationship and took advantage of Obi A.O. Nwoko 111 who is currently bedridden to procure him into signing a document purporting to be denying the land which the Idumuje-Ugboko community had earlier granted to Prince Ned Nwoko to build golf course development and sport university after a due consideration of the request by Izu-ani members and it is on this premise that we humbly recommend that Prince Justin Nwoko and his cohorts should be charged to court for the offences provided in section 516,249 (D) and 471 of the Criminal Code Law of Delta State as this will go a long way to ensure peace and harmony in the said Idumuje-Ugboko. The suspects will soon be charged to court please.”

Reprieve for Ned Nwoko as Delta Intervenes

On February 24, 2016, the police invited the three princes, Chukwunonso, Ejimofor and Richard; and the others named in Mr Eziashi’s petition.

They were subsequently charged before a magistrate court in the state capital, Asaba, in Suit No SMC/420C/2016. The court granted them bail but because they could not meet the conditions immediately, they spent some days in police custody.

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Four years on, the issues remain unresolved and most of the cases are still before the court.

Apart from the investigation carried out by the Delta State Command of the Police, the police headquarters in Abuja also looked into the case based on a complaint by Chris Alaigbe and a few other individuals. The petitioners had accused Ned Nwoko of unleashing terror on their community and grabbing land from peasant farmers.

But in its report dated November 23, 2020, the Inspector-General of Police Monitoring Unit said its investigation showed that the allegations against Ned Nwoko were false and that the disputed parcels of land were legitimately acquired by the businessman.

PREMIUM TIMES also learnt that the Delta State Command of the State

Security Service also investigated the matter and came to the same conclusion.

The executive governor of Delta state, Ifeanyi Okowa. [PHOTO CREDIT: Official Twitter handle of Mr Okowa]The Delta State government has also conducted an inquiry into the matter, with a team led by Edwin Uzor (the special adviser to the governor on peace building and conflict resolution) meeting with all parties to the crisis.

In a February 18, 2021 report, the investigative team reached the following conclusions:

– That the Chairman, Linas International Limited of No. 4 Anambra River Crescent, Maitama Abuja, Nigeria, followed due process in procuring the said land.

– That all the necessary documents such as survey plan, university brochure, His Royal Majesty Obi Albert Nwoko and community approval of the entire land were obtained.

– There was an MOU between Linas International Limited and Idumuje Ugboko community.

– That the police investigation as signed by ACP Banmaminan recommended that Prince Justin Chukwunonso Nwoko should be charged to court of competent jurisdiction for giving false information to the police contrary to Section 125 (A) of criminal code law as it is evidently clear that his life was not threatened as alleged.

The team then recommended that the contentious parcels of land should remain allocated to Ned Nwoko since a police forensic investigation clearly established that the land acquisition documents in the possession of the former lawmaker are authentic.

Having been cleared by law enforcements and other authorities, Ned Nwoko has, therefore, proceeded with the building of the mini campus of the university and the golf course. In May, the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, visited the project in connection with the processing of its application for licence from the National Universities Commission (NUC).

When our reporters met Prince Chukwunonso, he insisted his battle with Ned Nwoko is far from over despite the verdicts of several authorities on the matter. “This fight will not end until justice is done,” he said

On his part, Mr Nwoko said in spite of the controversy and years-long attacks on him by the Prince Chukwunonso camp, he remained committed to developing and entrenching peace in his Idumuje-Ugboko community.

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