Ninety-year-old Oghedo Osodi inherited four acres of farmland from her husband but that land, which was her only means of sustenance, was grabbed by Ned Nwoko, a billionaire former lawmaker from Delta State.
Mrs Osodi’s four acres of land was part of vast pieces of land, including those collectively owned by indigenes of Idume-Ugboko community, controversially acquired by Mr Nwoko to build his proposed Sports, Technology, and Arts (STARS) University.
Mr Nwoko, a member of the royal family of the community, represented the Aniocha North-South and Oshimili North-South federal constituency in the House of Representative between 1999 and 2003.
Mrs Osodi said she watched with terror as a bulldozer, guarded by heavily armed policemen, uprooted and cleared palm trees, rubber trees and other cash and food crops on her land.
The nonagenarian said she fled for her life after the policemen started shooting sporadically to disperse an angry crowd from the village.
Like Mrs Osodi, 67 years old Sunday Kainebi, suffered a similar fate. On January 14, 2017, Mr Kainebi said, some associates of Mr Nwoko took over his land.
“I was at home that afternoon and I was informed that a bulldozer was on my farmland. I met them. They were more than 50, including policemen. When I asked one of them, He said it was their oga that sent them. He said Ned Nwoko.”
Unlike Mr Kainebi and Mrs Osodi, Jude Isonye said he confronted Mr Nwoko for trespassing on his land and the former lawmaker promised to compensate him. Mr Isonye said he turned down the ex-lawmaker’s offer.
“They started creating a narrow way. They destroyed parts of my farm. It was at the boundary between Ugboko and Onicha-Ugbo. I met Ned himself… He said I should leave and that he would pay. I told him: see, you are taking us for a ride,” said Mr Isonye.
Benedict Dungu said associates of Mr Nwoko destroyed his ready-to-harvest cassava on his farm last August.
Other stories of how the former lawmaker is using strong-arm tactics to grab land in the community abound.
A PREMIUM TIMES investigation into the allegations against the lawmaker has now revealed that Mr Nwoko did not only bully individual landowners in order to take over their properties, he also hoodwinked the community before acquiring the land for STAR University.
According to the guideline of the National University Commission, promoters of universities must first show that they have acquired enough land before they are granted the statutory approval of setting up the university.
The stillborn dairy farm
PREMIUM TIMES’s findings revealed that the former lawmaker’s hawkish acquisition of the community’s land began In 2000.
While he was serving in the House of Representatives, Mr Nwoko requested 33 hectares of the community land for a dairy farm and factory. He convinced the community that the dairy farm would provide jobs for the youth and ultimately improve the economy of the agrarian community.
However, some members of the community, such as Uche Aligbe, the then president-general of the Idumuje Ugboko Development Union (IUDU), thought that Mr Nwoko’s proposed dairy farm was dead on arrival. They argued that the environment of the town was not conducive for rearing cattle.
One agriculturist who spoke to this newspaper echoed the view of Mr Nwoko’s kinsmen. Philips Aniagwu, an animal scientist, said a dairy farm can barely survive in a rainforest area such as that of the lawmaker’s hometown.
“Rainforest zones like Delta State breeds Tsetse fly more during the rainy season which is a pest of the Cattle, it causes sleeping illness in them and thereby reducing their productivity. They also contribute to deforestation by feeding on vegetation,” Mr Aniagwu said.
Mr Nwoko’s request was, however, granted and the land allotted to him. But instead of setting up the dairy farm, the former lawmaker built a lodge on the land and a tourist site he called Mount Ned.
Posing as a tourist, this reporter visited the facility located on the outskirts of the village last September. Mount Ned has a 9-hole golf course within its premises. Behind the green area of the golf course, is the lodge, where the former lawmaker stays and receives guests when in the village.
Also, on the property are a commercial-sized fishpond, one commercial-sized poultry farm for birds and a zoo with two ostriches, one monkey, a donkey, a few lambs and two Arabian hens but there was no dairy farm.
Chukwugo, the tour guide, told this reporter that there was a dairy farm on the property but when asked to take this reporter to the site of the farm, Chukwugo said the cattle had been herded out to eat.
Chukwugo’s claim that the animals were being herded in the bush is spurious as Mr Nwoko and his ally, Walters Eziashi, a former president-general of the IUDU, had claimed that about 500 cattle bought for the dairy farm have all died.
“Unfortunately, he (Ned) was ill-advised. A dairy farm could not survive with the Idumuje-Ugboko climate. They brought in over 500 cows. Every Ugboko people, including myself, saw it,” Mr Eziashi said on a Channels TV programme in August.
“There is no dairy farm there but a commercial fish pond and poultry is there. Part of that land is part of what we use for the University project,” Mr Nwoko told PREMIUM TIMES when asked about the dairy farm in September.
Idumuje Ugboko has a structured process for land acquisition which discourages land grabbing.
According to the tradition, all requests for land are made to the monarch of the community. The king will then consult the Obi-in council, a group of chiefs for approval.
If the request sails through this stage, it is passed to the Izu Ani, a group of representatives of Idumuje Ugboko adults and the highest decision-making organ of the community. The Izu-Ani is chaired by the king.
After the approval of the assembly, the king instructs the land allocation committee chaired by one of the palace chiefs, the Odogwu, to take over the process.
For arbitration on land matters, the Onotu, headed by the Iyase, the prime minister of the kingdom, wades in. He is also assisted by the Odogwu.
According to the tradition, any community land awarded but not used for the purpose for which it was awarded will be withdrawn after three years, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
It was through the process that Mr Nwoko secured the original 33 hectares, which he claimed was meant to set up a dairy farm. Despite not utilising the 33 hectares for the purpose for which it was awarded, Mr Nwoko soon became thirsty for more land. On March 16, 2015, through his company, Linas International Limited, he requested another 90 hectares of land for an international-standard golf course from the now late traditional ruler of the community, Albert Nwoko.
An international standard golf course has at least 18 holes and can occupy up to 60 hectares of land.
The ex-lawmaker was not done. A week later, he sent out another letter requesting a two-miles-by-two miles land for the construction of STARS University.
Some members of the community, led by his kin from the royal family, kicked against these fresh demands. They argued that Mr Nwoko did not use the original 33 hectares he was allotted for what he requested it for. They argued that he should first exhaust the land before requesting additional land.
However, Mr Nwoko argued that he has a rightful claim to the land. He claimed he secured the approval of the additional 90 hectares from the late monarch, who he claimed also directed the land allocation committee to map out the land while another conducted a feasibility assessment for his golf course project.
To back his claim, he presented a letter dated April 10, 2015, signed by the monarch, Albert Nwoko, who died in 2017.
In the letter, the monarch indicated that the village was going into a partnership with the politician and he set up a committee led by the Iyase, Christopher Ogwu, to determine the investment ratio and the feasibility of the project.
“The town will go into partnership with your company by investing the capitalized value of the land at the appropriate rate in the Golf Course. The land for the University will be donated by the village,” the letter read.
“I hereby instruct the land allocation committee and the committee established by the Izu Ani that held last month to determine the current value of the land and capitalize it for the purpose of the investment at the appropriate rate for the course,” the letter added.
Mr Nwoko also claimed that the monarch’s directive was approved by the Izu-Ani on April 25, 2015.
However, the then crowned prince of the community (he has since been named the substantive monarch after the passing of his father Albert Nwoko), Chukwunonso Nwoko, countered the politician’s claim, stating that the king did not approve of the request.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that he had questioned the rationale behind Mr Nwoko’s request for additional land even before it became public knowledge.
He said he first sighted a copy of the approval letter paraded by the ex-lawmaker on April 11, 2015, a day after it was written. He said the letter had been pre-written and did not have the signature of his father at the time.
“Akaba Nwoko, the special assistant to my Dad, was holding a paper. It was a document. It turned out to be an approval based on his application. That document was on the letterhead of the Obi. All that was needed was my father’s signature.”
He said he threw out the letter and summoned a family meeting the following day when it was decided to sack the secretary and expel him from the palace.
The next day, a Monday, at a meeting of the elders, the same document resurfaced, and he said he objected to it again.
“I showed up at the meeting with Ned. The same letter I threw out was the main thing that they used for the deliberation. I was surprised.
“The elders did not counter it. At that point, I raised my hand to ask a question. For me, this man was given over thirty hectares. What did he do with the land? None of them could answer.
“Since as the heir to the throne, I was not in support, the elders could not proceed with the request.”
PREMIUM TIMES could not reach Akaba for comment. He could not be reached via his phone number and he did not respond to a text message sent to him requesting comment.
The controversy surrounding the approval of the 90 hectares deepened when Chukwunonso and his brothers presented letters they claimed were signed by their deceased father debunking the approval letter, presented by Mr Nwoko, starting from May 2015.
The three different letters were signed by the monarch.
According to copies of the letters obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, the king stated that Mr Nwoko’s activities should be restricted to the 33 hectares allocated in 2000, restating that he has not approved of the additional land requested.
“With reference to the umu-omorhusi (royal family) meeting held on the 21 of May 2015 in the royal palace Idumuje – Ugboko in respect of the above subject matter. The following decisions were taken:
1. I, His Royal Majesty hereby order that all activities on the said and should cease with immediate effect.
2. I, His Royal – Majesty also hereby order that you should restrict your activities to the parcel of land already allocated to you in the past by the town. Please be informed that the Izu – Ani held 25 April 2015 was not authorized by I, His Royal Majesty and therefore all decisions taken at the said meeting are null and void. Please note that failure to comply with the above directives will attract very severe sanctions from the palace,” the letter dated May 21, 2015, addressed to Mr Nwoko stated.
Another letter dated August 12, 2015, which was addressed to the community, read:
“On the Linas International Ltd, application for additional 90 hectares of land in addition to the allocated 33 hectares, for an International Standard Golf course Idumuje-Ugboko, I, His Royal Majesty wish to state as follows:
“NO additional land has been approved or signed for by me. I have NOT ordered or delegated any of my Chiefs or Agents to allocate or (ii) sign for any additional land. (iii) Any document purported to have been signed by me approving additional land for the said company is fraudulent and therefore illegal.”
“I am aware of recent happenings and disruption in Idumuje Ugboko caused by some confusionists concerning land allocation. I want to state that we have always supported development in Idumuje Ugboko but we have to be sure that the development is genuine before giving out our people’s precious land.
“As regards the recent Prince Ned Nwoko’s (and his company, Linas International Ltd) request for additional land for the golf course and university, I, his majesty wish to state categorically as follows;
“That no additional land has been approved or signed by me, I have not delegated any of my Chiefs or agents to allocate or sign for additional land,” the third letter dated January 18, 2016, which was addressed to leaders of different groups, read.
But Mr Eziashi, Mr Nwoko’s ally, later petitioned the police to investigate the veracity of the signatures on the letters arguing that the signature of the late monarch was forged on the letters.
A forensic examination carried out by the Forensic and Crime division of the police in Lagos, established that none of the signatures on the letters were forged and that they were signed by the king.
This was communicated via a forensic report dated November 25.
But the police charged Chukwunonso and some of his brothers to court for allegedly using their intimate relationship with the king to ‘procure their father’s signature’ for the rebuttal.
“That you, Nwoko Justin Oreze Nonso “m”, Prince Ejimofor Nwoko, Prince Richard Obiajulo Nwoko sometime in the month of August 2015 at Idumuje-Ugboko in the Issele-Uku Magisterial district did conspire amongst yourselves to commit felony to wit: procuring the execution of documents by false pretences and thereby committed an offence punishable Section Steie??? Criminal code law. Cap C21. Vol.I Laws of Delta State of Nigeria 2006,” the charge sheet read.
While the case is still subsisting in court, Chukwunonso and his brothers have denied the allegations.
Destruction of farmlands
However, even before any committee started deliberating on Mr Nwoko’s new request, the former lawmaker had begun to destroy people’s farmlands, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Apart from the testimonies of the community members, Mr Nwoko was indicted for destroying farmlands in a report issued by the committee saddled with the feasibility assessment of the golf course project.
According to the report dated “June 4, 2015”, some of the affected farmlands belong to farmers in Owu, one of the federating units in the village.
The committee said it looked into Owu farmers’ complaints and assessed the damages done to various crops during the grading of the land and recommended adequate compensation to each individual farmer for damaged crops.
Mr Nwoko told PREMIUM TIMES that he had complied with the recommendation of the committee and had compensated 17 families whose land were affected.
He promised to send this reporter receipts of payment but he failed to do so despite being reminded multiple times.
This newspaper’s review of the land documents and approval letter presented by Mr Nwoko shows that they contain contradictory and Inconsistent information.
For instance, the two pages of the controversial approval letter contained different dates, April 10 and June 2, 2015.
Also, the date of the Izu Ani meeting referenced in the approval letter by the king negates the one referenced in the committee’s report.
The approval letter says there was a meeting of the Izu Ani held in March, which approved the land. Whereas, the only Izu Ani meeting held and referenced in the feasibility committee’s report was on April 25.
A further review of the documents revealed that the signed copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Mr Nwoko’s company and the community did not contain any date, signature of the king, who was alive then, and any clear-cut percentage of shares.
When presented with these inconsistencies, Mr Nwoko and two of his allies involved could not give satisfactory explanations.
Sunday Edemodu, the Odogwu and the head of the land allocation committee, said: “I don’t know.”
Chris Ogwu, the Iyase, the prime minister and the head of the Onotu, said he was sure they carried out their duties as expected but kept mum when posed with the questions.
“What is the contradiction?” Mr Nwoko replied PREMIUM TIMES’s enquiries. He then told the reporter to focus on the security crisis that erupted after the demise of the king.
Mr Nwoko has since diverted the 90 hectares he requested for the building an international golf course as the land for the construction of STAR University. This negates the feasibility assessment committee’s report.
For instance, none of the documents provided by Mr Nwoko indicated that the 2-miles-by-2-miles land initially requested for the university project has been approved.
In fact, it has not been deliberated upon not to mention being allocated.
Also, the undated Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Linas International Limited and some members of the community indicated that the 90 hectares requested was for the golf course project and not STAR University
As part of its recommendations, the feasibility committee suggested that the golf course should be incorporated and some stakeholders in the village should be appointed as directors.
“It was on this basis of this agreement, other documents and approvals that we are moving ahead for the request for the size of land (90 hectares) for the Golf Course to be managed by Linas International Ltd and Idumuje-Ugboko community. The proposed name for the Golf Course subject to availability at Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) is Royal Golf Club idumuje-Ugboko,” the report of the committee read.
In what appears to be a breach of agreement, Mr Nwoko has commenced the construction of a university on the disputed land.
Also, while the conditions entrenched in the MoU have not been met, Mr Nwoko applied for the Customary Rights of Occupancy for the 90 hectares at the local government office, which he eventually got.
According to Section 6 of the land use Act, a customary right of occupancy includes the right of a person or community lawfully using or occupying land in accordance with customary law.
In the document obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, which he later presented to the Nigerian University Commission (NUC), STARS University was named as the owner of the land.
The university was also named as the owner of another 58 hectares, which is a combination of the 33 hectares allocated for commercial farming in 2000 and other portions bought from members of Onicha-Ugbo in another Right of Occupancy.
A property law expert based in Ibadan, Dayo Oyewumi, told PREMIUM TIMES that the name on the R of O is the only owner recognised by the law.
This implies that the community or the Royal Golf Club if later incorporated, has no legal rights on the land. “The community or any other entity, in this case, cannot lay claim to the land except through a fiat,” Mr Oyewumi added.
Chukwunonso, however, said there is a subsisting case in court challenging the action of the local government for the issuance of the R of O.
“The MoU had a lot of errors. My father cannot give out 90 hectares of land without signing on the MoU. In fact, the MoU was signed by some members of the community who had been compromised by Ned,” he alleged.
Reacting to PREMIUM TIMES’s findings, Mr Nwoko blamed his action on a requirement of the Nigeria University Commission (NUC), which stipulates that the land documents must carry the name of the proposed university.
Checks by this paper revealed that the former lawmaker lied as such a requirement does not exist.
“It must bear the name of the Proprietor and not the University’s name,” the NUC spokesperson, Ibrahim Yakasai, also said in response to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiries.
When Mr Nwoko was probed further and confronted with the fact that the land is being used against what it was approved for, he said that the golf course cannot be differentiated from the university project.
Asked if the community has a share in the university since he claims the golf course project is the same as the university, Mr Nwoko said “No”.
He argued that the university project overrides the interest of commercial farming or a dairy farm. He also announced that there were plans for an expansion of the university in future.
This new development, he said, had been discussed with stakeholders and had been assented to but he failed to support this claim with any contractual documents. He promised to send the documents but several reminder messages sent were ignored.
Rather than send the necessary documents requested, Mr Nwoko advised PREMIUM TIMES to be interested in the resolution of the crisis and not in the documents.
“This is what I think you guys should be doing too. This is what the governor and the kings are also doing,” he stated.
The NUC has said it is not worried about the crisis if necessary land documents are submitted.
“We have visited them once. We are waiting for them to invite us for the next visit. We don’t give licence without land documents duly certified by authorities,” Ibrahim Yakasai, its spokesperson told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Proposed STARS university is known to the commission. It is a university that has applied to us for licensing. We are processing them for licensing.”
Speaking on the crisis, Mr Yakasai said: “If he (Ned) has issues with the community that is his problem. If he comes to us with proper land documents. Duly approved by the land authorities there, it is not our problem. We’ll give him a licence.
Okey Ifejoku, the incumbent IUDU President, sued for a peaceful settlement and Mr Nwoko’s compliance with the due process, rather than using force on the people.
He noted that the community is not against the university or any similar development projects proposed by Mr Nwoko.
Sympathising with those who had lost their crops, he demanded that adequate compensation be paid to the farmers and a settlement be reached.
“The community is not against the university. Before this crisis reached this stage, I volunteered that one of my houses be used for the Vice-Chancellor’s lodge. All we want is peace and due process,” he said.