As Imolites both at home and in the diaspora roll their drums to celebrate the awesome and breathtaking achievements of Governor Hope Uzodinma, in the last calendar year, the general consensus is that for the first time since her chequered history, Imo State has a leader who is not only focused but is determined to change the course of history.
Governor Uzodinma’s policy thrust which is anchored on the 3R mantra of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Recovery, has no doubt raised the consciousness of Imo people that once a right leader is on the saddle, the motivation to achieve, despite all noticeable obstacles is a fait accompli. No doubt, one ministry in the states civil service that had immensely benefitted from the successes of Governor Uzodinma’s electoral victory is the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Physical Planning Notoriously noted as a no-go-area for political appointees, because of the avalanche of fraud and other malfeasance that takes place in the Ministry, Governor Uzodinma’s coming marked the beginning of what a money-spinning ministry should look like.
For over eight years, the ministry has been bedeviled with fraud, fake speculators, none existence or improper records of business transactions and a low level of morale among the workforce with it’s attendant back-bitting, witch-hunting and fear of the unknown among staff. However, knowing the strategic importance of the Ministry of Lands, Survey and Physical Planning, to his administration; the amiable governor dug deep to appoint an astute administator with a Spartan patriotism, a committed and loyal apostle of the 3R mantra and a reknowned lawyer, Hon. Barr. Enyinna Onuegbu, KSC, as the Commissioner in charge of the Ministry. Onuegbu’s appointment has not only revitilized the Ministry, but has restored confidence of land owners, business men and international community that hitherto, would not touch the State with a long spoon, sanitized the place and equally restored confidence within the staff.
He has this to say: “Since we assumed office, I think anybody who visits the Ministry of Lands today will notice that there is a paradigm shift. The first thing you will notice is that you won’t see those thugs, agents, fake speculators who hang around the Ministry of Lands, purporting to do transactions whether real or imagined, whether on paper or fact. They are no longer there because the atmosphere is no longer conducive for such racketeering, and that is the first thing you will notice. You will also notice that the staff are highly motivated. The back-bitting, the witch-hunting, the fear of the unknown that used to be the order of the day, the degree of insubordination over seniors because they are likely to be maliable, to do what is not right, that are likely to do the bidding of political appointees, is no longer there. We have restored confidence in the seniority and followership restored confidence in the staff that what they are doing is appreciated and all these goes to show that this change making leadership of Sen. Hope Uzodinma is on the right track.
” Apart from the threat posed by fake land speculators, original landowners and businessmen who have dealings with the state is another area Commissioner Onuegbu is battling with. He said: “Well, the most important thing is to note that the administration of His Excellency, Distinguished Senator Hope Uzodinma is a significant change for the welfare, integrity and respect Imo State enjoys in the comity of states in Nigeria, and to bring dividends of democracy to the welfare of Imolites. Now, with what is going on in the Ministry of Lands, we are pursuing agenda of restoring confidence not only to the land owners, but the entire class of businessmen and international community who may want to have one or two dealings with Imo State on the economic front, those who are coming to invest. If the story is that title to the land cannot be found in one man or authority, they will feel reluctant to invest in Imo. So we are on a mission to sanitize our lands records keeping system. This is why His Excellency, as soon as he resumed office, decided and announced that there will be comprehensive computerization in the operations of the Lands Ministry, not only in terms of details as to land holding, but even the salaries, the revenues and everything connected with the operations of the lands registry so that by one button, you can know every history about a particular property that originated from government.” On the challenges facing his ministry, the Commissioner has this to say: “You know when I say it, people think it’s because we’re naming names.
The truth is that the Land Record System of the Ministry of Lands Imo State, in the last 8 years plus was run down. If you remember the time of Chief Ikedi Ohakim, he started the IGIS, that is, Imo State Geographical system, for land usage but when the government of His Excellency, Rochas Okorocha took over, that thing was kept at the background, it was abandoned, it led to a lot of upheavals. The major problem we are facing is that every day I receive not less than 30-40 mails. More than two-thirds of those mails will be complaints on irregularities in allocation, irregularities in possession and pending litigations. Either they are calling my attention to a case pending in Court or they are complaining that the land which has been given to them for which they are paying ground rent and all required fees, suddenly they go to the land and someone is building on it, or making a fence.
So we are saddled with the problem of collating and collecting these mountainous complaints as a result of the lack of proper administration of lands ministry in the last eight years and we will not shy away from saying it, not minding the naysayers but I would say also you ask yourself, if you are able to have twenty layouts, how come those layouts are not with amenities and not parcilated? They exist only on paper. How come the natives of the surrounding communities; Nekede, Ihiagwa, Obinze, Avu, etc, are still going into the same called estates and selling lands purportedly acquired and allocated by government. It is because the process was not neatly done.” On the controversial Judicial Commission of Inquiry on Land Related Matters, Onuegbu has this to say: “Well, I think one of the soft spots of the previous administration, which I would want every sane and reasonable Imolite to know is that the Lands Ministry was in total mess.
It got so bad that people were using Lands allocation documents to buy vehicles. When you go to the Ministry, you find nothing was existing there. So when we took over, we inherited a Judicial Commission of Inquiry on Land Related Matters from the past administration. The panel headed by Justice Duruoha-Igwe was ractified by His Excellency Governor Hope Uzodinma. The panel concluded their works and submitted their reports and government study group went through it to produce in a form of White Paper. The Imo State Executive Council had about two weeks approved the white paper. So we are at the stage of gazzetting. When the gazzette comes out, there will be implementation. The main thing in the report is that we wanted to streamline issues about the distortion of the Owerri master plan, illegal acquisition of land from members of the public, illegal revocation of land, or in cases where there was actually no revocation and people’s lands were taken over by agents and functionaries of governor Okorocha administration. And also, as you know, the capital area has become mixed user contrary to the master plan of Owerri.
This is why the issue of panel of Inquiry from the time of Achike Udenwa to Rochas Okorocha is very significant and we believe the gazette will go a long way in restoring public confidence in the administration of Imo State government to land allocation. It may also interest you that the government of governor Hope Uzodinma is not or has not commenced allocation of land for private use in Imo State. I am aware that some people are parading allocation forms trying to deceive members of the public, we have not commenced for the reason that we are expecting the gazette, for the reason that we have agreed that because the hitherto Certificate of Occupancy, C o O of Imo State government have been found in places like Utako in Abuja, Enugu and in different homes in Imo State, so it made us revoke that previous C of O. So the governor has authorised the Nigerian Printing and Minting Company to print new C of O.
We have not taken delivery of it yet. We are still preparing allocation papers, so any transaction founded on those past ones we have condemned will not see the light of day. It will only amount to duping people.” But the greatest challenge Barr. Onuegbu, and by extension, the Shared Prosperity Government, will face is how to convince Imolites especially those in the diaspora and other genuine developers, to look before they leap in the issue of acquiring or buying land in the state. He has this to say: ” The most important thing is that our people should stop looking for acquisition of land that is seriously undervalued. If anybody comes to tell you that he has a government allocation for a plot of land say in Centenary City Layout which is along Port Harcourt Road and he is offering it to you for N500,000 or one million naira, you know that there is something wrong because even land in the most interior part of Okolochi, a plot is more than a million naira there.
How will somebody offer you a land in AVU and be telling you to pay Seven Hundred thousand or one million? Every day, they bring application for Search on allocation paper. Most of those allocations, the charges on those allocation papers were not paid to the state government. So people should be reluctant to rush into land transactions based on allocation papers. People should be reluctant to come to my ministry to ask me to change the name on the allocation papers to their own names, because some of the names on the allocation papers are non-existent names, unverifiable names. People should stop coming to my office to tell me that their C of O was lost during the civil war, Imo state was not here during the civil war. So the problem is that our people should stop looking for cheap business. Like there is a place at Orji now we are having issues called Riverside, between Orji and Amata Ikeduru. There is an area there set out for a layout, we are having issues there now.
At the last week of the end of the tenure of the last administration, more than 300 allocation papers left the ministry of lands, and people are going about trying to buy that area. It was not concluded, there are cases like that. I know that I am not supposed to be that open of those things, but we need to warn our people. That is why, if you check in the last one month, we have made more than five public notices, including warning native owners, communities within the Capital Territory, 15km Radius from Assumpta Cathedral East, West, North, and South. We have warned them: Imo State Government is not acquiring any land presently. Any speculator that comes to you that he is an agent of the Imo State government to acquire land, including Federal Agencies, don’t oblige. Because when a community gives away hundred hectares of land for Housing Estate to an individual or company, no matter who the company is representing, that community has lost both farming and habitation areas. So, His Excellency says when we have such applications, first you must write to the governor. When His Excellency endorses such things to us to investigate, His Excellency has directed that the community must be made aware of what they are doing. And if you want a project of such, you must give us the design for us to know what you are actually doing, so that we don’t filter away our land.
” Well, it may not yet be Uhuru for the Shared Prosperity Government of Governor Hope Uzodinma, but the indices points to a greater brighter future for all Imo people. And Commissioner Onuegbu shared in this optimism, “I believe that the administration of His Excellency, Distinguished Senator Hope Odidika Uzodinma means well for the state. He has the courage, vision and determination to turn things around. With what is on the ground, the massive road projects, salaries and pensions paid as at when due, etc, Imo people will look back and thank God for bringing Gov. Uzodinma.