A land-hijack syndicate allegedly led by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Sir. George Eche has emerged in Imo State, with records of different properties forcefully taken from helpless people in the state capital, Owerri.
This act is perpetrated in defiance to numerous court orders from the rightful owners of the land restraining the syndicate from forcefully dispossessing them of their plots of land.
The latest victims of this unsightly trend are members of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) Staff Multi-Purpose Co-operative Society, who have openly alleged a forceful dispossession of their almost two hectares of land by the syndicate.
In a press statement, the Co-operative Society stated that, “The Nigerian Shippers’ Council Staff Cooperative Society Limited in 2013/2014 acquired the piece of land at UmuezuEmii in Owerri North LGA along Owerri – Aba road to develop into a staff housing scheme through purchase from the owner from the community.
“The land measuring approximately 11002.051 square metres was surveyed and parcellated in furtherance of the proposed Staff housing scheme and signboards mounted at two locations on the land to that effect. Suddenly it was discovered that the beacons and the signboards were removed by unknown persons. This was reported to the State Police Headquarters, Owerri for investigation.
“However, a source, who pleaded anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter, disclosed that some State Government officials led by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Sir George Eche have formed the habit of forcefully and illegally acquiring people’s land in Owerri and environs using their privileged position in government”, the statement said.
Further, he stated that the SSG, Sir George Eche irrespective of the NSC signboards and the various beacons on it, without notification of intention, mobilized tractors and bulldozers into the land, with government Hilux vans and security personnel, cleared the property.
“According to the source, Sir George Eche and his cohorts forcibly, broke to pieces over Forty-five (45) beacons used in survey and parcellation of the land in 2016 and 2017, pulled off and carted away the four (4) big signboards mounted at different times on the land valued at millions of naira.
“The source equally revealed that people thought that it was the State Government and news went round that the Governor Rochas Okorocha’s government had acquired the area through the State Ministry of Lands.
“When the NSC Cooperative Society learnt of the ongoing clearing, it quickly wrote a petition dated 10th August, 2016 to the State Government titled “Clearing of Parcel of Land situated at OkohiaUmuezuEmohe in Owerri North LGA Belonging to Nigerian Shippers’ Council Cooperative Society, Lagos Allegedly by the Imo State Government”.
The letter was addressed to The Secretary to the State Government, Imo State of Nigeria and copied the Commissioner, Ministry of Lands & Urban Planning, Attorney General / Commissioner for Justice, Imo State, Chief of Staff to the Governor and the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor of Imo State.
According to them, in the said letter, the Cooperative Society pleaded with the state government to see reason and return the property to the Nigerian Shippers’ Council Staff Cooperative Society to enable it continue with its intended Staff housing scheme.
However, till date, none of the government functionaries has acknowledged receipt or responded to the petition. A follow up was carried out by the Cooperative Society by visiting the SSG’s office where one of his Special Assistants (SA) confirmed receipt of the petition and promised they will attend to the matter. They never did.
At the Commissioner’s office, Ministry of Lands &Urban Planning, Owerri, it was confirmed that they received the letter. However, a staff who spoke on condition of anonymity disclosed that the Ministry had no hand in the purported acquisition and that the State Government had no intention of doing so in the area.
The property in question is registered with the Imo State Government through the State Ministry of Lands & Urban Planning, Owerri with the registration number OW/SDR/No.16880/IMSG in 2015 and a Certificate of Occupancy applied thereto.
Following the petitions, the property remained abandoned by the illegal encroachers until in May 2017; the NSC Cooperative Society entered the land and erected a new signboards in preparation to commence construction on the site. One week after, the signboards were again illegally removed and stolen by unknown persons.
Recently, they added, “information reached the Society that unknown persons have placed some blocks on the parcel of land and dug a foundation with intention to commence construction on the property. The Cooperative Society immediately forwarded a complaint to the Commissioner of Police, Imo State requesting him to investigate and stop such development.
“While this was going on, a whistle-blower disclosed to us that the SSG, Sir George Eche is in possession of the illegally removed signboards. An investigation by the owners (NSC Co-operative) of the land revealed that the illegally removed signboards were actually packed at the office of Sir George Eche. Sir Eche and his cohorts, it is alleged, are now working to ensure they quickly and illegally obtain a certificate of occupancy for the said property using their position in government”.
The Society called on the state Governor, Rochas Okorocha to check the high handedness and intimidation of Sir George Eche and his cohorts in the state, observing that such arrogant display of power and intimidation does not portray good of the Rochas Okorocha’s Rescue Mission Government with all its noble intentions for the good people of Imo State.
It is on record that the NSC Cooperative Society reported the illegal takeover to the original owner who took Sir George Eche to court but he refused to respond to the court summons.
Also, such flagrant abuse of official position was displayed when a court case involving suspected cohorts of Sir George Eche and the original owner of the land at the Magistrate’s Court in Owerri was discontinued while the court was in session based on a letter received from the Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice, Imo State directing the Magistrate to stop the hearing of the matter.
According to them, “Sir George Eche and his cohorts, in their unbridled greed and quest for wealth and possessions by any means, are sabotaging the good intentions and reputation of the Imo State Government.”
Surprisingly, the management of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) had called on the attention of Gov. Okorocha some months back over this but he denied any involvement in the scam yet nothing has since been done to call the syndicate to order.
When contacted, the SSG refused to comment on the allegation insisting MMS Plus had to speak with his Public Relations Officer, if they so choose.
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