Residents of Umuchima community in Uli, Ihiala local government area, Anambra State are still living in fear days after being intimidated by a joint team of armed soldiers, policemen, DSS, Civil Defence and thugs mobilised to provide protection during the illegal demolition of Ogbuechi Chinedu Orjiako’s property, by the Anambra State Physical Planning Board.
Ogbuechi Chinedu Orjiako is a businessman and younger brother to renowned billionaire and former Chairman of Seplat Energy, Dr A.B.C. Orjiako, who was recently forced out as Board Chairman of the company.
Umuchima, a quiet, agrarian rural community in Uli, lays off the Onitsha -Owerri federal highway. The community has no significant government presence notwithstanding that Dr Orjiako is an influential kingmaker in Anambra State and key player in Nigeria’s political space.
Residents said roads, electricity and other projects in the community were self-help driven.
The community was invaded Wednesday July 26 by the joint enforcement team of the Anambra State Physical Planning Board in a manner unusual of a civil enforcement operation. The invasion left memories of fear and intimidation in the minds of the residents.
“We have been living in fear since then. I had to run inside and lock my gate, my children, everybody ran inside…If you saw what happened, it was like a war”, Chief Nnamdi Igbolaju, chairman Umuchima community recalled days later.
“It was like a war situation. Everyone was frightened. We are still scared till now because we have never seen that kind of act before”, a title chief in the community who did not want his name on print told this reporter.
As residents of the community recollected their encounter, you can feel the trembling in their voices and agitation in their eyes.
They were unreasonably threatened, unsettled by about two scores of armed security men and Agkpobis (Igbo word for thugs) hired by the ANSPPB to effect illegal enforcement on Ogbuechi Orjiako’s property.
“It was as if they were coming to repel a war situation or like they were coming for war. We have not had this kind of experience before in this community. In fact, Police do not come here except we invite them. But here we were, about 10 vans loaded with armed and stern-looking security men, Army, Police, Civil Defence, DSS, drove in on a convoy-speed. They ordered people on the street to go inside their houses and they blocked the road”, another resident of Umuchima community narrated.
Chief Igbolaju said the enforcement team fired gun shots which got residents really scared.
“Even that very day, they shot guns. I heard about two or three gun shots”, he said.
The Anambra State Physical Planning Board under the current Chief Executive Officer, Barr Chike Maduekwe, has become notorious for using heavily armed security men to intimidate and cause panic among peaceful and law-abiding citizens in guise of enforcement exercise. Intimidation by agents of the Board has been reported by residents of Aguata, hometown of the Governor, Prof Charles Soludo.
▪ Demolition of Ogbuechi Orjiako’s property exposes illegal conducts of Anambra State Physical Planning Board.
A business plaza worth over N1 billion belonging to traders in Onitsha South Local Government Area were recently demolished. Owners and traders at the plaza whose businesses have suffered due to the demolition said they had approval to build but were not given demolition notice before their shops were pulled down by the government.
The traders under the aegis of UBA Planks and Joist Association, Bridge-Head Market, Onitsha, had threatened to sue the State Government and Onitsha South Local Government Council over the demolition.
The recent demolition of Ogbuechi Chinedu Orjiako property in Umuchima, Uli, in Ihiala local government area has deepened the brazen disregard for procedure and grave illegality with which the Anambra State Physical Planning Board is carrying on its activities under Governor Soludo administration.
The Soludo administration is strict on building control and raising revenue from physical planning. However, residents of the State are frowning at the intimidation, threat and illegality with which the ANSPPB is going about its regulations.
Ogbuechi Chinedu Orjiako was constructing a perimeter fence around his 5331.802 square metres land, being part of the share of his late father’s property allocated to him by his elder brothers.
His intention was to start building a residential house for his nuclear family – his wife and five children – later when his architectural plan would have been approved by the authorities. He had surveyed the land, procured an architectural plan and got it stamped. He was gathering other documents required for building approval.
He cleared the land which was a thick palm plantation, excavated more than 30 stands of old palm trees, and prepared the land for development.
When Orjiako started the construction of the perimeter fence around the proposed building area, he could not have imagined imagined the trouble that laid in wait for him.
He said he had gone to the village 14 July to see one of his townsman and decided to stop by at the site to see how the perimeter fencing was going.
Few minutes after he got to the site, he saw a dark tinted glass salon and mini bus arrive the site. Three soldiers with guns alighted from salon and other persons alighted from the bus. They walked into the site.
Observing this from the other side of the road where he was in a taxi, Orjiako said, “I stepped out of the car and walked towards them, to converse with them. The soldiers ordered me not to come close. I told them that I am the owner of the property. One of the soldiers responded, ‘Oga is telling you to go back and you are coming. If you don’t go back to your car I will rubbish you.’
“He corked his gun and came towards me. At that point I returned to my taxi. I sat still in the car trying to see what was happening. When they wanted to leave, one of the soldier said it was as if I was recording them with my phone. I told them that I was not.
“They insisted that I should give them my phone, I told them that they were prying into my privacy by ordering me to hand over my phone to them. They started harassing me. One of them hit me with a stick. They coerced me. So, I gave my phone to one of them. He opened my photo gallery and other apps and checked to see if I had snapped or videoed them. When he saw nothing, he gave the phone to me and said ‘thank God you didn’t snap us, we for rubbish you’.”
“This was on a Friday afternoon. I thought of going to the local government council (Ihiala) to find out who the people were since they didn’t drop any information. I remembered that workers don’t go to work since our local government secretariat was set ablaze.
“So, I called called my brother, the Caretaker Chairman of Ihiala, Hon. Kingsley Obi, and told him what happened. I asked if the council had sent persons to the village. He said ‘No’, adding that it was not possible for anyone to come from Awka without informing him. He told me to relax that he will find out who they were and get back to me.”
When asked if the Caretaker Chairman got back to him since then, his answer was in the negative.
However, 26 July, the perimeter fence constructed by Orjiako was demolished by the Anambra State Physical Planning Board.
Residents of the community said armed security men came in about 10 security vans with other civilians and broke down the fence.
“They blocked the road and stopped people from passing”, a resident who witnessed the incident from afar said.
▪ Anambra State Physical Planning Law
Physical planning regulations and control in Anambra are governed by the Anambra State Physical Planning Law 2013 .
Sections 52, 55 and 66 of the Law spell out types of enforcement notice and mode of service, form of enforcement notice and stipulates when demolition can be enforced by the Board, in that order.
Section 52 (1) mandates the Physical Planning Board to serve an enforcement notice on the developer or owner of a property whenever any development is commenced without a permit or approval.
Orjiako said ANSPPB did not serve him or any of his representatives an enforcement notice before the demolition of his property.
Section 53 of the law states inter alia: “The notice shall be addressed to the owner, builder, occupier, contractor, or those responsible for the illegal structure, work, or development and is deemed to have been duly and validly served by pasting or affixing such notice on any part of the structure/premises with digital photographs (showing date and time) taken or when handed to any representative of the developer found on the site.”
When this reporter met the CEO of the Anambra State Physical Planning Board, Barr Chike Maduekwe, in his office in Awka on 5th of August, to verify Orjiako’s claim, he said a notice was served.
“That property was given more than one month notice to come and explain if it has an approval.”
When asked to provide photographic evidence of service of the enforcement notice on Orjiako or his representative, Barr Maduekwe, promised to forward it to this reporter on WhatsApp.
Maduekwe had also directed one Mr Ihiuoma, the Executive Secretary, Town Planning in Ihiala local government who was present when this reporter met with him to forward a copy of the notice and evidence of service to this reporter.
Barr Maduekwe did not avail this reporter of any evidence as he promised despite two reminders.
When this reporter asked Mr Ihiuoma, the town planning officer in Ihiala to provide photographic evidence showing him or his agent pasting the enforcement notice on the wall of Orjiako’s property, he said days later via a WhatsApp massage, “no one agree (sic) to collect the notice that (sic) it was marked on the wall”.
Orjiako said he was at the site when the soldiers and some civilian came on the 14th July, and they did not request giving any piece of paper or pasted any letter on the property.
The town planning officer had earlier told this reporter during a fact-finding visit to Ihiala local government council on Wednesday 4th August that “stop work” was marked on the property on the 14th of July and demolition enforced on the 26th July. His confession controverts Maduekwe’s claim that the property was given one month notice.
However, under the Law, writing of “Stop Work” does not mean the same thing as enforcement notice or imply service of an enforcement notice.
While section 55 states that enforcement notice to be served by the Control Department “shall be in writing and communicated to the developer; stating the reason (s) for the proposed action…”, Section 58, on issuance of stop-work order for unauthorized development states, “…The Control Department shall issue a stop-work order pending the service of an enforcement notice…”
However, Maduekwe insisted that the developer contravened the law by commencing construction without approval.
According to him, “The law of the State is that you cannot commence building without approval. Anybody who commences building without approval has committed a crime, so we will demolish it. This was not given enforcement before, but it has been given focus and dimension under Prof Soludo’s administration.”
The CEO’s claim is not in consonant with the letters of Section 52 (1) of the operating law which states, “The Control Department shall serve an enforcement notice…on the developer or owner or his representatives of a private or public, residential, commercial, industrial or any other land use whenever any development is commenced without obtaining a development permit or approval.”
The ANSPPB could not provide evidence of service of an enforcement notice and demolition notice on Orjiako before demolition of his property.
The law in section 66 says, the Control Department shall have the power to serve on a developer a demolition notice where the developer failed to prepare and submit his building plan for approval or re-instate a piece of land to the state in which it was prior to the commencement of building.
The notice shall contain a date not later than 21 days and a further 14 days of final notice on which the Control Department shall take a step to commence demolition action.
Maduekwe dismissed claim by chairman of Umuchima community that the security men who went with the Board’s enforcement team to demolish the property fired gun shots.
“That man is talking nonsense. Nobody fired any gun shot.”
However, he said the enforcement team usually goes out with a large number of security officers due to harassment of staff and insecurity in the state.
“Regularly, our staff are beaten up. That is why we go with a large number of security personnel when we go for enforcement.”
▪ Ihiala local government opens road across Chinedu Orjiako’s demolished property
Some persons have alleged that influential persons within the Ojiakor’s family used the ANSPPB to illegally demolish Ogbuechi Orjiako’s property owing to ongoing family feud.
“If anyone builds without approval, practice has been that ‘stop work’ will be written on the construction. A paper will be served, containing information referring the developer to the authority he is supposed to meet and on what date. Why was this one different? It is a shame that the Physical Planning Board has allowed itself to be trapped in this unfortunate act”, a Chief in Umuchima said.
Other people in the community believe that someone was using the authorities to victimize Mazi Orjiako, because of his ambition to contest the chairmanship of Ihiala local government.
This allegation got credence when Ihiala local government council created a new road cutting longitudinally across the site of the demolished property eight days after. A signage hoisted on the road reads, “Nna Orjiako road. Approved by Ihiala L.G.A.” There were two major roads already passing horizontally on both sides of the demolished building.
Orjiako has petitioned the CEO of Anambra State Physical Planning Board and the Executive Secretary, Town Planning, Ihiala local government area to the Anambra State House Assembly over the illegal enforcement of development control and unlawful demolition of his property.
Orjiako’s Attorney, Barr Vitalis Ihedgibo of Gateway Legal Services, said he has served a pre-action notice on the ANSPPB and the transition committee chairman of Ihiala local government seeking N10 billion in relief for the damage of his client’s property.