Disquiet in Imo as Uzodimma appoints himself Commissioner of Lands

Hope Uzodimma
  • It’s one of the sacrifices the governor has chosen to make – Media aide

Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State has appointed himself as the commissioner for lands, survey and physical planning in the state.

Uzodimma announced this last Tuesday during the swearing-in ceremony of 23 newly confirmed commissioners, according to his spokesperson, Ogunwike Nwachuku.

This is coming weeks after the governor announced the appointment of his brother as his Deputy Chief of Staff.

He explained that the decision to appoint himself to the position was because of the need to restore the confidence of the residents in the lands ministry in the state.

“This, the governor noted, “was because of the need to restore the confidence of the residents in the lands ministry,” according to a statement by Nwachuku.

The governor who was inaugurated for his second term in office on January 15, administered the oath on the commissioners at the new Executive Council Chamber, Government House in Owerri, the state capital.

Land grabbing has been the greatest terror people of Imo state, particularly the Owerri zone, are facing from the administration of former governor Rochas Okorocha.

Few months ago, people of Orji Uratta autonomous community in the Owerri North Local Government cried openly to the governor to save them from the menace of land grabbers that have taken over their ancestral lands claiming that they are agents of the Governor Uzodimma-led administration.

The popular Nkwo Orji market which is one of the major traditional markets in the state was recently taken over by these land grabbers who demolished and reconstructed the market and chased away the women of the community who are the original owners.

During the protest that exposed the menace, Orji women lamented that the land grabbers who are from Okigwe zone claimed they are agents of the governor and are working on his orders.

Another community; Owalla Uratta also in Owerri North LGA is yet to come to terms with the forceful takeover of their lands by these land grabbers.

A host community of one of the higher institutions in the state has also begged President Bola Tinubu to save them from the land grabbers. The list is inexhaustible.

A lawyer and political commentator, Silva Emeka, described the whole thing as an action taken innocently by the governor but would boomerang if he does not checkmate some of his aides who would convert it to an authority to chase away people from their ancestral homes and grab their lands.

Emeka said, “The major torment we are going through in this state is the manner with which people who claim to be state actors are forcefully taken over the few parcels of lands our fathers left for us. You know we are people that believe in communal ownership of land. We are farmers and whatever we do for a living, we must still be engaged in farming and that is why most of our lands are reserved for use during farming seasons but from the time of former governor Rochas Okorocha, Imo State became a haven for land grabbers and the worst is that they do it without human face.

“There’s no community or local government area that has not been or is still not a victim of land grabbing. Ngor Okpalla was in the eye of the storm during Okorocha’s administration. Owerri, Orlu, Okigwe and other places suffered this menace. Some traditional rulers were dethroned because of this. Some went to court but the main thing was that the government had their way.

“So, now that the governor has appointed himself as the commissioner to be in charge of Lands, Survey and Physical Planning, to me it’s a good omen and measure to curtail the menace. But unfortunately, most of these governor’s aides act as if they are governors and no one cautions them. If Governor Uzodimma will stamp his authority to restore the confidence of the residents in the lands ministry, as he promised, this will be the best thing to happen to Imo people.

“But my fears sincerely is that the aides of the governor may see this as their opportunity to grab their own lands and would go ahead to empower some impostors as state actors who will unleash terror on the people and take over their lands without the governor knowing. Politicians are terrible especially those that run around those in power. They do a lot of things which even their principals do not know. If only the governor will match his words with actions, this will be the end of land grabbing.”

Another analyst, Obioma Ogbuokiri, while dissecting the matter, argued that the step taken by the governor though looks very good, however, politicians being who they are, think of themselves first before the people and on that premises, the governor may have taken the decision to enable him create an avenue for him and his cronies who are yet to get lands in their choice areas in the state to have that accomplished.

“I am afraid that what people are celebrating as the end of land grabbing in the state may be the beginning of a bitter experience that will unfold in no distant time.

When Rochas came, he even made some appointments and promised he did them for the benefits of the people of Imo State. But as time went by, our eyes opened to reality and we came to know that we were not factored into the programmes at all. Most of the communities’ lands he grabbed were lands he deceived the people that he was bringing developments to, but where are the developments apart from his personal and family properties he acquired? I want to believe Governor Uzodinma is not taking the same steps. Let’s watch and see because I know time alone will tell.”

He called on the governor to overhaul the ministry if sincerely he wants to restore the confidence of the residents in the lands ministry arguing that those who aided the land grabbing menace are still in the ministry and would work assiduously to thwart every effort by the governor to end the menace.

“The governor needs to radically reorganize the Lands, Survey and Physical Planning Ministry. It’s not enough to appoint himself the Commissioner, we have seen Presidents who appointed themselves as Ministers of Petroleum but it did not end the fraud and rubbish going on in the sector. The NNPC has been unbundled with the President as the minister, yet, that place remains headquarters of fraud. So governor Uzodimma should carry out a radical organization in the ministry, inject those who will do what he plans to do to restore confidence in the people.”

A political chieftain of one of the opposition parties who pleaded anonymity claimed that the governor is setting a very wrong precedent.

The chieftain said, if this sails through, another governor will appoint himself Commissioner for Finance and nobody would challenge him.

“I don’t see this as a good omen. It’s a step in the wrong direction because in Nigeria, politicians only follow what their predecessors did and improve on it negatively. I will not be surprised when in the near future; Imo State will have a governor who will also be both the governor and Commissioner for Finance. Yes he said he took the decision to restore the confidence of Imo people in the ministry as a result of the land grabbing introduced by his predecessor but that was a promise and we have heard so many of such.

“Is he ready to walk the talk or bamboozle the people. I prefer to remain skeptical and be surprised. But let me add one thing, Governor Hope Uzodimma is in his second tenure, after this tenure he is not aiming to become a governor again having served eight constitutional years. The only thing is if he wants to return to the Senate to eye the position of Vice President because at the expiration date of his tenure, the presidency will be moving to the north. So, what am I saying? He should be sincere with the Imo people. Whatever he wants to do, let it be genuinely meant for the good of the state and the people. Whatever he does with his administration in Imo State will either speak for or against him and his future ambition.”

Labour Party chieftain and spokesperson for the Senator Athan Achonu governorship campaign organisation, Ihejirika Eze Emeka, cleared the governor of any wrongdoing by deciding to appoint himself Commissioner for Lands Survey and Physical Planning.

“The governor needs to radically reorganize the Lands, Survey and Physical Planning Ministry. It’s not enough to appoint himself the Commissioner, we have seen Presidents who appointed themselves as Ministers of Petroleum but it did not end the fraud and rubbish going on in the sector”

Emeka, a lawyer said, “Constitutionally, the governor has not erred. There is no aspect of our law that prohibits the governor or president or local government chairman from appointing himself as a commissioner or minister or supervisory councilor. At the national level, we have had and still have Presidents who appointed themselves Ministers. Even our sitting President is the Minister of Petroleum. So, it’s not a constitutional breach. The only worry is that all the commissioners must be screened by the state house of assembly.

“Did Governor Hope undergo screening? Can he just wake up and pronounce himself a commissioner without the constitutional screening. If he didn’t, it’s wrong. Another issue is, with so much workload already on his shoulders, can he cope with the added assignment he has given to himself. If these things are taken care of, I don’t see anything wrong with that.”

Emeka whose candidate is still at the Tribunal with Uzodimma believes that what has happened is as a result of precedence that has been set during former governor Rochas Okorocha.

He said, “During Rochas Okorocha, the Deputy Governor then was commissioner for Works. So, I don’t see anything wrong with his choice to become one of his commissioners after all, Buhari was minister of petroleum for eight years. I think for now it’s a normal practice until it’s challenged.”

Apprehensive of the overbearing attitude of the land grabbers who have persistently subjected the people to untold stress as a result of extrication, Imo people are yet to believe in the governor’s good intentions behind the decision.

A retired civil servant from one of the communities that have been victims told The Point that the result of the governor becoming a commissioner will be a disaster for them.

Speaking under anonymity, he said those working for the governor will tell him lies that will encourage grabbing of their lands even worse than before.

“These political jobbers now have plenty of food on their table. They were oppressing us before, now that the governor has taken over everything about land, they will chase us out of our ancestral homes. We will no longer have farm lands. We will lose our land inheritance. As it’s now, some of us have, out of fear of losing our lands, even sold our compounds. If you come to our various villages, you understand what I am telling you. People from Orlu and Okigwe have bought all our lands, some grabbed with the help of their people in government. But we are praying and begging our governor to please make his promise and end this land grabbing.”

The Media Adviser to the governor, Oguwuike Nwachuku, said the decision is one of the sacrifices his principal has made in his efforts to make Imo state work again.

He said the announcement thrilled the good people of the state who believe so much in the sincerity of the governor coupled with his giant strides to put the state back on track in every area.

“The people are highly elated. You need to witness their reactions when the governor made the pronouncement. They were dancing and thanked the governor for saving them from the hands of land grabbers and oppressors. They know our governor as a man of his words and that’s exactly why they believe that the end has come to that rubbish.

The entire Imo people are in agreement with that decision. Immediately he made that decision on May 1, come and see the ovation that greeted it. It’s an opportunity they have been waiting for. Yes, it’s going to add to his already huge responsibility but because of the sacrifice, he decided to do it,” he said.