A leading pro-democracy and non-governmental organization – HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has appealed to the Nigerian Army’s high command to enter into constructive mediation and negotiations with the Gbagyi community in Abuja to achieve a truce over the protracted land ownership disputes.
In a statement by the National coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director Miss. Zainab Yusuf the Rights group has also offered to mediate in the dispute through a core team of expert mediators that partner with the civil rights body who have offered to work around the issue.
HURIWA reacted to the widespread media reports about an ongoing land ownership dispute between Gbagyi village in Abuja versus the Nigerian Army over alleged confiscation of their ancestral parcel of land belonging to the community just as the Rights group said it was strategic that this dispute is put to rest so as not to constitute an unnecessary cog in the wheel of progress of the ongoing war on terror which it says demands absolute attention of the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army and the collective support and solidarity of all the good people of Nigeria so lasting peace, security and national stability are attained in no distant time.
HURIWA said it was aware that the Army has already displayed all the legal titles to that disputed piece of land and that the Army had even challenged the Gbagyi community to iinstitute a legal challenge for the ownership of the land, but the Rights group said options for litigation isn’t the best since it may take ages because of the cumbersome nature of filing and hearing of matters in the notoriously slow judicial system of Nigeria. HURIWA said even the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria had stated that mediation is quicker and mutually beneficial than litigation.
The Rights group has therefore asked both warring parties to explore the options of an out of court resolution going by the fact that the army is the Nigerian People’s Army and must not be seen unduly dragging landed assets with any section of the Nigerian people.
“We want to use the media of mass communication to reach the Nigerian Army’s high command and the leadership of the Gbagyi village in the Federal Capital Territory on the urgent need for both parties to begin a sustainable mediation process so as to resolve all the issues around the ownership of the parcel of land. It is a fact that government through the governor has right to the land in accordance with the land use Act of 1978. The FCT in the constitution is recognised just like a state by legal status and so Mr President acts like the governor of FCT. The portion of land in any part of Nigeria can be repossessed by the governor in accordance with the land use Act but must be for public interest. But the original owners of any land to be taken away must be carried along by the government in the whole drama of repossession and re-allocation of ancestral lands”.
HURIWA however believes that given the fact that the Nigerian Army has demonstrated good enough empirical evidence tying the institution to the valid ownership of the land, and in view of the fact that the original inhabitants may not have been carried along by the government which sold the land to the Nigerian Army, there is therefore the need for both parties to reach common but beneficial understanding. The Chief of Army staff Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai is no doubt a father figure. He should kindly consider calling the community where these landed assets of Army are located, so they both have a mutual understanding. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai said nothing would stop the army from constructing a cantonment to be named after President Buhari on the land. But we in HURIWA think the matters about the rights of the ancestral owners of the land needed to be tackled holistically so there are no bottled up angst. Whether an estate is named after Mr President or not by the Nigeria Army or not is not important. What is important is to achieve sustainable peace and conflict resolution with the original inhabitants who were not properly compensated by the government.”
HURIWA recalled that in his reaction to the protest, Buratai, who advised the aggrieved persons to seek redress in court, said that the army had every right to the land, claiming it possessed legal documents to prove its ownership. According to Gen. Buratai, all documents concerning the allocation of the site, including the certificate of occupancy, have been duly processed and legally obtained.
HURIWA quoted General Buratai as advising anyone or group of persons laying claims to the land to follow due process by contacting relevant authorities. He also enjoined aggrieved parties not to take the laws into their hands as any act of unlawful incursion would not be tolerated. The army chief spoke at the ground breaking ceremony for the construction of Army Command Estate and Headquarters, Directorate of Legal Services of the Nigerian Army.
HURIWA says in as much as the Army has legal titles to the land the people who have ancestral and spiritual links to the land in dispute must be negotiated with and a mutual agreement reached. HURIWA said the NA under General Buratai has become professionally excellent and therefore urged the Army to talk to the protesters in a calm, measured and trouble free atmospheres.