—Uses site for multi -billion Naira Project
As, Police, EFCC, ICPC set to Arrest Culprit
Joseph Atainyang, Uyo
A Member of the Akwa Ibom State Board of Internal Revenue Service, Hon Ekere Afia is in the news for the wrong reason, after allegedly forging documents to send the federal government away from its project site, using it for a personal project.
The billion naira worth project designed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources through the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) had sailed through implementation stage since 2010 and had the capacity to employ a minimum of five thousand people.
According to available documents, the federal government had since 2012 secured about 10.60 hectares of land in Ibiaku Issiet and Ikot Edung communities of Uruan local government area to build a Fish Farm Estate described as the Community Based Aquaculture Development.
The land was revoked from Ibiaku Issiet community by the Akwa Ibom state government with a Town and Country Planning Site Plan No. TP/AK/UR/06 and published on Midweek Pioneer of Wednesday, February 1, 2012.
The Federal government had sought the contribution of the state government through a donation of land for which it could develop an Aquaculture project comprising hatchery for fingerling production, grow-out tanks for table size fish production, fish feed plant and fish smoking facility for value added fish production, including a Training Hall for Human Resource Development.
The project, meant for select states in the Southsouth region, sought to gather all species from fishing communities of Akwa Ibom and other neighbouring states for specialized preservation and bulk exportation.
An approval letter from the Ministry of Agriculture says the initiative was aimed at “providing Nigeria’s citizens easy access to food fish as a primary source of protein that can sustainably and cause effectively replace the existing imported fresh frozen fish through participatory, community driven Aquaculture Development and Empowerment Projects”.
According to findings, the construction had commenced in earnest but was terminated when Hon. Ekere Afia, an indigene of the neighbouring Uyo local government area sailed through in his alleged manipulations.
Afia was at the moment, the House Member representing Uyo State Constituency in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.
How He Chased the Federal Government Away with Fake Documents.
Ekere Afia was said to have stopped the continuation of the project. He had taken the government to Court claiming that the land on which the project was being built belonged to him.
He claimed to have bought a large portion of land from the people of the community. The Court may have believed that the parcel of land was actually acquired and may have ruled in his favour, thereby making the federal government to suspend further work on the project.
Surprisingly, documents presented in Court in support of his claim were later to be discovered as fake. He was said to have forged the papers, listing those who sold the land, to include non indigenes, dead persons and those who never had farm lands in the area.
There are speculations that what appeared to be the judgement on the matter was a product of forgery.
Speaking with our team of correspondents, the Village Head of Ibiaku Issiet, Chief William Effiong stated that the land dispute is still being tried in Court. He insisted that the place was revoked by the state government and handed over to the federal government who started building a “fish farm” until Ekere Afia appeared and took the government to Court.
Chief William Effiiong who spoke in Ibibio Language pointed out that Hon Afia who claimed to have bought the land from villagers had no proof to show as no one has agreed to have sold the land to him. He admitted that federal government had suspended the project because of the dispute.
William Effiong said although the state government never paid compensation to the host community before handing over the land to the federal government, the community never made any trouble because they knew the development could carter for the employment needs of her people.
“The Judge had to come to the place by herself to inspect the land. She queried Hon Afia for using people’s land without going through the normal acquisition formalities. As we speak, that case is still in Court. But he came here to fence round the place and do all sorts of building,” he explained.
His New Asset Development and Threat to Ibiaku Issiet Community:
It was a renewed war when Ekere Afia started building a vast business enterprise at the parcel. Knowledgeable persons observe that Afia’s massive structure would be a five star hotel. Also, site workers say the place would be a resort where every nature of reservations and relaxation would take place.
The spacious landmass was being fenced round and speedily developed. As explained by the village head, the community had thought that government had renewed its plans to further develop the Aquaculture facility. He said that curious community men had noticed that the structure was also encroaching into people’s farms.
Afia had reportedly grabbed the whole of the portion formerly developed by the federal government, making away with building materials, other equipments, including generators and superimposing his building upon the structures.
According to Chief William Effiong, private owners of land had revolted against him, breaking his fences and asking him to leave their inheritances.
He disclosed that Ekere Afia, after series of fights, had rather gone to report the case to the Clan Head of Uruan Southeast, HH Cosmas Nkanga who weighed into the matter, issuing traditional injunction and asking all parties to stay action, pending the decision of his council.
He reported that rather than keep calm and await the decision of the council, Afia had gone ahead, removed the traditional injunction and continued with his massive building, while also calling on the police to arrest members of the community.
According to Chief William, Mr Placid, one of the land owners was invited by the State Area Command of the Nigeria Police Force and then transferred to Zone VI, Calabar on the instance of Hon Ekere Afia. He added that many others were invited to the zonal headquarters for questioning on the same matter.
William Effiong revealed that even as the police were investigating the matter, Afia had once come to the community with six buses of heavily armed men ready to unleash terror on them but that he (the village head) had pleaded with the youths of the community to ignore them.
Meanwhile, Udeme Okon, a middle age man who spoke with our team while on investigation to the project site, pointed out that Afia has vowed that he would eliminate anyone who would obstruct him from building his enterprise.
He said the politician is currently camping armed men very close to the community so they can maim and kill their people at the slightest provocation.
Community Youths React:
Consequent upon the ‘highhandedness’ of Mr Afia, youths of the community may have entered the estate and destroyed some of the structures in the ongoing construction.
When our team visited the site across the old Uyo-Oron Road by 9:30 am on Tuesday, labourers were still at the premises doing their work. Parts of the structure were completely broken down, while other areas were severed, giving an impression that the place was visited by depressed people.
However, the Youth President of the community, Mr Nduke Dennis denied knowledge of the fact that it was their people who destroyed some portions of the ongoing building.
Mr Dennis who spoke with this reporter on phone, said they were not party to the sad development, but stated that the dream of every community is to see its exposure and development by government.
He stressed that he will be happy to see the federal government returning to site for the construction of the Fish Farm, adding that such a venture would be beneficial to the youths of the community and others from Akwa Ibom State and beyond.
The Involvement of Police, EFCC, ICPC:
The matter has generated serious tension in the community with various threats to life reportedly being issued and acted by Hon Afia. He may have written to the Office of the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner of Police, seeking to exonerate himself and that his accusers be legally dealt with.
This is even as some villagers, including the Village Head, Chief William Effiong were invited to the police headquarters in Ikot Akpan Abia for questioning.
The State Police Headquarters on July 29, 2019 also received a letter from UPA Chambers of Chief Emmanuel Ekpenyong & Associates which insisted that Afia had “forged documents to fraudulently grab lands” from the people.
As expected, the letter pleaded the police to “cause a discreet investigation into the matter” and that Afia be “charged to Court”, since he “still ravages around and has vowed to kill anybody who stands on his way.”
As the moment, members of the community are said to have filed various petitions and complaints at the state headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC as well as that of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC.
Comments from Police, Others:
Meanwhile, the Police Public Relations Officer in Akwa Ibom State, DSP Odiko McDon has denied knowledge of the whole story.
McDon who spoke with this reporter on Tuesday said he does not know anything about the development. Although some petitions may have been submitted to the Command, the PPRO had no official information to share on the matter.
His words, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t have any information about it.”
Meanwhile, police officials from the Zone 6 Headquarters, Calabar, on Wednesday came on inspection to the project site at Ibiaku Issiet. They walked round the site of the multi billion naira project, questioning relevant stakeholders. They also went to the palace of the village head of Ibiaku Ishiet, Chief William Effiong for further questioning.
Although all attempts to gather reactions from the Board member, Hon Ekere Afia were unyielding as he neither answered nor return his calls, Mr Emmanuel Mkpang who identified himself as one of the site engineers and project supervisors, briefed our team on the matter.
Mkpang explained that the only cause of the problem is the greed of the majority people in Ibiaku Ishiet community. He stated that the village is made up of two adjourning communities of Ikot Utono and Ikot Ekong.
He reasoned that Ikot Ekong people are selfish and do not wish the growth and development of Ikot Utono, which is why they were fighting against the project.
According to him, Ikot Ekong community is favoured with very many projects, including the NNPC mega fuel station, the ongoing construction of NDDC-funded event centre, Tunalum Aluminum smelting company, and many others.
Emmanuel Mkpang stressed that every development that comes to the area is being controlled by Ikot Ekong, through the village head and that even the sanitation job, together with that of providing security to a central electricity transformer were being manned by them (Ikot Ekong).
While opining that those who disturbed the growth of the project, breaking the building at various levels of development were only interested in the perpetual poverty of Ikot Utono people, Mkpang called on the state government and the security agents to protect them from the hands of their enemies.
To the Village Head, Chief William Effiong, he does not want bloodshed in his community and would not allow anybody to take laws into their hands. He called on the youths of the community to abide by what the law enforcement agents would do on the matter.
“This community has never rejected any development. We always embrace development here and I can’t start now to reject good fortunes that will put smiles on the faces of my people. I don’t like backwardness and I won’t support any act of bloodshed. The matter is already in the hands of the security agents and it is also in Court”, he said.
In his submission, Udeme Okon of Ibiaku Issiet Community condemned the whole development, describing it as ugly and unfortunate. He noted that Afia’s conduct is not only an economic sabotage but a barbaric act that should not be heard in a sane society such as the present day Akwa Ibom State.