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2023 Review: Anambra Evolves Solution to Incessant Boundaries' Disputes

By Chuka Nnabuife 

ANYONE who witnessed or monitored the news during the period of clash over land between the Aguleri and Umueri communities' of Anambra State, in the 1990s and early 2000s   would never wish it happened again. It was brutal, dastardly and bloody. It was all-out war, in every odious sense of it. 

Curiously, there are many theatres of such disputes in the state. 2019 through 2020 a similar clash erupted in Anaku and Omor communities in Ayamelum Local Government Area of the state. Nsugbe and Umueri has had theirs recently just like Amawbia and Enugwu-Agidi. The flashpoints are numerous.

Given her worrisome number of communal clashes and its impact on the economy, Anambra State has evolved an innovative way of checking the menace of land disputes to curb their attendant hindrance of development and the bloody violence they cause. 

Anambra State Boundaries Commission, headed by the deputy governor, Onyekachukwu Ibezim, now emphasise arbitration, negotiations and other forms of out-of-court resolutions to tackle the menace. The approach which became manifest within this ending year, 2023, has helped, remarkably in ensuing peace and the dousing tension in even hitherto knotty cases. The commission said, one of the major goal of the new direction is to achieve a peaceful society that will enable an all-encompassing development which Gov. Chukwuma Soludo's 'Solution Government' is pursuing and encourage ease-of-doing-business in the state.

Already, the seldom-cited initiative of the commission has began to yield remarkable results even in heady cases. The commission wants "the huge" social benefits to rubb off on a good number of such clashes that can be found in almost all of Anambra's 179 communities. Through it, several disputes, some of which began over a century go, have now been settled, out of court.

From decades-long land disputes between villages in Amansea, Awka North Local Government Area (LGA) and Awka town of Awka South LGA to ones that have been raging among Ukpo, Abba and Ukwulu communities, to the ones in Ogbunike, Igbariam, Nteje, Nkpor, Umunya, Abacha, Uga, Umuchu, Nkwelle, Umueri, Nsugbe, Anaku, Omor, Nnewi among others, there are positive signs. The approach of getting parties in vexed communities to sit in round tables and talk over their anger is yielding pointers that it is a formidable solution. 

A Senior Special Assistant to the governor of Anambra State in the boundaries commission is enthused by the unprecedented successes. He attributed the record results to the ingenuous efforts of the state's deputy governor, Dr. Ibezim, whom he said has a rich reserve of native intelligence and capacity for "tireless hard work".

He explained that factors such as integrity, tenacity and winning the vexed parties' trust play big part in the success of the initiative. "Not every person or group would easily agree to sit on the same table with the people they have, over time, taken as their enemy but when they see sincerity of purpose and genuine commitment to achieve peace from the other group and from government, they sit, and talk. That way, we begin on the way to resolution and peace." After the talks, the Commission would establish agreed demarcations and landmarks. Over a dozen of such boundaries were defined in 2023. The Commission plans a mark-up of the number in 2024.

The fact that there are several communities bugged down by such often embittered and violent disputes for decades and even centuries makes the narrative from Anambra's boundaries agency, heartwarming. It was learnt that in some of such cases, given the long passage of time, some reference points, witnesses, principals, lawyers have died or even case files are lost. There even instances where some people who got favourable judgements cannot access the property or take possession because of the level of activity or acrimony in the agitations.

"Sometimes, in fact, most times, one pauses to ask: why then the fights and waste of time pursuing what one would not achieve or enjoy?" Mr. Okoye reasoned and justified the need to commend the deputy governor for the wisdom in the new initiative.

"He gives it a total push. Day and night, he is on the matter. He even takes big risks to achieve a resolution of some of the very challenging situations... very serious risks," Okoye said .

One instance of such risks was in Umueri. According to Okoye, a huge billboard was once erected on a disputed location in the area and youths threatened to bring down hell if their issues with the display are not addressed in a given time. "To everyone's surprise, the deputy governor arrived there, live. Right there, he had audience with all the aggrieved groups, and the matter was later resolved," he informed.

If there is a state in dire need of land in Nigeria, it should be Anambra. Being the second smallest in land mass in the country (only smaller than Lagos State), land portends more than a factor of production in Anambra. It means a lot more. It is as much an economic factor as it is an object of crucial social and cultural import. Granted that despite its high importance, land remains very scarce, scrambles for it are common in the state.  Anambra therefore suffers a surge in land boundaries agitations, especially, between communities. Worse, security and law enforcement agencies as well as the courts, conspicuously lull in settling such cases.

The peace-oriented  initiative of the state's boundaries commission therefore, is not only innovative but timely and real handle for resolution of the saga. Hence it is one of the most impactful developments of the year.

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