UGEP: Community youths clash with Presbyterian Church over land lease

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By Endurance Onun

Youths of Ekpani Paternal Family in Ugep have drawn daggers with the All Saints Presbyterian Church of Ugep over what the youths described as “unethical leasing” of the land once belonging to them before it was given out to the church for free.

According to the youths, the church has been in the business of selling and leasing some portions of the land they gave it without recourse to ethics and norms — which is, but not limited to, youths dividends each time the church did selling or leasing business in the land, other than expanding its mission school.

The youths had expected that each time the church sold or rented any portion of their land, they [the youths] should be given their customary right and response to CSR as an organization to consolidate the love with which they freely gave out their land.

But this, they said has not been the case with All Saints Presbyterian Church as they often do business in the land without calling them forth. The recent business was the leasing of a portion of the land to IHS Nigeria Limited, a telecommunication company.

The said land is beside this house. Even this particular land where this house is, belonged to the community before they gave it to the church. The church still sold it out.

The church had rented IHS Nig. Ltd a portion of the land without any notice to the youths who were in the dark until recently when the telecom company came pegging the land. Upon their knowledge that the telecom company has taken temporal ownership of the land, the youths sought the audience of the church leadership moderated by Rev. Ofem Okoi Onun.

However, journalists in Ugep were told that Rev. Ofem instead, cornered the community youth president, Mr. Nnanke Omini and handed a twenty five thousand naira (N25,000) to him as their[youths] entitlement in the business. Nonetheless, Mr. Nnanke refused the token but insisted they rather met the entire church leadership so they could register their supplications in full.

The church, still not ready to give the youths the platform they desired, sent Eld. Sunday Ottoh to interface with them on the church behalf. At this juncture, the youths told Eld. Ottoh to let the church know that they had resolved to meet the telecom company themselves and make their demands directly to them.

In a bid to draw the attention of the company, the youths, on Saturday, March 13th installed a traditional ‘stop and let us dialogue’ injunction on the already pegged site after hearing that the church have, long before now collected all the traditional rights — even that which was meant for them.

As if to say the injunction drove the church to tight corners, Rev. Ofem Okoi, on the same day the injunction was installed called out the youths for a meeting; after refusing them all this while. The meeting however ended in fiasco when Rev. Ofem’s choice of words were adjudged to be cruel and challenging to their entire family and heritage.

Save for one of the youths, Mr. Yibala Arikpo who quickly mediated, the meeting was almost becoming gory after it digressed to direct quarrel and trade of unprintable words. Yibala knelt down to appeal to his kinsmen not to circumvent their mission, even as he pleaded the church to drop low on its land racketeering whose impact, he said, they [host community] have not felt.

Yibala further advised the church council not to allow a few elements drag it entire reputation to the mud. He highlighted the contributions of the church in the land as he went ahead to emphasize that they are not against the leasing of the land, howthat, custom demands that the host community’s right must be met each time the church did business.

The meeting did not yield the expected result after it was alleged that Rev. Ofem and Elder Sunday Ottoh connived with Ugep factional youth leadership led by Mr. Ambrose Otu; Abam Omini Abam (Ebilla); Excess Omini Eyong; Godwin Okoi Onun the younger brother to Rev. Ofem to hire cultists who were given the sum of thirty thousand naira to buy bullets.

In the early hours of Monday, March 15th, 2021 at about 8AM, our reporter was told that the afore named persons, except Rev. Ofem alongside the hired cultists arrived the construction site and began engaging the vicinity on a shooting spree as a means of threat; to deter the youths from coming closer.

On hearing the gunshots, the youths mobilised themselves with the advise of not holding any piece of wood nor metal, rather, going there empty handed to be killed “so as history will see and know the degree of man’s inhumanity to man as demonstrated by a holy church,” — according to one the youths who informed MoonRayNews that even the injunction installed on the land was removed after Eld. Sunday Ottoh paid one of the said hoodlums the sum of ten thousand naira (N10,000) to remove it.

At the site, the Special Adviser on Youths and Sports to Yakurr Local Government Council, Mr. Eteng Ikoi (largely known as Ben Bruce) beckoned on both youth parties to leave the site to White House Hotel for a peace talk.

As talks commenced, the Ekpani Paternal Family narrated how the church sold a portion of the land they gave it to one Emeke Ojafor; sold another portion to Ugobo filling station and hostels; another to Eno Ndidi Plaza and yet another to White House Hotel; and among others, noting that if nothing was done and on time, the church may never see the need to drop its land selling business.

Ekpani youths went ahead to make known their demands. Howthat, they demand a one hundred thousand naira (N100,000 negotiable) each year for the number of years leased and two security jobs employment slots. In all, they said the demands were not for the church to meet but the telecom company — reason for which they initially requested a meeting with the company which, however, was denied them by the church.

Their demands were promised to be communicated to Rev. Ofem same day by one of their representatives in company of the local government’s Special Adviser on Youths and Sports Affairs. This did not go through successfully as they were later told Rev. Ofem had travelled but will return by 4pm — this, our reporter said never came to pass.

To this end, the Ekpani youths reiterated their unhappinesses over the wanton land racketeering by some greedy elements in All Saints Presbyterian Church Ugep, even as they called on the moderator of the upper synod, Aba to come to their rescue and do the same justice done to Ediba community of Abi Local Government Area; Afikpo, Abiapum, others over the church’s land misuse.

Meanwhile, when our reporter called the youth leadership, Comr. Ubi Pres who is Yakurr Youth President, it was learnt that, against the position of Ekpani youths that the Ugep youths leadership mobilized cultists to the site, Comr. Ubi Pres told him that it was Eld. Ottoh who paid cultists the sum of thirty thousand naira (N30,000) as mobilization to the site in order to restrict Ekpani Paternal Family youths from stagging their protest.

As at the time of filling this report, efforts were still being made to get the church’s response.