|Chief Anthony Ani|
FORMER Minister of Finance, Chief Anthony Ani, currently the Clan Head of Mbiabo Ikoneto, Odukpani Local Government Area, Cross River State, and a number of leaders of the community are embroiled in a squabble over a 100-hectare land given to Cross River Basin Development Authority, CRBDA, for integrated farming.
Chief Ani, who served under the regime of ex-Head of State, General Sani Abacha (late) maintained that the community gave the land to CRBDA in 1981 for the Green Revolution programme, and the company, which abandoned it soon after the overthrow of late President Shehu Shagari in 1983, had the privileges to return to the land having indicated interest.
However, some leaders led by Etubom Etim Eniang, who said he and not Ani is the rightful Clan Head; Chief James Asikpo and Madam Ani Nsa, countered the ex-minister, arguing that there was no Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, between the company and community, so a new agreement must be entered into before the land is given back to it.
Why we want C’River Basin Authority —Ani
The former minister told Vanguard: “In February 2018, the Authority indicated interest to come back to the land given to them by Ikoneto in 1981 and they listed many things that they would bring with their return. These include renovation of the secondary school they constructed during their short stay at Ikoneto; its roof had since been blown off.
“Others are supply of farming equipment to farmers in the community, integrated farming and supply of improved seedlings to our farmers, forming of cooperative societies and buying of all produce from the farms of the villagers among other benefits.
“That is why we want them to come back, because they are bringing development to our place.”
He stated that when officials of the Basin Authority came to Ikoento to renew the agreement with the community in February 2018, there was a meeting in his house and everybody was present, including those who later protested the return of the Authority to the area.
He added: “I am the Clan Head of Ikoneto and all the land is domiciled in the Ikoneto Traditional Council, which I am head of. Nobody does anything in the land without my consent. I am the one that brought development to this place— the water scheme, electricity, road and all.
“But there is a particular family which does not seem to want progress in this place. One of the members of that family has 14 children and I am the one who is responsible for their education by awarding them scholarships.
“The other one has 11 children and I give them scholarship so that they can leave darkness and see civilisation.
“They are carrying placards that I want to give out their father’s land. But it is my grandfather’s land and I, as the Clan Head and head of the Town Council, decide what to do with the land.
“They complain nobody consulted them. But if you look at the photographs and television footage, you will see all of them there. They were all present on that day, February 18, 2018, when Basin came to see us.”
Crux of the matter
Chief Ani said the major problem in the community was that some leaders benefit from the sale of palm fruits and timber by appropriating the proceeds from such sales, but under his administration as Clan Head, he insisted on public bidding for the sale of palm fruits and the proceeds shared among all the families in Ikoneto.
His words: “That is the reason some people are fomenting trouble. The town hall is in terrible state and can collapse on someone at any time; that is where we hold meetings.
“I spend my money to host such meetings and I have never taken a penny out of Ikoneto purse. We lodge money realised from the sale of land, palm fruits in the bank and use it for scholarships and other important needs of the community.
“If they say it is their fathers’ land I have given to Basin, let them go to court. That land was given to Mbiabo Ikoneto by the Traditional Council and work is going on there now and nobody can stop it because it is for public good.”
Why we oppose Ani—Eniang
On the other hand, one of the opposing leaders, Etubom Eniang disagreed with Chief Ani, saying his late father was the Clan Head of Ikoneto at the time the land the Basin Authority got the land, and that there was no formal agreement and after their departure for several decades, owners of the land took back their land.
He said: “We gave the land to the Cross River Basin Authority over 40 years ago and they did not enter into a formal agreement with us and did not also use the land.
“Now that they are ready to use the place, we have to sign an agreement formally so that each party would know its role.”
He said a situation where the Authority plans to enter into an agreement with Chief Ani, leaving the community out was unacceptable since the land belongs to individual families, not a single person, therefore, everyone should be part of the agreement.
Chief Eniang said he is the Clan Head of the community and not Chief Ani. He displayed documents to prove his selection by the chiefs as the Clan Head, awaiting certification by the government.
He noted: “Let him show you his certificate of recognition. In November 2018, the government set up a panel and invited us to appear, Chief Ani did not show up in that panel
“What he is doing now is not for Basin Authority, but for his children because there are oil deposits in some part of the land. I have the Deeds of Administration on the entire stretch of that land and unless the Authority signs an agreement with the community, they would not be allowed into that land again.”
No comments —Okposing, CRBDA MD
Managing Director of Cross River Basin Development Authority, CRBDA, Engineer Okposing, declined comments on the matter.