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2023 GOVERNORSHIP AND
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EXCLUSIVE: Ebonyi state is fertile for investors – Ebonyi Commissioner for Lands and Survey [WATCH]
Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Ebonyi state is fertile for investors – Ebonyi Commissioner for Lands and Survey [WATCH]

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Dr. Matthew Nwobasi is the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Lands. Prior to his appointment as Commissioner, he had previously served as a Caretaker Chairman of Abakaliki Local Government. In this interview with Pacesetter, he bares his mind on happenings in his Ministry and the political atmosphere in Ebonyi state, engendered by Governor Francis Nwifuru. Dateline: December 21, 2023.

 

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Let’s get to know you. Before you became Commissioner for Lands, what have you been engaged with? 

Well, before my appointment I was a Director of Finance and Supply in Ebonyi State Civil Service. I’m still a civil servant. I’m a holder of three degrees; Bachelor of Science Degree, Masters Degree and PhD. Apart from my academic qualifications, I have other professional qualifications, I’m a Chartered Fellow of National Accountants, Chartered Fellow of Nigerian Institute of Bankers. Further, sometime in 2001, I was appointed as a Caretaker Chairman of Abakaliki Local Government Area.

What were things like in the Ministry when you took over? 

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Well, when I took over the ministry as the Commissioner for Lands, you know this ministry is one of the strong base for revenue, for IGR of the states. So, when I took over, our land automation system was not working. That is to say, we were not printing C of Os for a reasonable period. But when I came on board, I tried to tackle that problem because without that, it’s as good as there is no ministry, because we can’t register power of attorney, deed of assignments. In fact, all land title documents couldn’t be processed because the system collapsed. On my investigation, I discovered that the previous administration had problems with the contractor who set up the system. So, I waded into it and by the grace of God, the matter is now resolved. 

Apart from the issue of automating the land system, from when you assumed office till date, what new achievements can be credited to you? 

Yes, there are many achievements. I only took that question as a problem we faced. We have made some reasonable achievements. For example, the present site of the Ebonyi State University of ICT, we successfully acquired that land there, measuring over sixty acres and have completely paid the compensation because the processing of acquisition of land is not completed until adequate compensation has been paid. The University site is being cleared now as we speak. Apart from that, there were some areas, some layouts which were designated for schools to be established. When I came on board, I discovered that those layouts were parcellated and allocated to some people. We discovered that it was against the mantra of the present administration and immediately we canceled all the allocations. However, we did not leave them, we have relocated some and some are yet to get theirs. Again, some zones or lands were allotted but the allottees had no access to those areas, we are providing access to them to encourage development of those areas. As I speak, the Federal Government has requested to acquire land for what the Renewed Hope Agenda for Urban houses. We’re in the process of doing that. On the staff welfare, we’re working in good relationship with the staff that the issue of not coming to work on time has stopped in the ministry since we came on board. So, those are some of the achievements we have made.

Due to the seeming almighty powers of governors derived from the Land Use Act, citizens appear to lay allegations of land grabbing against state governors. What are your thoughts? Is anything with the similitude of land grabbing obtainable in Ebonyi?

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We don’t believe in land grabbing. I define land grabbing as the excess use of the power of land users by not following the due process. It’s correct to say that all lands belong to the state governor or the state which is true, but for acquisition it must be for overriding public interest and that public interest must be defined. You can’t go and take people’s land for overriding public interest, you state in particular, defining the public interest. If you have followed those processes, for me it’s not land grabbing. Land grabbing can only play when you do not follow the Land Use Act of 1978. Citing an example with the one we have done, the people were happy, jubilating because they saw reasons for the acquisition and they are going to benefit more. So, this administration has nothing to do with land grabbing.

Are there lists of verifiable compensations to citizens especially looking at some of the massive projects of the previous administration and the bigger ones to be undertaken by this administration? 

Our administration is about six months old. You can access us within the frame of six months. In the areas I told you we acquired lands, where we are building the ICT University, all the people whose properties, including economic trees, were located in that area have been adequately compensated and they did not complain anywhere. Instead they were very grateful that the government did what they didn’t believe they would do, they took their lands to build school for them yet they are paying them. Other areas we intend to acquire land are going to be the same without hitches. What a wonderful government.

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Let’s get to growing Ebonyi’s GDP through investments. For an investor who wants to come into Ebonyi state, what are the processes approved by the state government for acquiring lands?  

First of all, we would like to see your proposal. Some people do not have the right investment to propose, in a bid to secure a land, they come up with promises such as creating employment just to have your interest, and in the long run they will not give you what they proposed because their interest is to grab the land. For us here, we will assess you based on your proposal and past experience. Of course the integrity test must be there, what have you done in the past in the areas where you say you are an expert? Ebonyi state is very fertile for investors. The state government is trying to increase the ease of doing business so that investors will not face heavy taxations. The government has relaxed a lot of taxes for investors in Ebonyi since we came onboard. So for me, those are the good windows for investors in the state.

What more should the governor and people of Ebonyi expect from you and your ministry? 

Taking the land management system in Ebonyi State to another level. It is our intention that before one year of this administration, the land management system in Ebonyi State will be equal to none in terms of good management. We want to make the issue of land racketeering a thing of the past. Before now, people can sell other people’s land, you can purchase other people’s property without the original owner knowing. But at the end; because of what we are going to put in place, every square inch in Ebonyi State will be in our system, in the sense that whatever you do about land, we will know from our office. That is what we are going to put in place. This thing I’m telling you is only happening currently in Kigali, Rwanda. We are working hard to ensure that we put our management system to that standard.

Let’s take a leap to the politics of the state. With what’s happening in Rivers state today, we are propelled to ask, what’s Governor Nwifuru’s relationship like with his predecessor?

It’s an extremely cordial relationship. Since the appointment of the former governor as a Minister, he has visited this state not less than three times and each time he visits, he pays a courtesy call to His Excellency, the Governor of this State. In fact, from what happened today in our ecumenical center (referring to the Christmas party for the elderly ones in Ebonyi), nobody needs to be told that the present Governor is a unifier. If I told you there is no other party in Ebonyi, you will take I’m exaggerating, but that is true. That is the true position. All the elders from other political parties were dancing together courtesy of our Governor. So there’s nothing like political crisis. In fact, his name now is “God given Governor” because the actors in the opposition are now really enjoying the dividend of democracy. So what again are you fighting for? Each time Umahi visits, he will announce to us that Governor Francis Ogbonna Nwifuru is the leader of the party, no other person.

There seem to be a cohesion between the governor and those described as elders and founding fathers of Ebonyi State. What does this portend?  

This is the fourth civilian administration. During the time of Dr. Sam Egwu as governor, of course, I was a local government chairman then, we never had anything like elders’ council or founding fathers. It was during the time of Chief Martin Elechi as governor that he formed what they used to call founding fathers. These are the people believed to have fought for the creation of states and they stood as those you can consult, so we had that time during his time as founding fathers. But when Dave came onboard after Elechi, you know what played out. The handover was not smooth one, that is my own belief and because of that, instead of the former Governor continuing with founding fathers, he inaugurated his own and called them elders’ council, those he believed are the elders of the state. Now our God given governor has come, he united and recognized both the elders’ council and the founding fathers. That is the situation now.

Would you credit this to Gov. Nwifuru’s style of leadership?

Sure, no other person than Governor Francis Nwifuru. He’s the one who did it. He did it and people are happy. Everybody has his own place or role to play. So, the credit goes to no other person than Governor Nwifuru.

Do you see the Governor winning at the Supreme Court?

It’s all over. The Supreme Court is just to complete the wheel of justice. I’m not a lawyer but I have been listening attentively on the matter on why they went to court. They’re not contesting that they won this election, not at the tribunal or the appeal court. Their ground of going to court is that prior to the election, he (Nwifuru) was a member of the PDP, was not properly nominated by the APC and as such should not fly the flag of APC. Gentlemen, is that their headache? It is not your duty to drink Panadol for somebody’s headache. It’s only the APC that can complain who’s their member and who is not their member. So, for me, there is no case. The summary of the answer to your question is that he has won in the Tribunal and Appeal Court and surely he’s going to win in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court cannot jettison the decision of the other courts. I don’t think it has happened that way and our own will not be the first.


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