Ned Nwoko, a former house of representatives member, has broken his silence on his involvement in a protracted land tussle in a Delta community.
The businessman had been in the news after Pamela Ifejoku, daughter of a community leader in Idumeje-Ugboko village, pleaded with the politician to facilitate the release of Okey Ifejoku, her father, from police detention.
Pamela had accused Nwoko of being behind the arrest of his rivals with respect to the land dispute.
Court documents seen by TheCable showed that a Delta court had ordered the release of Ifejoku and five others following legal advice from the state’s Department of Public Prosecution (DPP).
In an interview with BBC Igbo, Nwoko denied any involvement in their arrest. He said those in detention are being prosecuted for meting out violence on the community after a disagreement during the land tussle.
“Some misinformation is deliberately being spread on social media by Pamela and some other people,” Nwoko said.
“Understand the background of the crisis in my village. For those in court, it’s because of the violence they visited on the community. They took the chief, women, the youth from their homes to the palace and beat them to a pulp.
“The prosecution of the guys who committed these crimes is ongoing. They are the oppressors, not me. I am standing for the oppressed, the family of those who were killed. So much nonsense has been said about land.
“It has nothing to do with the land. I followed due process in applying for land. I got the king to approve it; he wrote a letter and signed it. He put together the land allocation committee that looked into my application.
“And there’s an MOU signed with the community where they would have 40 percent of the golf course. In addition, I have the certificate of occupancy given by the government. So there is no issue about land.
“A farmer went to court. I’ve spent over N300 million compensating. That land belongs to the community. The files are there. The report of the governor’s committee by Chief Uzor is there. What more do you want to talk about?”
Nwoko, however, failed to specifically speak on the case of the detained Ifejoku, who is the head of Idumuje-Ugboko Development Union (IUDU).
Kingmaker attributes detention to attack on the palace
Chukwuka Ogwu, a kingmaker in the village, said Ned’s construction project in the village was going smoothly until a group of youths stormed the palace and assaulted chiefs and women.
He said: “Early 2015, January to March, Ned came with documents saying he wanted to build a varsity for sports with a golf course. The clan of chiefs was very delighted so much so that we agreed when we met the Obi (king).
“Six months later, some boys came from Port Harcourt, Lagos, Ibadan, everywhere. They said they were members of the Idumuje Igboko Development Union (IUDU). They said they found that the arrangement with Ned is untrue.”
He said they accused the chiefs of selling the land to Nwoko illegally and that the matter was in court from 2015 to 2017 when the king died and the son assumed power.
He said the group of youths subsequently returned to the palace to “beat us all up”.
“They beat up about 29 other persons, going from house to house for three days. They accused us of being allies to Ned. What we did was to go by the law,” he added.
“We went to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to complain. They came here. We went to the deputy inspector-general of police in Benin. He came, took photos. We made an extensive report of what happened.
“They started investigating. The result of the investigation has now come after three years, hence the prosecution.”
‘Locals are languishing in jail due to Ned’s influence’
Azuka Jebose, a veteran journalist who speaks on behalf of the affected residents, described Nwoko’s claims as “a weak response”.
Jebose, who resides in North Carolina, US, added: “If he comes to you people and tells you, ‘my hand is not there; it’s the authorities’, that is a weak response. I’ve had enough of this nonsense. Nobody is asking you not to build. Do it the right way.
“You cannot be intimidating people and locking them using the police and the judiciary and claiming your hands and not there. You smartly removed your name. Locals of Idumuje Igboko are languishing in jail.
“Okey and six others are in jail because Ned is connected to the justice ministry. They need to look into this guy.”
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