Relief came the way of Mrs. Loretta Aniagolu of Amankwo Eke community, Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State, when the Enugu High Court recently restricted some of the community stakeholders from selling their communal land, which the stakeholders had insisted “her interest does not count because she is a woman.”
The executives of the town union, Amankwo Eke Town Union, had in 2005, sold 20 hectares of the communal land (about 200 plots) to an industrialist, Mr. Ozor Damian, for him to build a factory without the consent of other community members.
Aniagolu had on learning about the sales enquired to know why it was sold, but the town union executives allegedly told her that as a woman she has no say in the matter. After waiting for the issue to be resolved to no avail, Aniagolu in 2011, dragged the town union executives to court.
She prayed the court, among other things, to declare that just like men, women in Amankwo Eke should have right to partake in the distribution of communal land and, therefore, ought to be duly consulted before any sale of such land. She also asked the court to declare null and void the deed of conveyance given to Damian who bought the land in dispute.
For over two years, the case lingered in court, but early this year, a non-governmental organization (NGO), Women International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which fights for the rights of women, delved into the matter.
Recently, the Enugu High Court presided over by Justice Afam Nwobodo, reviewing the submissions of both parties in the suit, affirmed that the land was a communal land which as stipulated by the town union constitution, belonged to every member of the community regardless of sex.
The judge, therefore, granted Aniagolu’s prayers and struck out the counter-claims made by the defendants as being invalid. Justice Nwobodo said: “The constitution of the town union was specific that it is the land committee’s responsibility to allocate land and not the executive of the town union.”
He noted that the constitution of the town union stated that land allocation should be carried out by a 14-member land committee. He said it was wrong for two persons who had no business with the land documents to have signed it.
He ruled that since Aniagolu was a bona fide indigene of the community, and the land belonged to all persons, regardless of sex, she has the right to know about dealings concerning the land and the right to sue if she so desires. The ruling brought some relief to the NGO and women who came to the court in solidarity with Aniagolu.
However, Damian justified his deal: “The judge didn’t say that it was too much. It was the minimum requirement for our project. Those people saying it is too much do not have any inclination of the quantum of project that we are coming in with. You can’t determine that it is too much when you don’t know our business plan.”
A stakeholder in the community, Mr Osita Okechukwu, expressed disappointment at the judgment: “The community through the village ward level general assembly in May 2011, approved and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with him, giving him the consent of the community and everything.
“Unluckily, one of our sisters, Chief Lorreta Aniagolu, who even came on the day of signing had to go this way. I remember telling her that day that ‘look, we are giving him 20 hectares of land, go back as a consultant and come back, we will give out even 50 hectares as far as it is for developmental purpose,’ only for her to write us a very flimsy letter, asking why we gave him 20 hectares of land.
“We said should there be any other group that has a viable engagement in Eke, that we are even going to give the person more portion of land. But the conditions we gave him is that if there is any piece of land given to you and you fail to use it after two years, it remains the communal land. She said she is happy with the judgment as he has given us the conditions of the technical papers we should put up together.
“The good thing is that all this while the Amankwo Eke Progressive Union who are the representatives of Amankwo people have stood behind Damian and have resolved that if there is any document or anything that could be done for him to continue the project, we would do that because other communities are begging him to come to their places.”
President of WILPF, Nigeria, and its global vice president, Mrs Joy Onyeso, explained that they couldn’t turn blind eye on a woman who was being stripped of her rights simply because of gender:
“The critical thing for us there is that they said that because she is a woman, she has no right to bring the case to court or to be in the decision making body of the community and for us, that is very unfair.
“We are aware that there is a recent ruling by the Supreme Court that women have the right of inheritance in whatsoever community both at common laws and additionally. So, for them to have made that as their ground is uncalled for.”
Woman Floors Enugu Community In Land Tussle