Land: Tension Rises as Kwara Poly, Communities Head for Showdown

Date: 2024-03-27

The management of the Kwara State Polytechnic and its host communities are headed for a collision course as they both claim ownership of sections of land upon which the school is built.

The situation that is fast degenerating into a major crisis, if not quickly nipped in the bid, has pitched the polytechnic against its host communities.

Arewa PUNCH investigations reveal that whereas the Polytechnic insisted that the school through the state government in 1974 had paid compensations to the land owners upon which the institution is built, the communities who are the original land owners say the claim is a blatant lie, as they maintain that they never got a kobo from the state government as compensation.

Meanwhile, the school insisted that it paid the natives, who were the host communities for the land, and that a total number of 122 families were beneficiaries of the payment.

However, the villagers, in their reactions, described the polytechnic’s claim of compensation payment, as stated by the institution’s Students’ Director as a “blatant lie,” challenging the school to make public the “valid” documents of the claim of acquisition of their land, as well as the list of those who were paid in 1974, as well as list their respective villages.

Speaking on behalf of the school at a press conference in Ilorin, the Kwara Polytechnic Director of Student Services, Mr. Abubakar Garba Aremu, maintained that the families who owned lands on which the institution is built were adequately compensated as at July 6, 1974, pointing out that the families had since been asked to move out of the land.

Aremu also disclosed that even then, over 1,000 hectares of land had been encroached upon out of a total land space of 4,500 hectares acquired by the government to accommodate the institution.

Therefore, he appealed to the government to build a perimeter fence in a bid to securing the land, which he claimed was acquired in 1973.

According to Aremu, construction of developmental projects and erection of other structures had been made difficult to achieve due to the effects of the incessant encroachment activities of the villagers, stressing that threats, intimidation and litigations by the villagers had also served as stumbling blocks against the plan of the school to establish a School of Agriculture.

In spite of these “setbacks” the school’s director assured that the institution would not be deterred to take decisive actions.

He said, “We’ll not be deterred by campaigns of calumny or litigations by people already compensated. Kwara Polytechnic extends to Oyun River Bridge, Oloru, Oke Ose, Dangiwa. So, anyone occupying those areas is occupying Kwara Polytechnic land.”

To underscore its resolve at taking back its encroached landspace, the institution had in the past two weeks laid siege on Gatta, a very small host community, out of several others in a war-like manner.

Our correspondents learnt that the siege consisted troops made up of soldiers, the police and personnel of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.

Arewa PUNCH observed that both the military and paramilitary personnel deployed to the polytechnic’s site were heavily armed and moved in a convoy of ‘Operation Harmony,’ a state security squad carrying stern face security personnel.

Meanwhile, the school has begun to bulldoze and demolish what it termed as the illegal structures that the villagers had built on its encroached land.

Although the Gatta community residents have also condemned the demolition exercise started by the polytechnic under the supervision of the deployed stern-face security personnel, as they insist that the section of the occupied land which the school lays claim to is their ancestral cemetery, where their ancestors were buried for about 300 years now.

The villagers had also alleged brutalisation of their sons, wives and children by the security officials, referring in particular to the activities of the personnel of the NSCDC, who they alleged were specially positioned by the Polytechnic in the village and who had also been allegedly harassing and brutalising the villagers.

Further reacting to the Polytechnic’s claims, Imam Abdulkareem Ayinde, the 135-year-old patriarch of Gatta, who is said to be the oldest man in all the communities, denied the sale of the land to the Polytechnic, insisting that there was never a time they had an agreement on their lands with the government, and neither was there an event where they were invited to be compensated for their lands.

The centenarian who spoke through his grandson, an Inspector of Police, Mr. Saheed Abdulkareem said, “I am the oldest man today in this area. I challenge any government official to come and tell me when and where they told us that our land had been taken over for the purpose of this school use and that we were paid off and asked to vacate our ancestral home, where we have been living for over 300 years.

“Our great grandfathers founded this place as hunters. The same is the case of other villages here,” he narrated, adding that, “we chose to stay close to one another because of the security at the time, and so that we could jointly ward off invaders and attackers.

“What they told us was that they were bringing a school that would bring civilisation closer to us. They never told us they were taking over our land from us and chase us away from our ancestral home. It was only in 1976 that we had reason to have a cause to discuss with government in the palace of the then Emir of Ilorin, His Eminence, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, may Allah grant him sweet Aljannat.

“The school came to build Quarter ‘C’ on our land, and my children then told me. We met them and said no, they could not. They went to the Emir, who invited us to the palace with the government people. He pleaded with us to allow them to build that one since they had started and warned them not to go beyond that point, and we both, in honour of his majesty, agreed to his request.

“They (the school) had since then kept to the agreement. I am surprised that they are now going outside the agreement to dishonour the Emir. Is it because he had passed on? We were never invited by the government to any meeting to surrender our land and be paid off ever since,” the oldest man disclosed as he sobbed.

When Arewa PUNCH contacted the Kwara State Commissioner for Tertiary Education, Dr. Mary Arinde, she was said to have travelled out of the state capital on official duty. Her Permanent Secretary, was also busy in a meeting when this reporter called in their offices.

However, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps ASC Ayoola Michael, said that the alleged intimidation and brutalisation made by the villagers were not true.

Ayoola said, “If the NSCDC operatives deployed to the school were there, they were carrying out their lawful duties and they were not armed.”

Meanwhile, Alhaji Atanda Musa from Akuwo, one of the affected Communities, said they are in the same struggle with the Gatta village over the matter.

He said in all, the affected villages, both small and big sizes are over 100, insisting that there was never a time the government asked them to vacate their ancestral homes, neither was any of the villagers paid any form of compensation.

Like others, maintained that the polytechnic’s claim was not true.

“There was no time anybody told us we are vacating our ancestral home and nobody was paid any compensation. They are just using their power to victimise us because they know we can’t fight for ourselves.”

But Surveyor Garba Aremu, the Polytechnic’s Director of Students Services insisted that a total of 49 villages were involved in the land acquisition by the government in 1974.

Arewa PUNCH recalls that the Kwara State House of Assembly in a resolution passed in January 2024 had urged the state government to construct a perimeter fence on the land of the state Polytechnic to save it from further encroachment.

It is equally on record that the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari had set up a committee to meditate over the messy land dispute between the Polytechnic and the communities.

Aremu, further told reporters that included Arewa PUNCH at a press conference that the Emir’s efforts at resolving the land issue of the school was yielding result as one of the families that took the Polytechnic to Court had indicated its resolve to withdrawal the case from the court.

“One of the families that instituted a litigation on the Polytechnic land has informed us that they would withdraw the matter from the court following the Emir of Ilorin’s intervention and we are still discussing with their (family) lawyers on the process to withdraw the suit from the Court,” Aremu disclosed.



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