The Cross River State government and the Nigerian Navy are at daggers drawn over two plots of land beside the UJ Esuene Stadium, Calabar, adjacent Transcorp Hotel.
The land is surrounded by government buildings with the governor’s office only a stone throw away. The state government is insisting that the Navy will constitute security risk if it puts up a high rise hotel it is proposing on the land.
The government also said the Navy must quit the land because it belonged to the state government, insisting that the Navy neither possessed the required land documents nor did it bother to seek building approval in accordance with urban development regulations and laws of the state, before going ahead with construction on the land.
Last month, Governor Ben Ayade directed the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development, Prof John O. Inyang, to cordon off the land and bar the Navy from gaining access into it.
This must have drawn the irke of the Navy as they blocked the commissioner and his team, and had fully armed personnel posted around the land day and night. But two weeks later, the Navy personnel were replaced by armed policemen who are still keeping watch while work progresses on the site.
Findings show that a section of the land was used as guest house for visiting naval personnel and another section as officers’ mess. The Navy is reported to have used the place for many decades. But the guest house was pulled down in November 2019.
The commandant of NNS Victory in Calabar, Rear Admiral Vincent Okeke, said the Navy did not want to join issues with the state government, having had a very good relationship with it before now.
He said the Navy acquired the land in 1970. “Recently, the Chief of Naval Staff directed that our guest house which is situated on the said land and a part of the mess be pulled down for a more befitting structure for the greater convenience of our personnel and for aesthetics.
“The land belongs to Nigerian Navy. No questions about that. We have all the legal documents. We have occupied it since 1970. Our succeeding officers have occupied the land ever since. We have documents to that effect.
“We don’t have to take permission from Cross River State government before building. We don’t want to join issues with the government. We have good relationship with them.
“We wonder what they mean by Navy posing security threats to the governor,” he also stated.
Speaking separately with journalists, the Commissioners for Land and Urban Development and his counterpart in Information in the state, Prof Inyang and Comrade Asu Okang respectively, maintained that the Navy had no legal right to the land.
Okang said: “The Navy has rampantly commandeered many lands in parts of Calabar to erect their facilities.
“The land on which the Nigerian Navy is attempting to erect their hotel does not belong to them. It belongs to Cross River State Government. It was a one-time military administrator of the state, Navy Captain Ibim Princewill, during his time who put up an official guest house for his personal guests. When he left, because he was a Navy personnel, Navy authorities began to occupy it and subsequently claimed it. But the laws are very clear about ownership of lands.
“Some of the facilities, especially those that surround the governor’s official residence and his office, tend to have compromised the governor’s security.
“For the Navy to deploy armed personnel to guard the land is uncalled for. It is overbearing. The state is not a banana republic that should be ruled with arms,” he said.
He, however, was not sure if the Navy had Certificate of Occupancy for the land in question.
“But even if they have, the constitution grants the governor power over all lands. He has the power to revoke any CofO”, Okang said.
Prof Inyang on his part said the Navy disobeyed court injunctions directing them to stop further development on the land but that they will proceed to another court to obtain an order to pull down the Navy structures not situated on an approved land.
“We don’t intend to have conflict with the Navy but will not tolerate their impunity. Siting a 5-star hotel at the spot will constitute security risk to the governor and the governor’s office. We have advised them to seek permission to enable us to allocate alternative land yet they have refused.
“From our records, they don’t have right to that land. We are only asking them to obey our laws and land regulations yet they continue to flout our laws with impunity”, the commissioner said, denying that the government was out to grab land.
Last week, an 11-man House of Representatives committee on Navy inspected the disputed two plots of land and the committee chairman, Rep. Adamu Gagdi, commended the Navy for such massive structure.
“We are very pleased with the Eastern Naval Command for this structure which will serve desired purpose. What we have seen throughout the tour of projects have made us happy. With what we have seen so far, you have done well. We will encourage you to sustain the tempo of qualiyy work on this hotel building as well as on other projects. It speaks well of the Navy.
“As a lawful military organisation, I urge you not to be distracted”, Gagdi said.
But some stakeholders in the state who spoke are not in support of the government’s action. they frowned against what they describe as land grabbing by the state governor.
A group known as Cross River State Progressives Forum (CRISPROF) last week protested on the streets of Calabar and cautioned the government against having a faceoff with the Navy.
Leader of the protesters, Barrister Eyo Ekpo Nsa, said they were concerned stakeholders in the state and that the huge presence of the Navy in the state has benefits for the citizenry.
Nsa called on the Attorney General of Cross River State, to refer the state governor to Section 49 of the Land Use Act, insisting that the governor has no power to block the Navy from erecting a hotel on their land.