A wave of scramble for land on the Mambilla Plateau by speculators is threatening the take-off of the multi-billion dollar Mambilla Hydropower project, Daily Trust investigation has revealed.
The 3050 megawatts (MW) Mambilla power project in Taraba State, with a contract cost of N2.1 trillion is yet to begin, over 40 years after it was initiated.
The project was conceived in 1973, but suffered several setbacks with a botched contract awarded in 2007 by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, which was later canceled by late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua.
Investigation by Daily Trust revealed that about 10,000 communities, which are to be affected by the project in Sardauna Local Government Area of the state have been waiting for payment of compensation for their lands and their relocation to begin.
Ahead of this, however, land on the Mambilla Plateau has become an attraction to prominent individuals and politicians who are scrambling to buy off large parcels, especially in areas across River Donga, where part of the project is to be domiciled.
It was gathered that land speculators, who include top government officials and party stalwarts have already secured certificates of occupancy for large expanses of land on the Mambilla, even without the consent of landowners in the affected areas where the project is to be sited.
The aim of grabbing large parcels of land, mostly in Nguroje constituency and part of Agbon area in Kurmi Local Government Area of the state, is to make profit of millions of Naira in compensation on the lands needed for the power project, Daily Trust learnt.
Daily Trust reports that about N60 billion was set aside by the federal government for compensation on land to be acquired for the project.
Our findings further showed that the natives, who are both farmers and herders residing in areas such as Barup, Tep, Mbamnga, Kwarakwara, Yambam, Hainare, Warwar, Vakkude, among others, have vowed not to relinquish their lands without due compensation.
It was gathered that about 80 percent of the land is underdeveloped and there are fears of possible crisis between the speculators and the natives when payment of compensation begins.
A local resident, Albert Dominic, told our reporter in Gembu, headquarters of Sardauna Local Government Area that several speculators have, in recent weeks, been trooping to Barup, War, Mbu, Tamviya and Tep areas to purchase land.
Another resident, Umaru Jalike Hainare, claimed that there is illegal occupation of a disputed land belonging to one Ardo Hassan's family in Mayomodowa, in anticipation of getting compensation from the Federal Ministry of Power.
Both Albert and Umaru expressed fear that if the recent ongoing indiscriminate purchase of land on the Mambilla Plateau is not checked, it could generate serious concerns for the take-off of the long-awaited hydropower project.
Contacted, the Chairman of Sardauna LGC, Mr. Oliver Wubon, advised landowners in the area to desist from selling their lands to speculators.
He said the Federal Ministry of Power will follow due process in the demarcation, assessment and compensation of lands that would be affected, and warned landowners to be cautious of land speculators with dubious intentions.
Further findings revealed that about N900 million was released by the Federal Ministry of Power to the Taraba State government for a survey of land for the project and surveyors are anxiously waiting for the release of the money to start the work.
It was gathered that compensation to landowners in the area earmarked for the project would be done after the survey, which is expected to last for a period of five months.
Taraba State Commissioner for Power, Dr. Garba Badina, had also disclosed that sensitisation campaign on the Mambilla hydropower project would begin on February 13, this year.
He told Daily Trust in an interview that the campaign would start with a stakeholders' meeting in Jalingo and move to Gembu, headquarters of the local government area.
The campaign, he said, is in preparation for survey work to be conducted on areas earmarked for the multi-billion Naira power project.
He said, it was necessary in order to create awareness among key stakeholders in Mambilla Plateau as well as among the communities whose land would be acquired for the project.
Speculators wasting their time -Leader, host communities
The Chairman, Mambilla Hydro Electricity Host Communities Association, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, has said those involved in land speculation with the aim of getting compensation were only wasting their time.
He said though such issues were expected to manifest in a big project such as the Mambilla Hydro Power Project, "It is not going to be business as usual", as the association has taken necessary steps to sensitise the host communities on the processes and procedures of compensation.
"As a unionist and town planner, the processes are quite clear to me. We are going to deal directly with the traditional landowners; we will be there personally with valuers and it must be in consonance with the rules. So, I can assure you that the speculators are only wasting their time because the host communities will not allow them," Kaigama said.
He disclosed that the demarcation of boundaries on areas to be acquired had commenced, adding that the state government has promised to release funds they got from the federal government for the purpose of carrying out a survey.
We are yet to receive formal complaint - Power ministry
Speaking on the development, Ado Adamu, Special Assistant on Public Affairs to the Minister of Power, Engr. Saleh Mamman, said the ministry was yet to receive any formal complaint on the matter.
According to him, those buying land from locals around the proposed location of the Mambilla project were only speculating.
He said though there was no formal complaint in respect to the land, payment of compensation has not started.
"It is the survey and mapping of the prospective project site that is being carried out. The land grabbers are only speculating and there are strong institutions and instruments to protect the locals.
"The landmass of the Mambilla project will only be determined at the end of the survey and the Federal Ministry of Power will work closely with relevant people to ensure that compensation gets to the right people.
"It is the survey that will show which land will be affected and who is the owner. Of course, you cannot rule out the possibility of some people buying a parcel of land in expectation of high value.
"The assurance from the ministry of power is that we have a standard; the United Nations' standard and that is the template that will be used for the compensation.
"But if somebody wants to sell his land, it is a different matter. The minister recently met with the governor of Taraba State and many issues were brought up. Also, there is no official report to us on the matter and in order to have a harmonious relationship, we relate closely with the host community. It is a registered association with trustees and everything.
"They are closely monitoring what is happening and we are sure they will protect their people. All interest groups within the location are represented; they were part of the meeting the minister held with stakeholders on how to ensure a hitch-free take-off of the project," Adamu said.