Abuja — Angry youths of Gbagyi village in Abuja yesterday blocked the convoy of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo while protesting against alleged seizing of a parcel of land belonging to the community by the Nigerian Army.
The youths, who have been squabbling with the army over the land in Tungan Maje area of the Federal Capital Territory, blocked Osinbajo’s motorcade on the busy Umaru Yar Adua expressway connecting the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport.
The vice president was heading to the airport in the morning when he ran into the protesters at Goza village. He was forced to alight from his car to address the villagers after his security aides failed to appease them.
After listening to the complaints of the protesters, Osinbajo assured them that he would engage the military with a view to finding a lasting solution to the conflict. His words came as a soothing balm to the youths who cheered him and cleared the way for his convoy to move on.
The vice president’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, later disclosed on his twitter handle that the situation had been brought under control. Akande said that Osinbajo appealed for calm and assured the protesters that their grievances would be addressed adequately.
The angry villagers had last week stormed the National Assembly to protest against the army which they accused of forcibly taking over their land and killing some community residents.
The blockade of the convoy caused a gridlock that temporarily paralysed air traffic operations at the airport. Some aircraft due to land were instructed by the air traffic controllers to hold on.
A passenger, who was flying into Abuja on Max Airline, said: “Our aircraft took off from the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos at about 10:30 a.m. The journey was to last 55 minutes but when we arrived on Abuja air space, the pilot announced we could not land due to operational reasons. The aircraft hovered in the air for about 30 extra minutes before we were cleared to land. “
The source disclosed that some passengers on the aircraft who were not familiar with the sudden delay in landing and the pilot’s announcement were terribly worried until a second announcement that the aircraft had been cleared to land.
But Henrietta Yakubu, the spokesperson of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), told The Guardian that the slight delay before the aircraft was cleared to land was a routine industry practice whenever an important person was taking off or landing. She said there was no need for passengers to be apprehensive.
One of the leaders of the youths, Ezekiel Dalhatu, who spoke with journalists, said that the alleged illegal military occupation of their ancestral land became possible because the FCT had refused to recognise the rights of the indigenous people.
He said the protest was to tell the government that the people should be given their proper place in the territory and must not be treated as second-class citizens.
“We came here to express our displeasure with the way the government and the military are seizing our lands without compensation, and treating us like second-class citizens in our own land.
“We are saying that henceforth, the position of the minister of FCT should be held by an indigene instead of an outsider. We also want the government to treat us with respect because they keep taking over our lands and pushing us into the interior without proper infrastructure,” he said.
But the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai said nothing would stop the army from constructing a cantonment to be named after President Buhari on the land.
In his reaction to the protest, Buratai, who advised the aggrieved persons to seek redress in court, said that the army had every right to the land, claiming it possessed legal documents to prove its ownership.
According to Gen. Buratai, all documents concerning the allocation of the site, including the certificate of occupancy, have been duly processed and legally obtained.
He advised anyone or group of persons laying claims to the land to follow due process by contacting relevant authorities. He also enjoined aggrieved parties not to take the laws into their hands as any act of unlawful incursion would not be tolerated.
The army chief spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Army Command Estate and Headquarters, Directorate of Legal Services of the Nigerian Army.