For more than a year now, when some youths in their numbers backed by the police stormed some houses of a Muslim community along Kalong road, in Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau State, chased the occupants away and seized their houses, the members of the community have been suffering in the area.
The residents of the community, who are still calling for justice, said they are currently living as Internally Displaced Persons in a primary school in Shendam with their families as their houses are locked down by the police. They alleged that the police are used by certain influential individuals to prevent them from getting back into the houses after chasing them away.
The residents said their lands were also seized by the police in connivance with the same influential individuals, which they said they acquired 15 years ago from the rightful owner who, they said, is still alive. They said they had built and lived in the houses for more than a decade but suddenly, the police chased them away without any court order.
Narrating how they were chased away, the affected residents alleged that some youths who were accompanied by the police arrived in their community in their numbers on June 9, this year, with knives, cutlasses and other weapons, stormed the community and drove them away.
Some of the victims said they were not at home when the youths and the police came to their houses, alleging that their valuables were stolen during the raid.
The residents noted that they were surprised to see the police and the youths coming to intimidate and harass them, and subsequently seize their houses without legitimate reasons. They said they offended no one and didn’t deserve to be treated the way they were treated, adding that they were not party to any litigation and therefore did not deserve to be treated that way.
According to the residents, who claimed to have genuinely bought the plots of land from one Shiklong Dunglek who currently bears the name Muhammadu Basiru Liba, they all have their agreement papers on the transaction.
The residents accused the former state Commissioner of Land and Survey, and former Acting National Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Festus Fuanter of allegedly using the Divisional Police Officer, Danladi Ringjwat, of Shendam into taking what they described as unlawful act against them.
But Hon. Fuanter claimed that the land was seized following a court directing his family to take ownership of the land.
Inusa Iliyasu, one of those whose houses were seized, explained how he bought his plot of land. “I bought this land from Muhammadu Bashir, popularly known as Liba. I built my house more than 15 years ago. We were living in peace when suddenly, some police came and chased us away.
“They removed all our properties in our absence and locked down the house. We then moved to a primary school to stay there. Since I built the house, nobody has ever talked about the land until now. The person that we bought the land from is still alive. We are begging the authorities concerned to do the needful and give us back our houses.”
Shu’aibu Ibrahim, another victim said, “We are in pain. It is unacceptable because you cannot buy a plot of land, build and just like that, somebody will come and seize your house. If they are sincere, where were they when the plots were sold and even developed many years ago? The police action in this matter is not proper. Our prayer is for us to get our houses back.
Garba Liber, another victim while narrating his ordeal said: “I was at the market when I was called that some youths and the police came and removed my property from my own house. I quickly returned and met my wife and children crying. When I attempted to take my properties back to the house the police arrested me and locked me up.
“I have never been a party to any suit regarding the land. All I know is I bought my plot and built my house. But today, the police are denying me access to my house.
Bashir, who confirmed to have sold the plots to the residents of the area, also claimed that he bought the land 50 years ago. “I bought the land from one Alhaji Bala Sarkin Kasuwa. It is about 50 years now. When I bought the land, we went to the Shendam LG secretariat and processed the agreement letter together with Bala’s children as witnesses. It was a farm. I purposely bought it for farming. I cultivated the land for more than 30 years before development got to the area.
“When development got to the area, we started building houses in the area. I built mine and sold some plots to many people who have also built their houses.
But all of a sudden, last year, some youths and the police came to chase us out of the area. Those claiming the ownership started doing so soon after the ethno-religious crisis in Yelwa, after we fled the area to avoid the crisis. But when everything was calm and we later returned to the area, Faunter family began to claim the ownership of the land. They told us that if we want the land we should go to court. That was the beginning of the trouble. I am the owner of the land because I have my papers.
“Nobody has ever claimed the land including the head of the Faunter family, who died about 15 years ago. I did not buy the land from the said family. I bought it from someone who is also from Goemai tribe. I lived with their father for more than 30 years. He had never claimed the land.
“My prayer is I am calling on the government and the police to as a matter of fairness do justice to us and release our houses and land to us. My house and a plot of land were also seized. Let there be justice. For any family to claim this land after 50 years, is s joke,” Bashir added.
Reacting to the allegation Faunter, who was accused of being behind the attacks, said the issue followed a land dispute between his family and one Muhammadu Bashir and two others, which was settled in his family’s favour by a court.
“This has to do with a land dispute between the Fuanter family of Shendam and one Mohammadu Bashiru and 2 others. Though I’m not one of the litigants, my name keeps featuring prominently in it. For the records, this matter was settled last year by competent Plateau State High Court in favour of the Fuanter family.
`The court has since granted the family a court order and a Deed of Possession in addition to ordering the execution of the judgment. I know for a fact that the religious leaders and traditional rulers in Shendam have tried to intervene on behalf of the judgment debtors but they refused to honour all invitations by the chief imams, sarkin Hausawa and the paramount ruler of Shendam.
`Instead, they’re resorting to maligning my reputation in the social media. If they fail to take the olive branch, justice will certainly take its cause,” he said.
When contacted on the matter, the Divisional Police Officer of the area who was alleged to be conniving with Fuanter to seize the properties said he was not in a position to talk on the matter and directed Daily Trust to the spokesman of the state police command.
When contacted, the PPRO, DSP Alabo Alfred, did not respond to a text message and calls by our correspondent.
Newsmen reports that following a petition to his office on the matter, the Inspector General of Police has since June 27, directed the state Commissioner of Police, Bartholomew Onyeka, to handle the issue.