Bauchi State Government has called for calm over the issue of allocation of land to the State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to enable it have a cemetery for its dead which is currently generating tension.
The Government also explained that though it has every constitutional right to allocate lands to individuals and organisations for legitimate use, every due process must be followed.
In a reaction to the development, the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the Bauchi State Governor, Mukhtar Gidado, who was flanked by the Commissioner of Lands and Survey, Adamu Gabarin, told Journalists at the Government House, that the said land has not yet been allocated to CAN by the government officially.
According to him, “Our attention as a government has been drawn to a press conference addressed by the Yolan-Bayara, behind Bayara General Hospital, today. To set the records straight, CAN, Bauchi State Chapter, had applied to the Bauchi State Government for a piece of land for the purpose of having its graveyard which is in Bayara area, in the outskirts of Bauchi metropolis.”
Mukhtar Gidado added that, “Government had directed that 50 hectares of land be sought and given to CAN as requested. However, the total land area where CAN had made the request on, is about 470 hectares.”
He added that, “While the process for the allocation of the land was on, Government formed a Committee under the Deputy Governor with few members who are Technical Experts in the area of land usage and land survey. They were to survey the land and advice the government appropriately.”
The Media Aides also said that, “Following the inspection by the Deputy Governor and members of the committee, the Muslim Community, had written a petition to government claiming that the land belongs to them.”
He emphasized that, “Though the land is yet to be formally given out because the government is still studying the processes, the public should therefore, note that in allocating a government land to individuals and organizations, due process and decorum must be followed. And where land belongs to people, compensation must also be paid accordingly.”
Mukhtar Gidado also said that, “It should also be noted that government can also provide land in the overriding public interest. Both Muslims and Christians have the right to apply for land for their graveyards, and in its usual characteristics of respecting the dead as well as the living, the inspirational government of Bala Mohammed can use its discretion based on the law to allocate land to both parties with strict adherence to due process and decorum.”
The Commissioner of Lands and Survey, also said that: “As a Commissioner of Lands and Survey, I am a member of that Committee and I can tell you that the land has not yet been allocated for that purpose.”
Earlier, members of Yolan-Bayara, a community situated behind Bayara General Hospital, in Birshi Ward of Miri District in Bauchi local government area of Bauchi State, had kicked against the state government’s plan to allocate 50 hectares of land to the Christian Association of Nigeria for the Christian Cemetery.
In a petition addressed to the Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed through the Secretary to the State Government, which was given to Journalists at the NUJ Secretariat during a press conference on Saturday, the community called for an “urgent intervention to avert the occurrence of communal clash.”
The petition which was dated 10th January, 2023, was entitled: “Petition against Bauchi State Government’s move to allocate Christian Community, a 50 hectare of land belonging to the Muslim Community of Yolan-Bayara for the purpose of Christian Cemetery.”
It was signed by the leader of the Community, Sani Yakubu and six others, was copied to the Director, State Security, Bauchi State; Commissioner of Police, Bauchi State; Commissioner of Religious Affairs, Bauchi State, The Emir of Bauchi, Rilwan Adamu; among others.
They argued that the entire 470 hectares of land where the proposed 50 hectares is to be given for the cemetery belongs to the Muslim Community pointing out that the Deputy governor, Baba Tela who chairs the Committee set up by the governor to handle the matter, went to the area for a physical survey without their consent as natives of the land which they inherited from their forefathers.
They stated that, “We, the under undersigned representatives of members of the Muslim Community of Yolan-Bayara village, Miri District of Bauchi LGA hereby put forward this petition to Your Excellency for urgent intervention to avert the occurrence of communal clash.”
The petition further contained that, “Your Excellency may wish to recall that at a courtesy call paid to you by the Christian Community, Christian faithful solicited for your approval to allocate a piece of land for the sole purpose of burial of Christians. Sir, you were said to have instantly directed them to search for the most suitable location for that purpose and report back to the Government for onward allocation.”
According to the community, “It was consequent upon your directives as aforesaid that on Monday, the 9th of January 2023 at exactly 11:30am, His Excellency, the Deputy Governor of the State led a government delegation alongside members of the Christian community and commenced physical survey of a 470 hectares of land belonging to us, the Muslim community, all of who being natives of Yolan-Bayara without seeking and obtaining consent of the real owners of the land.”
They stated further that, “And we are reliably informed that the State Government has made all arrangements to pay compensation to the members of Christian Community for acquisition of the land that does not belong to them.”
According to them, “We are also aware and not oblivious of the fact that Your Excellency, the worst of it all was that while the Deputy Governor was on the land or that purpose, heavy armed security guards and personnel were mounted along the way to our Village of Yolan-Bayara and they prevented everyone from gaining access to our village. It means there was a cause for alarm!!
The community claimed that, “It is obvious that the physical survey embarked upon by the Christian community of the said land is to serve the purpose of building a Christian cemetery. This will no doubt bring about a religious crisis of high magnitude between the two religious communities with a devastating consequence of breach of public peace, social unrest and general insecurity not only to the detriment of the immediate community in particular but the whole state in general. God forbid.”
The community further stated that the land, located at Yolan-Bayara village was originally founded by the members of Yolan-Bayara from time immemorial, dating back to pre-Uthman Danfodio Jihad.
They added that their clients had been in occupation of the land, carrying out their economic activities by way of arable farming, grazing and orchard for centuries not until when government temporally took over the land and utilized it for a period of time camping lepers who used to be treated by a hospital established by Christian mission, Sudan Interior Missionary (SIM).
The community stated that, “However, when the said missionaries were leaving the country, having concluded their mission, they handed over the hospital to their subsidiaries, ECWA Church, but the said hospital was compulsorily acquired by the General Murtala Muhammad-led Federal Military Government pursuant to its policy of taking over all missionary institutions for overriding public interest.”
It pointed out that, “Also worthy of noting is the fact that the then Federal Government of General Murtala while taking over the said Bayara Hospital paid the ECWA Church an adequate compensation for the improvement on the land constituting only the hospital because that was the only property owned by ECWA Church.”
According to the community, “Due to the fact that the 470 hectares of land in question was temporally taken over by government from our clients, the Yolan-Bayara Muslim Community and the undisputable fact that up till now no amount of compensation has ever been paid to them by government except incessant promises over the years. It is therefore conclusive that neither the Government nor the ECWA Church can be said to be the rightful owners of the land. Thus our clients are invariably the rightful owners of the land.
According to the community, “The Bayara Christian Community under the auspices of ECWA Church has over the years been claiming the ownership of the land, causing serious altercations that often degenerate into violent clashes.”
They then drew the attention of the Governor of “an imminent danger of the religious crisis that is likely to erupt to destabilize the peace that Bauchi State has enjoyed under your administration,” adding that “it is therefore in the best interest of the state that your Excellency must take a bold step to make a difference by suspending any form of activity whatsoever on the land in dispute in order to allow the government to avert any crisis and eventually resolve the dispute over the land.”