On a sunny Thursday afternoon in November 2014, Nonso Ofole, a motor sports park entrepreneur, arrived at his project site in Abuja to a great shocker – a Julius Berger-owned earth-mover was clearing the site he said is duly his.
Julius Berger, is a German-owned Nigerian-based construction firm.
What followed after Mr. Ofole observed the construction company allegedly trespassing his property and snubbing a court order restraining the company from commencing work on the site heralded a new twist in a knotty land grab case that has thrown up the oppressive tactics of some foreign-owned businesses in Nigeria.
Just as he walked across the field with his phone to get a closer look and record the destruction of his property, a man with a machete on his left and a “big stick” on his right, emerged from the bush behind the roaring machine and raced towards him, Mr. Ofole told this newspaper.
The attacker, who was dressed in Julius Berger apparels, threatened to hit him with the stick if he refused to delete the video he had shot.
“He also threatened to attack me if I didn’t leave the place immediately,” Mr. Ofole told PREMIUM TIMES and added that he refused to leave or delete the video.
Nonso Ofole, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Hunt Africa Events Limited, got the approval of Abuja Metropolitan Management Agency to develop the site into a beech motor sports park.
He was allocated the said portion of land via a “Letter of Temporary Approval to Develop Recreational Centre” dated May 25, 2011, with reference number AMMA/P&R/S.420.
The site is about 100 square metres, adjourning Julius Berger shooting Range in Jabi Abuja. Mr. Ofole said the city administration approved the site for his use after he paid the N25, 000 administrative fee.
The land is a Buffer Zone, which is a reserved Area for Parks and Recreation Department in the Abuja Metropolitan Management Agency that is used for garden and recreational centres on temporary basis.
Moments into his argument with the attacker demanding the deletion of the video he shot, a black van pulled into the site with Nigerian mobile police officers armed with AK-47 rifles. They bundled him into the van and sped away.
“The police men drove me to the station and started questioning me about what I was doing on the land and why I did not leave when the man with the machete asked me to go,” Mr. Ofole narrated.
The police officers charged him for trespass and intrusion before their colleagues. But hours later, a senior officer intervened and demanded his release after dismissing the junior officers as rascally.
Two months earlier, when Mr. Ofole first moved into the site to commence development, Nigerian officials of Julius Berger, led by one Kolade Balogun, approached him to drop his interest on the site.
“At first, they were persuasive,” he said. “They offered to pay me half a million Naira if I agreed to stop work on the site. But I declined the offer.”
Mr. Ofole claims several workers of Julius Berger, including Mr. Balogun, explained that the German bosses at the construction firm did not want him there because their business premises would share fences.
He said they feared his resort may attract too many locals – Nigerians – and pose a security threat to the Germans who dominate the management cadre of Julius Berger.
Julius Berger allegedly forced their way into the site and cordoned the premises after it failed to convince Mr. Ofole to forego the property.
Nigeria is facing a growing insurgency in its northern flanks and few Germans have been kidnapped and killed in process.
The insurgents have also bombed Abuja, the nation’s capital, leaving hundreds of Nigerians dead.
“I agree Nigeria is in the middle of a war with Boko Haram insurgents but I cannot comprehend why a foreigner would oppress me in my country,” Mr. Ofole said.
Mr. Balogun refused to comment on this story when PREMIUM TIMES contacted him.
The court order
Mr. Ofole subsequently sued Julius Berger hoping to assert his authority over the land. He also sought the court to award him damages claiming Julius Berger destroyed his equipment and slowed his earnings.
On October 24, 2014, the court issued an order restraining Julius Berger, as well as Mr. Ofole’s company from tampering with the disputed land.
The court restrained the construction firm, “either by itself, servants, privies, agents or any other person howsoever called, acting on its authority, from further trespassing into, grading with bulldozers, demolishing, constructing, defacing, developing or in any way interfering with all that portion of land of about 1000 Square Meters, adjourning Julius Berger Shooting Range, Jabi, Abuja, allocated to the 1st Plaintiff by the Abuja Metropolitan Management Agency, (AMMA),pending the hearing and determination of this case”.
The construction company disobeyed the order, and Mr. Ofole said he was was shocked that November afternoon when he saw Julius Berger’s mover on the site the day he was accosted by the machete-wielding attacker.
Mr. Ofole later proceeded to a different police unit in Abuja where he complained about the November harassment and got two key Nigerian officers of Julius Berger arrested and detained for two days. A third official, a German, was questioned for hours.
PREMIUM TIMES contacted the spokesperson of Julius Berger, Clement Iloba. He denied knowledge of the case.