GULU/ AMURU. The Minister for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Ms Betty Amongi, has postponed the planned Amuru land survey following what she described as consultation with her seniors in government.
Speaking at a media briefing in Gulu Town on Friday, Ms Among said she will soon announce a new date for the survey exercise.
“Very soon I will call you to give an update on how to roll out the programme; today or tomorrow,” Ms Amongi said.
On Thursday this week, Amuru Woman MP Lucy Akello and Kilak County MP Gilbert Olanya, together with Aruu County MP Odonga Otto, and Pader County North MP Lucy Achiro Otim, put up a spirited fight alongside locals to stop any move by Ms Amongi to launch the survey of 10,000 acres of land that has been okayed by alleged 101 land owners in Kololo village.
To stop the minister and her team from launching the land survey, the residents blocked a road to the area as some women stripped down to their waits and wailed wildly as gunfire rang out and teargas canisters were exploded, leaving two people injured and hospitalised.
But minister Amongi says blocking her from launching the survey and the women striping was a planned move by a section of MPs who do not support what government is doing.
“There is planned systematic intimidation and violence orchestrated by MPs in the area. They bought for them [locals] alcohol and instigated women to strip naked,” she said.
Ms Amongi said the political business of stripping in Kilak County is not new and it’s a well-known tool, but warned that government would neither entertain nor be intimidated by the drama.
The areas to be surveyed are Bombay, Bar-olam, Akee river, and Kidi mon, all in Kololo Village, and form part of the 40,000 hectares of land earlier earmarked in 2006 for the Amuru Sugar Works Ltd to be developed by Uganda’s sugar giants, the Madhvani Group.
“When late [Internal Affairs minister] Gen Aronda and [Lands minister] Daudi Migereko came for the same [land survey] in Apaa, the same thing happened, but the government went back, reorganised, came back and demarcated,” Ms Amongi said.
“Government does not work by intimidation. A government programmes is a government programme. We have land owners who have consented and government has an obligation to protect their rights, she added.
Ms Amongi said as a minister, her role and responsibility is to protect those who have accepted to give land and those who have not. She said undressing is not land rights protection.
“If you want to protect land rights there are courts of law but not using violence,” she said.
According to Ms Amongi, the issues of land in Kololo is the matter of court settlement between people who went to court and government. Those who went to court, according to the minister, are Mr Michael Ocula, Mr David Penytoo, Mr Jack Obalim, Ms Lucy Aciro and were defeated by government.
“I was handed over a settlement deed that indicated that the litigants will give 10,000 hectares of land to government in the exchange that the rest of the land is customary land,” she said.
“Anybody who wants new ideas can only do so by going through those who went to court and request them to amend the settlement deed. As a minister I cannot entertain any new idea from anybody I was not party to the court. If MPs have any new ideas they have to pass them through those who went to court and it’s through those people they will communicate to me then I communicate to government that is how court matters are settled,” the minister said.
In the press briefing at the Northern Uganda Media Club in Gulu Town on Friday, MP Odonga Otto said they have resolved to pitch camp in the contested area to stop any move by Ms Amongi.
“On Thursday it was a victory for the Acholi, they did not put any single mark stone. They think they can intimidate us, charge us , but we are fighting for the rights of the people,” Mr Otto said.
Mr Otto was arrested after the fracas and charged with inciting violence and erecting illegal road block.
Aswa Regional police commander Bosco Otim confirmed that Mr Odonga Otto was charged with threatening violence and staging an illegal roadblock. But he distanced himself from the allegations that the police are deployed heavily in the areas and are beating up people.
But Mr Olanya said: “We do not know why she is using the force yet she alleges that she is in touch with those who own land. We shall camp here for the whole month with our people so that whoever wants land comes and finds us on the ground with the locals,” Mr Olanya said.
The Acholi Cultural Institution prime minister, Mr Ambrose Olaa, said they warned Ms Amongi on the mater but she did not listen to them.
“The tone in which the minister was communicating was not good. She did not listen to us yet we advised on the matter,” he said.
He said the cultural institution will always preach peace through dialogue.
Threats and intimidation will not takes us far,” Mr Olaa said.
Retired Anglican Bishop of Kitgum Diocese Baker Macleod Ochola II, said government should not intimidate but use its energies to protect the people and their land rights.
He also urged the Acholi community to send a clear resolution on land matters to the government.
Late last month, government announced plans to start opening of boundaries of Amuru land for Madhvani Group to establish a sugarcane plantation and factory in the area.
Ms Amongi, while meeting locals and a section of politicians in Amuru Sub-county, then warned that government would heavily deploy security personnel to ensure that the exercise progresses unimpeded.
The planned survey came a month after a reported agreement reached in Kampala between the government, some land owners and cultural leaders from Amuru District to make 10,000 hectares available for the project.
In 2006, five leaders led by former Kilak County MP Michael Ocula sued the government for allegedly plotting to take over a customary land and expropriate its ownership for individual economic benefit of Madhvani Group.
After a meeting on January 6, 2015, between a section of Amuru leaders and President Museveni, Mr Ocula agreed to withdraw the case on the understanding that both Madhvani Group and residents would co-own shares in the enterprise.
Last month, government announced plans to start opening of boundaries of Amuru land for Madhvani Group to establish a sugarcane plantation and factory in the area. The planned survey came a month after a reported agreement reached in Kampala between the government, some land owners and cultural leaders from Amuru District to make 10,000 hectares available for the project.