Nekede community in Owerri West Local Government on Monday halted the ongoing government project at the Imo Zoo and Wildlife Park, claiming that the gazetted forest reserve “is their native land’’.
Gov. Chukwuemeka Ihedioha of Imo had during the 2019 World Environmental Day celebration announced his desire to revive Imo Zoo and Wildlife Park to meet international standard, which he subsequently released money for the renovation of the facility.
But some leaders of Nekede community led by a member of the Eze’s cabinet, Mr Kamas Nkemakolam, stormed the zoo and halted the ongoing project.
They also served a quit notice to all staff of the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment occupying the government staff quarters in the area.
Explaining reason for their action, Nkemakolam said that they had gotten a court judgment for the community to take over the government gazetted reserve.
He said beside the agitation to take over the forest reserve, they were also laying claim to the Imo State Songai located in the area and all the quarters currently housing staff under the ministry of agriculture and environment.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports however that criticism has trailed the action of the community members.
The Manager, Imo Zoo and Wildlife Park, Mr Francis Abioye, said “the land is a government property protected under the law’’.
“I want to let the public know that this premises is a government forest reserve protected under the law. I think it is improper for the community to lay claim to government facility.
“Even the staff quarters and Songai are all government facilities and those living in the quarters are all government staff so I wonder why such claim will arise now that the governor wants to revive the zoo.
Meanwhile, some tourists, who visited the zoo on Monday told NAN that if government allowed the community to take over its facilities, others would engage in similar agitations.
Mr Chris Nwaebo, a tourist said “this is the only surviving zoo in the entire South East and government must not allow selfish community to intimidate them.
“It is very wrong for any group or community to wake up and begin to lay claim to government property and Ihedioha must stand his ground and resist such proposal,’’ he said. (NAN)