Magnus Eze, Enugu
The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has raised the alarm that the insistence of residents of Ukwu Orji, a slum lying eastwards of the runway turning pad, would delay the speedy completion of the on-going rehabilitation work at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, Enugu State.
Apart from the popular runway reconstruction, other construction works that have reached advanced stages include the rehabilitation of the terminal building, perimeter fence, drainage, roads, signal equipment installations, cargo section construction, clinics, pilots’ lounge, emergency centre and water treatment plant, among others.
The agency has met resistance from the community in its bid to progress with the perimeter fence of the entire airport landmass.
Akanu Ibiam International Airport’s manager, Mrs. Cecilia Oguama, recently cried to the state governor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, for help. In a letter to the governor, she stated that “the contractors in charge of water treatment plant and the perimeter fence are facing obstruction along the Ukwuorji area by the railway as a result of some buildings standing along the pipeline route and the perimeter fence.”
Oguama asked Ugwuanyi to intervene by ensuring the immediate removal of the obstruction to enable completion of the works.
Daily Sun gathered that the Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA) had in June last year, before the closure of the airport for renovation on August 24, marked buildings in Ukwuorji community for demolition. They returned in June this year for another round of markings but were yet to enforce eviction of the residents.
The ECTDA has maintained that it must enforce the state government’s directive of June 29, 2020, for it to effect the demolition of all marked illegal structures within the perimeter of FAAN property.
In a recent statement, Onoh said: “The ECTDA hereby gives notice to the general public that the agency shall, effective from July 31, 2020, effect the demolition of all affected structures, shanties and any deemed existing obstructions, covering 71,532m2 (7.2 hectares) airport/Federal Government property in favour of FAAN, comprising 16 shanties, 85 bungalows, 14 high level structures and any other identified obstruction existing within the demolition zone.”
However, chairman of the Ukwuorji-Emene Residents’ Association, Mr. Bolaji Morufu, claimed that the land did not belong to FAAN but to the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), which the residents paif rents to for the temporary occupation of the land.
Morufu said the community was in complete obedience to Enugu State Government, but insisted that the NRC, their landlord, had not given them any directive to vacate the occupied land, adding that the entire community could not just be evacuated without some settlement.
While the ECTDA bulldozers are being expected, residents of the Emene slum community have lamented that their dislodgement from the area would be a huge dislocation to them and their means of livelihood.
Chinagorom Onochie, a landlord who also operated a barbing salon in the settlement, said: “They are just victimising us. This place does not fall into the aviation line. If you go over there, close to the bridge, you will see where there is a demarcation. Initially, some people built houses inside the airport. It was then that the airport authority and the railway corporation came to do the demarcation. This happened over 25 years ago.
“That was how they now have a clear boundary. This Ukwuorji is just a small place. And when we came here, it was a swamp. We filled it with over 15 tipperloads of sand before anyone could build. No one could enter here; we are not here free of charge either.
“The Railways gave us (the place) on lease and we pay every year to the company. The railway people have also tried as much as they can to stop this said demolition, to no avail. I think the aviation people are only threatening us because we are poor people.”
Another landlord in the area, Mrs. Chizoba Eneh, also believed that FAAN was bent on inflicting pain on residents of the community. In her words, the boundary was not in dispute.
“If you look around, you will see the boundary between this place and the aviation line. They are just chasing us for no reason. The whole thing is very plain. We heard that they have notified us, but we have not heard anything from them.
“There has not been any notice whatsoever. This thing has remained a rumour that has survived for the past 10 years. This whole place was waterlogged before but we were able to recover this area. The people that gave us this place said they are not aware of the threat to evict us.
“So, I don’t know what is behind this. We are going to stay here until the Railways asks us to leave because they were the ones that gave us this place,” she stated.
Mrs. Bridget Okenwa, a farmer who has lived at Ukwu Orji for over 40 years, agreed that the rumour of the possible eviction of the residents had been in the air for over a year now, after the houses were marked in June last year.
“I have lived here for over 40 years. We pay the people who gave us this place yearly. So, last year, some people came and marked this place saying that we should pack out in seven days. We told them that it wasn’t possible because what we live in are fully built houses and not cartons.
“A few days ago, we heard rumours that we would be evicted. If only you know the level of suffering we have gone through here. This place was a no-go area before we came in and started building on it with the permission of Nigeria Railway Corporation, the rightful owner of this place.
“Some of our neighbours have even abandoned this place. If this place is too important to them, they should refund the money we spent erecting the structures, or else, they should give us another place. They should have mercy on us and help us. We are Nigerians and not foreigners,” Mrs. Okenwa said.
A student of Microbiology at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Ikenna Eneh, who said he was born in Ukwu Orji, said that it would be unfair and inhuman for government to dislodge the residents without providing them with an alternative settlement.
He said: “I wasn’t happy when I got information that they were planning to demolish this place. Even if it must happen, they should get us another place as an alternative. We don’t have anything to rely on or fall back on. We met officials of the Railways, but they said they were not aware of the planned eviction.
“Sometimes, people come with soldiers and policemen to intimidate us. Some people have run away because of fear. But I was born here and this is the place I’ve known all my life. We are not going anywhere, unless they find us an alternative.”
Chairman of ECTDA, Dr. Josef Onoh, has blamed FAAN for being inconsistent with its exact land boundaries and failure to summon stakeholders and security meeting to arrive at resolution of the impasse.
Details at the Eastern District headquarters of Nigeria Railway Corporation, Enugu, showed that the disputed portion of land was a reserve for future development of the railway that would serve the airport as railway terminus in the same manner as the Nnamndi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, where passengers board trains to and fro the airport from the capital city.
A senior official of the NRC, who did not want to be named, said: “We have our boundary gazetted and nobody, either the government or FAAN, has approached us over the land. We have already written to the Aviation Ministry, FAAN and Enugu State government not to touch our land and that’s why they invited us to a meeting. The agreement was that a committee would be set up to resolve the issue, but the committee is yet to be set up.”
Also, the Umuenwene Iji-Nike community has written to the airport authorities demanding N3.5 million as traditional rites, development levy, elders’ entitlements and youth empowerment, being money for the community’s ancestral inheritance.
Chairman of the youths, Emeka Ugwu, explained that the money was for youth empowerment, even as he stated that the state government had waded into the matter.
Though the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, during his recent inspection of works at the airport, assured stakehlders that the facility would be ready for use on August 31, which would be one year after the airport was for the upgrade, Daily Sun further gathered that other uncertainties were inhibiting the timely completion of the project, including the slow pace of work by the contractor handling reconstruction of the three kilometre-runway.
Mahbub Khan, project manager of PW Nigeria Limited, handling construction of the runway, had at various periods indicated that many obstacles were inhibiting reconstruction of the runway.
Khan outlined insufficient asphalt plants, the rainy season as well as other technical issues as encumbrances threatening early completion of the runway. He, however, said that about 75 per cent of the work had been done, adding that it might take up to September, barring disruption by the rains, before the runway reconstruction would be completed.
Nevertheless, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Nnoli Nnaji, said: “We believe that this airport is very critical to the people of the South East and everybody is looking forward to the reopening of Akanu Ibiam International Airport and that of the cargo section, the terminal buildings. Well, with availability of funds, we will laugh last because this airport will come out properly.”