Enugu Airport Fence Demolition: Facts Of The Matter

The South-East region has waited nervously and patiently for the reopening of the only international airport in Igboland, the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.

Unsurprisingly, it provoked understandable relief and excitement when the Federal Government proposed an August 30, 2020 commencement of operations at the airport after massive rehabilitation works by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.

It was, therefore, troubling in equal measure, not only to the government but to Ndigbo when one Architect John J. Emejulu led an army of thugs to pull down concrete perimeter fence measuring over two kilometres at the airport. Without a doubt, his heavy-handed and ill-advised action posed a real threat to the ongoing project especially at a time that Ndigbo were expectant of its reopening.

Earlier last week, the Nigerian Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika was at the site to assess the level of destruction and unambiguously expressed the federal government’s willingness to respond to the wilful damage to its national security asset.

According to him, “he (Emejulu) has given the (federal ) Government the opportunity to show how not to wilfully destroy public asset belonging to over two hundred million people…It is a wrong time to test our resolve. This will certainly be the end of this kind of recklessness. It’s unacceptable and I’m sure that we (federal government) are equal to the task of rising in defence of our national asset ”

It is also not unexpected that Arc. Emejulu who was the aggressor now claims to be the villain and tries, without much success, to present himself as the underdog. But do the facts of the matter support his clever attempt to deceive the unsuspecting public?

Now, let us scrutinise the facts so as to differentiate them from the fallacies being peddled by Emejulu.

Given how protracted the processes tend to be in Nigeria, and the shocking ease with which ex parte motions are obtained, the public often gets easily hoodwinked with regard to the veracity of claims made by parties in lawsuits.

A good example is the claim now made by the Enugu-based architect after he had demolished the perimeter fence on the grounds that he had been granted powers to exercise ownership of the surrounding lands by a court.

A painstaking scrutiny, however, would normally reveal the truth as it has in this case. But first, some bit of history will help put this in proper context.

With the designation of the Akanu Ibiam Airport as an international airport, it became expedient to expand the runway to accommodate the much bigger airplanes typically used for international flights.

As a result, the then government of Sullivan Chime, through the Commissioner for Lands at the time, Albert Edoga, duly issued all relevant notices in accordance with the Land Use Act and thereof
acquired a number of contiguous parcels of land that belonged to some communities, individuals and groups to create room for the expansion.

Part of that land acquired in the overriding public interest included Airport Road Layout Phases IV and V owned by Architect J. J. Emejulu who had sold portions of land in Phases IV and V (the latter was not registered with the Enugu State Ministry of Lands and Urban Development) to some people.

It is important to point out that although the Nigerian constitution vests control of lands in state governors who may acquire lands in the interest of public good, whatever plans there may have been for compensation was frustrated by claims and counter-claims in relation to the acquisition and ownership of the respective layouts.

For instance, persons who purchased plots of land from Arc. Emejulu had filed a lawsuit against him after the acquisition. But they would later reach some form of settlement, the terms of which acknowledged that Emejulu was the owner of Airport Road Layout Phase IV and V. Ironically, the fact that consent judgment bore no attached plan meant the land in question lacked the crucial elements of specificity and could not, as a result, be identified to a particular piece of land.

Relying on this consent judgment dated March 1, 2017, and purporting to implement its execution, Emejulu began to demolish properties at Oriental Estate Layout, instead of Airport Road Layout Phase IV and V.

Irked by the wrongful demolition of their properties, the owners filed a Motion on Notice seeking some restraining orders, or an order setting aside the said judgment order of March 1, 2017, citing series of infractions. The motion was argued, with the ruling thereof adjourned.

However, in what could be described as a devious plot, Emejulu surreptitiously went to another court and sought an order compelling the police to enforce the judgment of the 2016 lawsuit, without disclosing the existence of the Motion on Notice which, besides having made an interim order for maintenance of status quo, had been adjourned for ruling.

Unaware of the full facts of the matter, the court granted the prayers. It was on the strength of this order, albeit obtained deceptively, that Arc. Emejulu carried out his atrocious act of knocking down a long stretch of the airport’s perimeter fence.

So, the questions begging for answers are legion. These few will suffice. Was Arc. Emejulu unaware that the government had acquired Airport Road Layout Phase IV and V? That is quite improbable; otherwise, why would someone apply for compensation to Arc. Emejulu’s predecessors-in-title in respect of the acquisition?

Can Emejulu claim ignorance of a pending Motion on Notice to set aside the court order he had relied on, in addition to another order for maintenance of status quo by the parties? That too would be far-fetched if the answer is in the affirmative.

Airports are often national security assets and restricted zones given the many associated risks and catastrophic consequences that could arise from even the slightest operational breach. So, its safety protocols cannot be circumscribed by legalese, particularly one as whimsical as that flaunted by Emejulu.

But even within the ambit of the law, the grounds on which his action was premised is clearly not tenable. Besides,
it has emerged that the demolished perimeter fence actually fell within the area delineated as Akanu Ibiam International Airport.

The more one ponders the egregious scale of Arc. Emejulu’s action, the more one is convinced that he could as well stealthily obstruct an entire runway with bulldozers in a bid to enforce a presumed favourable judgment.

No sane society will tolerate such brazen lawlessness and wilful damage to public property, let alone a federal asset.

Truth be told, no matter how much he tries to woo public sympathy, this Igbo man has behaved in a way that is unacceptable to the Government and unhelpful to Ndigbo. But he is better advised to prove his innocence at the law courts than present fictions as facts just to escape the dangling hammer.

Chuma Mamah is an Enugu-based public commentator