Uchenna Nwatu: Enugu airport’s fence demolition – Facts and fiction of its aftermath

Demolition of structures – including undoubtedly illegal ones – is often a highly emotive subject. So the intense debate arising from the pulling down of a building in Enugu owned by a resident is clearly understandable.

There is a growing sense in which the action by the Enugu State Capital Territory Development Authority may be seen as a fitting comeuppance, as the man identified as Architect J.J. Emejulu had himself demolished the perimeter fence of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu. But this notion which is gaining currency, as evident from social media comments, misses the point.

The real issue here is really not about the karmic consequences of the unjustified demolition of a national asset; it is simply a question of implementing physical planning laws which the architect had contravened by building on a flood channel.

Should the ECTDA have ignored this municipal infraction because some may perceive its pulling down of the structure as retaliation for the man’s untoward action? Ignoring the breach would amount to political correctness, and can only result in Enugu’s descent into the kind of disorder that has made life in most Nigerian cities a nightmare.

The beauty of cities is in their livability. A city loses its soul when its original masterplan is desecrated to such extent as has been witnessed in Enugu. What sort of rationalization can be made for any agency worth its name to overlook the brazen construction of a building on a waterway?

As I gathered, the ECTDA officials were simply carrying out an action sanctioned by a law court, with notice to the offending party appropriately served the 21-day notice. According to the chairman of ECTDA, Dr. Josef Onoh, there was another structure at the same location similarly marked for removal, and the residents have relocated.

So, the removal of the illegal structure, to all intents and purposes, merely coincides with the unfortunate incident at the airport and should not be construed as government vendetta. Airports are on the statutory exclusive list of the Nigerian government and are thus federal assets. I believe the federal government would still prosecute the individual at a time – and in a manner – it deems necessary.

The scale of municipal blights seen across the Enugu metropolis begs the question how such could have been allowed to fester over the years and not nipped in the bud as it should. Whatever instincts may have led to obvious infractions to be overlooked in the past will only be conjectural. But it is defeatist to simply carry on like the malaise is one that cannot be helped and should, as a result, be lived with.

There is also an inherent hypocrisy – no matter how cleverly disguised – in the debate about the propriety of the ECTDA action. Indeed, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency’s recent warnings over likely flooding in many states of the federation, offers a somewhat validation for the structure’s removal.

Besides, this removal of the illegal structure in question is consistent with the ongoing efforts to restore Enugu metropolis to its original masterplan as conceived by the city’s founding fathers.

The ongoing decluttering of major streets is an integral part of the Governor Ugwuanyi administration’s vision to make Enugu a green and livable city that ranks high as an investment destination. So, returning Enugu to its original masterplan as the city’s founders had intended is as much an aesthetically-driven project as it is a social imperative.

Had government agencies in the past risen above populist sentiments and adhered scrupulously to its own laws, Enugu’s masterplan would not be so brazenly assailed because every flouting of physical planning laws will be stopped at the incipient stage. Someone always has to take that painful but necessary action for the common good. That is how societies develop and retain their character for centuries.

* Nwatu, an archivist, lives and works in Enugu.

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