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Land tussle may delay repairs, reopening of Enugu airport

By Wole Oyebade
22 November 2019   |   3:12 am
The ownership contest of a portion of Akanu Ibiam International Airport land may delay the repair works and reopening of the airport. The Guardian learnt that the land contest between a private estate developer, J.J Emejulu, and Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN)...

The ownership contest of a portion of Akanu Ibiam International Airport land may delay the repair works and reopen of the airport.

The Guardian learned that the land contest between a private estate developer, J.J Emejulu, and Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), has lately festered, with fresh litigations now in the offing.

Apparently aware of its implication for the critical infrastructure, concerned stakeholders in the region have expressed readiness to rally behind FAAN and timely completion of the project.

The land dispute is based on a series of court cases in which J.J. Emejulu is seeking to exercise ownership right over spaces of land in the vicinity of the airport. 

Sources at the airport hinted that the disputed land is at the take-off end of the airport, and would breach safety headroom for planned extension of the runway.  

In response to inquiries on the encroachment, the Chairman of House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji, said nobody would stand in the way of reopening the airport as scheduled, warning those fighting for land to stop sabotaging the interest of the Southeast zone.

Also, the erstwhile President of Southeast and Southsouth Professionals, Emeka Ugwuoju, advised all parties in the land dispute to concede their personal stakes to the public interest.

Ugwuoju said the ongoing rehabilitation and upgrade of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport remain strategic to the economy of the region.

He said all government institutions and facilities are built on land acquired from original owners in public interest. He wondered why acquisition of lands for development of critical development infrastructure would be a major issue in Enugu State.

He stated that anybody taking actions that would affect the reopening of the Enugu airport is an instigated agent working against the people of the entire southeast region of the country.

Recall that the Federal Government recently approved the sum of N10 billion for the rehabilitation of the airport. The airport was in August shut down for urgent repairs following safety concerns over the damaged runway.

FAAN had prior to the closure said the move was aimed at resolving the existing safety and security concerns to flight operations.

Though December completion date was earlier fixed, delays in the rehabilitation had caused many to raise doubts on the commitment of the Federal Government to fix the airport.

Managing Director of FAAN, Capt. Hamisu Yadudu, expressed satisfaction with the relocation of the Orie Emene market, abattoir, and the dismantling of the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) Radio/TV Mast to pave way for the rehabilitation.

Yadudu disclosed that “the required land FAAN wants to protect is secured” for safety and security, adding: “we are happy with that and ENPOWER Free Trade Zone is also happy that with the remaining land, they can still go ahead with their initiative and develop the land.”

A construction firm, PW Limited, has been deployed to reconfigure and reconstruct the runway to accommodate wide body aircraft including the Boeing 787 and Dreamliner series. 

National Aviation Management Agency (NAMA), also announced the commencement of work on airfield lighting and safety systems as well as on modernization of the terminal building. And new reopening deadline was fixed for April 2020.

While all stakeholders count time for the reopening of the airport, Emejulu is said to have secured the full support of the police to take possession of portions of land FAAN considers part of the airport space.

Earlier in a separate suit no FHC/EN/CS/141/2016, Emejulu had dragged Attorney General of the Federation, Federal Ministry of Aviation, FAAN, Enugu State Government, and four others to a Federal High Court seeking a declaration of his right to acquire and own land anywhere in Nigeria.

He also sought the court to restrain agencies of both the Federal and Enugu State governments from taking effective occupation of lands at the Airport Road Layout Phase IV and V “without recourse to due process of the relevant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

But in a “NOTICE OF DISCONTINUANCE OF SUIT” to all the respondents, Emejulu had on March 13, 2017, declared his intention and effective discontinuation of his suit against all respondents.

Sources stated that the estate mogul later returned with policemen to take effective occupation of parcels of land inside premises claimed by FAAN to fall inside the airport’s security and safety radius.

Emejulu’s claim, it was gathered, derived from a consent judgment with his clients in suit number E/642/2016 where he claimed sole right over land transactions on “Airport Road Layout Phase IV and V at Umuenwene Iji Nike.”

FAAN sources at the airport claim that all the parties involved in the development of facilities were not involved in the consent judgment the police claimed to be enforcing.

A legal practitioner, who is not a party to the case, stated that an individual cannot have right against the government over a space of land hosting a critical national aviation facility. 

“That is why he withdrew his initial suit and went for consent judgment with his clients,” he said. He also argued that the enforcement of the consent judgment should not be applicable to parties not part of the consent. 

Nnaji stated in a telephone chat that the entire southeast region would rise against anyone that might be working with enemies of the zone to sabotage the prevailing presidential fiat on speedy rehabilitation of the airport.

Ugwuoju advises those whose land might be affected by the developments at the airport to approach the government for resolution of the issues in line with established provisions. He warned that sustained bickering over the land would derail the prevailing momentum for reopening of the airport.