BY TONY EDIKE
ENUGU — Over 20,000 residents of Ugbo Okonkwo layout, a high density settlement in Upper New Haven area of Enugu, have been ordered to vacate their homes which the government has marked for demolition.
The demolition notice which was served on the property owners on January 30, 2014, by officials of Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority, ECTDA, Vanguard learnt, yesterday, was also extended to hundreds of landlords at Ugbo Chime, a former farm settlement founded by the late father of Governor Sullivan Chime, Igwe Elias Aneke Chime, First Republic parliamentarian and traditional ruler of Udi.
An ECTDA source also revealed that the state government had already given approval for the demolition of three other settlements described as slums within the state capital.
These include the densely populated Obiagu, Ikilike and Iva Valley. The action is part of Chime administration’s programme to give the capital city a facelift.
The development has thrown the residents into serious panic as the ECTDA officials’ commenced inspection of the affected old settlements last week and during the process informed the property owners of the government’s intention to recover the layouts defacing the aesthetics of the state capital.
Property owners at Ugbo Okonkwo settlement which was allocated to migrant farmers from Ezeagu Local Government Area by Nike community since 1859, received their notices of demolition on January 30 and were given a period of seven days to vacate their homes.
The final demolition notice, dated January 30, 2014, came to the thousands of tenants and property owners as a surprise, prompting an emergency meeting to find solution.
However, after two days of meeting, the property owners approached Enugu State High court and obtained an interim injunction restraining the state government from carrying out the demolition, which notice expired yesterday.
The presiding judge, Justice A. R. Ozoemena, who was approached by representatives of the property owners, including Joseph Amuji, Emmanuel Elo, Osmond Nwabuisi, Mrs. Justina Chibuzor and Kenneth Enulu, granted an interim injunction, Wednesday, February 5, restraining the State Attorney General and the ECTDA (Defendants), their agents, privies or assigns “from demolishing, forcefully removing or tempering with the plaintiffs/applicants land situate at and known as Ugbo Okonkwo near New Haven, Enugu, pending hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”
Justice Ozoemena, who fixed hearing of the motion on notice filed by their counsel, Mr. B. N. Nebe, for February 12, 2014, however, stated that if the motion on notice was not heard and “it is the fault of the applicants within seven days from today, the 5th of February, 2014, this order stands vacated.”
The state Commissioner for ECTDA, Engr. Ikechukwu Ugwuegede, who visited Ugbo Okonkwo at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, February 4, told the affected property owners and the residents that the state government instructed him to issue the warning notice to demolish Ugbo Okonkwo in New Haven and Ugbo Chime at Thinker’s Corner in Enugu metropolis.
According to Ugwuegede, who was accompanied by two top officials of ECTDA, Messrs Asadu and Ozougwu, “the government of Chime does not want to see any slum in the city and, therefore, has instructed me to carry out the exercise.”
The aged property owners who were shocked by his statement, broke down in tears and began to plead with the governor through the commissioner to tamper justice with mercy by giving them enough time to renovate or reconstruct their houses, some of which were built with mud over 150 years ago.
One of the aged landlords, Prince Obiora Elo, who came with clutches to the meeting between the commissioner and the property owners at 164 Upper Chime Avenue, pleaded with the state government to give them a “grace period” to reconstruct their houses, saying “it will be a sin against God and man if they should throw out the poor people of Ugbo Okonkwo community of about 20,000 people, including women and children, whose livelihood solely depends on these houses.”