By Mazi Omife I. Omife
I was with some of my friends the other day at Obiagu where the issue of demolition of illegal structures by the Enugu Capital Territory Development came up. Some spoke against the government action, which they said was inhuman and insensitive to the current economic hardship facing the masses by destroying the means of livelihood of so many people. Others supported the government action on the grounds that that was the only way to bring discipline and order in Enugu metropolis.
My take on the matter was that in as much as the demolition exercise was bound to affect the means of livelihood of many people, in the long run, it was in the best interest of the greater majority of the citizens if we recognize that illegal structures pose many kinds of problems, both social and environmental, some of which can be dangerous to lives and property.
Take for instance, in the recent past, Enugu metropolis was not known for heavy flooding which has now become the order of the day, even with the slightest rainfall, posing a serious threat to buildings and public utilities. And one of the major causes of this new phenomenon is the erection of illegal structures both within private and public spaces, against the original plan of the urban city, which causes blockage of water channels and drainages.
With the increase in population in Enugu and the increase in illegal structures, many of these water channels and drainages are being blocked, leading to heavy flooding. Every time there is rain, places like Liberty Estate and Ebeano Tunnel link road become dangerous spots for both vehicular and human traffic as well as residents in the area and a serious threat to the roads.
Apart from flooding, illegal structures also cause a serious obstruction on urban roads leading to heavy hold up, especially during peak hours at places like Abakpa Nike, Agbani road, Obiagu road, Artisan market area, Coal camp and other places.
In case of a fire outbreak, illegal structure often leads to avoidable loss of lives and property by preventing fire service vehicles from timely access to the scene. The recent Onitsha fire disaster is a perfect example.
Illegal structures also encourage crime in many areas such as Obiagu and Asata slum areas where make-shift shanties prevent police vehicles from reaching crimes for necessary intervention. Many illegal structures are also used for criminal or unlawful purposes including sale of illicit drugs and even wayside prostitution among other nuisance such as noise pollution.
I recall two years ago when I had a head-on the battle against one of such illegal structures operating a music shop beside Obiagu Council primary school, causing a serious distraction to pupils with double heavy loudspeakers. The teachers had become helpless, as they had pleaded with the operator to no avail. When I personally approached the shop owner, he also became defiant, claiming that he had a right to do his business without let or hinder. After my fruitless effort to engage him reasonably failed, I took the matter to the noise pollution department of the Ministry of Environment, which charged him to the environmental court after he failed to stop the noise nuisance and the court ordered him to relocate in addition to a fine.
It is important to recognize that illegal structures constitute a contravention of the law and for any government to look the other way when people disobey laws is to encourage a state of anarchy, especially when such disobedience becomes a serious threat to the safety of lives and property. It should be noted that the erection of illegal structures that block water channels are done by obstinate members of the public who flout rules and regulations of urban planning and defy the warnings and contravention notices from ECTD and the State urban planning agencies. These illegal structures pose environmental and ecological hazards to society, which no responsible government should ignore or condone. Which is why the recent demolition exercise was not the first time in the history of Enugu State as it had happened in all previous administrations since 1979 until date, the simple reason being that no administration worth its name will sit by and watch the lives and property of its citizens put on the line by unscrupulous citizens.
However, some blame should go to some unscrupulous government functionaries from the Ministry of Lands who collude with devious members of the public to make land allocations and approvals for property erection on areas that such structures are prohibited by law.
Such unethical actions and distortion of the approved urban master plan are a threat to lives and property. It is in this regard that the Government should investigate the claims of some victims of the demolition that they had approval for their structures from appropriate government agencies and deal with any government functionary found liable.
In the same vein, government should as well look into the citing of hazardous infrastructures such as fuel stations and communication masts, which currently litter Enugu metropolis to ensure they are not located in vulnerable residential areas as these also pose serious threats to lives and property in case of fire or collapse among other alleged health issues.
The bottom line is that the ECTD demolition exercise is for the good of the government and people of Enugu State for which the present administration should not be crucified. Although many people suffered the effect of the exercise, the general benefit of the demolition outweighs the collateral damage and should be seen as such.