In the past, the people of Enugu State, particularly those living in the metropolis, yearn for the rainy season to cushion the effects of harsh weather.
But this is not so today, as the people are afraid of the rains which have lately been causing flood to wreak havoc in most parts of the capital city.
Reason: most of the waterways, drainages and river banks around the metropolis have been encroached upon and obstructed, making natural water to fight to get its course, which results in flooding.
When on Monday September 19, the Commissioner/Chairman, Enugu State Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA), Hon. Chidi Aroh, took newsmen and officials of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), State Emergency Agency (SEMA), Institute of Town Planners, state House of Assembly, Committee of Capital Territory, and National Environmental Standards and Regulations Agency (NESRA) to visit some of the 141 sites identified by his authority to have been causing obstructions to waterways in the metropolis, what was seen was mindboggling.
It was discovered that the water channels of the Ekulu River, which runs across most places in Enugu-East, Enugu-North and Enugu-South local government areas, as well as the Nike Lake have been obstructed by developers who had erected buildings on them.
The obstructions on the flow of the Ekulu River have resulted in the flooding of the popular Ebeano Tunnel flyover built by the Dr Chimaroke Nnamani administration and other parts of the metropolis.
At China Town around Otigba Junction, GRA, some developers had fenced the manhole of water channels into their compounds while some others had tried to redirect the waterways.
At a point in the area behind the railway quarters, a church was built on the centre of the Ekulu River Bank while a popular new generation church close to the Trans Ekulu Bridge also built its toilets on the bank of the river.
Apparently, the visits to some of the sites angered the stakeholders and officials of the agencies who were on the tour.
The Chairman House Committee on ECTDA, James Akadu, who is representing Igbo-Etiti West constituency in the state House of Assembly, who was on the tour, condemned the actions of the developers.
Giving the ECTDA an order on behalf of the house, the lawmaker said: “We demand a drastic action to forestall Enugu metropolis from being submerged. This is totally unacceptable.
“The enabling Law has been passed and signed and we demand an implementation from ECTDA. We will continue to support the ECTDA in its fight to restore the original master plan of the city and deter developers from building on flood planes in the state.”
Similarly, the Enugu State Chapter Chairman of the Nigeria Society of Engineers, Engr Ifeanyi Ofili, condemned the “the level of flagrant disobedience of stop order from ECTDA,” saying that the only remedy was for the authority to remove all the structures confirmed to be on waterways, drainage channels and on top of public utilities.
“We will not shy away from our duties to support actions that will not denigrate the environment. All the structures seen will certainly have defects with time because approval for the building was not obtained from the appropriate quarters,” Ofili said.
Also the Coordinator, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Agency, Enugu zonal office, Nnanna Mba, said:”As an agency, we are charged with the responsibility of a safe and better environment. The structures we have seen are all in clear violation of environmental guideline which denigrates the city.
“Necessary action needs to be taken in order to restore sanity in the environment and deter others from taking this ignoble path.”
Later after the tour, Aroh who led the stakeholders round 14 out of the 141 sites identified by his organisation to be responsible for the flooding told Oriental News that the ECTDA would after the visit, on the strength of relevant laws of the state, give notice to defaulters before swinging into action to pull down structures already marked for removal.
Stating the right ECTDA has to embark on ensuring that flooding of the metropolis was put on check, Aroh said: “Our core function as an agency is the monitoring and enforcement of development control and municipal services in the capital territory. The capital territory has three local governments: Enugu East, Enugu South and Enugu North. So, as part of our responsibilities; we are the only agency of government allowed by law to approve any development or municipal services in the capital territory in these three local government areas. “We must be sure that the Purpose Clause complies with it because if you see Enugu before we came in, you will see hotels, churches, schools built in pure residential areas. So, you even see people complain in the night that fellowship is going on by 12 midnight and they can’t sleep.”
He, therefore, disclosed that it was in the process of enforcing this development control and municipal services that they discovered that there was looming danger in Enugu occasioned by obstructions on waterways.
“We discovered this last year. So, we started to caution and to stop these processes where we can stop them. Where it was completed already, we started advising the people to take remedial actions, where we felt that the nature of construction and building was such that bringing it down will do more harm than good. So, our technical department suggested stop work in some places and the majority of them we stopped.
“But now, what they do is when you stop them, they find opportunities, either during public holidays or something, and they extend their construction further. And because of the nature of our democracy, and the way the government in Enugu is being run; because we are a listening government, where we want to carry everybody along, we have been restraining to take major actions, because the kind of actions we want to take from the visit we did yesterday is such that if we take it, if the right stakeholders are not partnering with us, people may misinterpret the action.
“So, our records from last year, when we started, if you had seen on the visit, there was no property we took anybody to or any waterway that you will not see our markings and the date when we said stop work. But because of the nature of the society we are in, you can even see where we marked stop work, yet work was going on as we visited with all these agencies.
“You saw what happened at Tunnel flyover, even after our visit last night; Tunnel was impassible in the night. Human beings own those houses; they don’t feed through their noses. You can see Abakaliki road, some sections of it, water could not allow people cross it in the night, but the drains are there, but they are all completely blocked either by buildings that are illegally constructed or by some other kinds of blockage. You saw some places we went to yesterday where people sealed drainages and built houses on top of it.
“What if we need to de-silt, how do we get into it? You saw in Abakaliki road where a rail line was scrapped, and people were building even on top of the de-silt line. Somebody will wall in a public de-silt line into his compound and it will become part of his compound. How does ESWAMA, Ministry of Environment, Capital Territory, other relevant agencies enter there to de-silt the water?” he said.
When Oriental News contacted some of the owners of the property visited, they said that they erected their buildings on legitimate plots of land allocated to them by the state Ministry of Lands.
One of them said that he got his plot of land in the GRA in 2010, saying that “I have the allocation papers and the certified survey plan and even the Certificate of Occupancy, C of O.”
But Aroh said that such claims hinged on obtaining a C of O was not water-tight because of the overriding public interest clause.
His words: “There is a large difference which is important; let me explain between C of O which is ownership of land and then the development of that land. That is why the law knew that there will be these gaps. You can have a C of O; of course, I said it yesterday before the security agencies, I know how many cases of false C of Os that are being investigated in Enugu.
“And I don’t also remove the government from the responsibility, that is, in terms of the fact that government is a continuum. In the past, we have seen indiscriminate award and allocation of lands. Yes, we accept responsibility, but any day a man realizes that his child is a thief, he either takes him to a church for prayers to cast away that demon from him or he does the rightful thing to train the child to return to normalcy.
“So, what we have come to is the point where we say, the mistakes are there, but rather than allow these mistakes swallow us and the future of our children, let’s start to make amends today. So, even when this C of Os are given, I have written to the Commissioner for Lands on not one, two, three occasions and advised withdrawals of C of Os, and he did. Because if where the C of Os is given and it endangers the whole city, we are forced to withdraw by the law, by the Land Use Act for overriding public interest, we can also withdraw for safety reasons. And I make it clear that when we withdraw, we compensate. His Excellency insists that where overriding public interest was established alternative is provided immediately. There are instances; one, two, three, four that I can name to you.”
Asked what would be the next line of action after the stakeholders visit to the sites, Aroh said: “The next line of action is that we are now collating stakeholders’ opinion to see whether it corresponds with our own conclusions and existing laws. If it does, we will do the needful, we will enforce the law, and what does law say? The law says where these things are and they constitute a danger to the society, we must remove. However, the law gives an option that we should advice the owners of the property to remove. We have done that and also advised them appropriately on what to do.
“But I insist that where there are remedial measures that can save certain situations without endangering lives, the government is compassionate enough to ensure that this remedial measures are done and the most important thing we want to achieve is that if we stop this today, there will be no further building on waterways from tomorrow morning, and we are only battling with what is happening now, we are already near to safety.
“The public awareness, this pressure, this stakeholders’ thing is at least to stop people from further damage while we are managing the damage already done. You saw at Nike Lake, it is scandalous, beautiful things built by the government of Jim Nwobodo in the 80s. We are all going there to have fun as little children. I remember my secondary school days, we go on excursion there; as a university student I went there for a lot of parties. But we went there yesterday; we didn’t know the difference between Nike Lake and private property. We don’t know the difference between police station and Nike Lake. We don’t even know the difference between the Lake and the water that covered where we were, where land is being sold. It is sad for our generation.”