Depite the pledge by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, that the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, would be completed and reopened by April 2020, there are indications that a land dispute between the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and a private estate developer, Architect J.J. Emejulu, may result in a long-term closure of the facility.
Findings showed that Emejulu had instituted a case at the Federal High Court, Enugu, in 2016 seeking to exercise ownership right over spaces of land that FAAN insisted were in the vicinity of the airport.
In the suit FHC/EN/CS/141/2016, Emejulu had sued the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Federal Ministry of Aviation, FAAN, Enugu State Government and four others seeking declaration of his right to acquire and own land anywhere in Nigeria.He also asked the court to restrain agencies of both federal and Enugu 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 in suit number FHC/EN/141/2016: Arch J.J Emejulu V. Attorney General of the Federation And Ors”.
However, he allegedly returned later with policemen to occupy parcels of land claimed by FAAN to fall inside the airport’s security and safety radius.It was gathered that his claim derived from a consent judgement in a separate suit number E/642/2016 where he claimed sole right over land transactions on “Airport Road Layout Phase IV and V situate at Umuenwene Iji Nike.”
An official of FAAN in Enugu, however, told The Guardian on the condition of anonymity that the contested land was located at the take off end of the airport, and would breach safety headroom for the airport.The official warned that the antics of the land contestant might be those of “an instigated agent working against the people of the entire South East region and the country.”
According to source, FAAN was already threatening to permanently close down the airport following encroachments into reserved spaces. Commenting on the development, a former president of South East and South South Professionals, Emeka Ugwuoju, advised all parties in the dispute to concede their personal stakes for public interest, stressing that the ongoing rehabilitation and upgrade of the airport remained strategic to the economy of the region.
Uguwoju stated that all government institutions and facilities were built on land acquired from original owners on grounds of public interest.He, therefore, wondered why acquisition of lands for development of critical development infrastructure would be a major issue in Enugu.
Meanwhile, a legal practitioner who is not party to the case, stated that an individual could not have right against the government over a space of land hosting critical national aviation facility.He pointed out: “This is why he (Emejulu) withdrew his initial suit and went for consent judgment with his clients.”He also argued that the enforcement of the consent judgement should not be applicable to parties not part of the consent.