Business owners sue Enugu governor over demolition

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Eleven Enugu State people and businesses have taken Governor Peter Mbah to court over his plans to demolish businesses, houses, and residences leased to them by the Nigerian Railway Corporation, a federal institution.

Messrs U. Maduka & 11 Ors V. Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority & 6 Ors filed the complaint No/FHC/EN/CS/168/2023 at the Federal High Court.

The plaintiffs in the suit which commenced by way of Originating Summons sought among others the interpretation of Sections 5(3) b), 1, and 49 of the Land Use Act regarding the rights of the state government over federal lands in a state and for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Enugu State government and its agencies from tempering howsoever with rights of the said occupants.

Plaintiffs through their counsel formulated three questions for determination and five reliefs in answering the questions in the negative.

“Upon favourable answers to the questions posed, the plaintiffs seek the following reliefs against the defendants, jointly and severally, to wit:

“Declaration that in the wise of the combined provisions of Section 5(3) (b) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Sections 1 and 49 of Land Use Act, Cap L 15, Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004, that 1st to 4 defendants have neither vires nor powers to order the plaintiffs to remove their buildings or erections situated along Market Road, and Okpara Avenue, Enugu.

“Declaration that 1st defendant’s notice of ‘Remove By Order’ dated 30th October 2023, and paint markings, ‘Remove Immediately’ dated 13th November 2023, either issued to the plaintiffs or embossed on the walls of plaintiffs’ premises are illegal, incompetent and ultra vires the powers of the 1st to 4th defendants.

“Perpetual injunction restraining the 1st – 4th defendants, their servants, workmen, agents or privies from howsoever causing or carrying into effect the notice of ‘Remove By Order” and ‘Remove Immediately’ or impeding plaintiffs’ ingress or egress on their premises situated along Market Road, and Okpara Avenue, Enugu or effecting the demolition of plaintiffs’ buildings or erections situated along Market Road, and Okpara Avenue, Enugu.

“One hundred million naira (N100,000,000.00) payable by 1st & 2nd defendants being exemplary and general damages for arbitrary, reckless and unconstitutional issuance of notice to ‘Remove By Order’ dated 30th October 2023, issued to the plaintiffs, and paint markings, ‘Remove Immediately” dated 13th November 2023, on the walls of the plaintiffs premises situated along Market Road, and Okpara Avenue, Enugu.”

Meanwhile, addressing journalists on Monday, one of the counsel for some plaintiffs, Bona Ononugbo, decried the government’s abuse of its powers. According to him, while their action against the government was instituted on November 16, 2023, the state government in sheer abuse of judicial process instituted another action on November 20, 2023 at the state High Court against the Nigeria Railway Corporation and six other affected occupants in Suit No. E/992/2023, some (of) it labelled as unknown persons.

A court document made available to journalists shows that the Enugu State government and the Attorney-General of Enugu State are sole plaintiffs while First City Monument Bank & five others are listed as 1-6 defendants.

Among others, the government is seeking inter alia a declaration that the conduct and activities of the defendants in the construction of buildings, loading of vehicles, banking, trading, buying and selling, causing environmental hazards, pollution and degradation within a distance of 76.20 metres of the centre line on the left-hand side of Chris chemist, Okpara Avenue-Market Road on the railway level crossing is illegal and unconstitutional.

The government, through the Attorney-General of Enugu State, also obtained an interim injunction on November 23, 2023, against the affected occupants, after it concealed the facts of the matter before the presiding judge, Justice C.O. Ajah.

Lamenting the abuse of court by the state government, Ononugbo said, “On receipt of the processes filed by the government, it was discovered that the Enugu government failed to disclose to the court the facts concerning the properties sought to be acquired.”

“There was nowhere in the said processes filed where the government mentioned that the land which the defendants occupy belongs to the Federal Government. In the said processes filed, the government alleged environmental pollution and degradation against the occupants of the railway properties, the government failed to mention the proposed Bus Terminal Project,” Ononugbo, counsel for some of the affected occupants told journalists during a press conference.

“It is now obvious that the government of Enugu has sinister motives and lacks honesty and transparency. The purported bus terminal project is a land-grabbing scheme of the present administration. This project is masqueraded as a public interest project when in reality it is not, but a ploy to dispossess people’s property like in the case of the new market for the same project under the former governor Sullivan Chime, which Ugwuanyi administration came and shared among political cronies on the expense of the poor masses,” he added.