International Cargo Airport: Commissioner Gives Clarification… Amidst More Protests … SSA Assures Communities
By Ruth Oginyi, Agnes Igwe and Nwogha Ndubuisi Andy
The Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Barr. Uchenna Orji has debunked the alleged wrong rumors about the Ebonyi International Cargo Airport Construction site, assured that state government shall not embark on demolition of property on the proposed site till proper compensations are done.
The commissioner gave the clarifications during a press conference in Abakaliki and assured that the present administration in the state shall continue to venture into laudable developmental projects geared towards leaving the state far better than they met it in 2015.
The statement is coming in the wake of another protest against the airport by two communities on Monday following the extension of the proposed site to their ancestral home.
The international airport site cuts across five communities including Amuzu in Ezza South Local Government, Umuoghara, Umuezeoka, Umuezekoha and another community all in Ezza North local government areas of the state.
Citizens’ Advocate gathered that the state Governor, Engr. David Umahi had secured the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari and Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for construction of an International Airport after securing some lands in Ezza North and Ezza South Local Government Areas of the state.
The Governor also had invited all the stakeholders in Ezza North and South to a meeting in government house and promised to pay compensation to those that may be displaced as a result of the Airport project.
But the people of Aguogboriga trooped out en mass and protested the extension of the project site to their community accusing some stakeholders of the area of master minding the extension to enable them build hotels and other facilities in the area.
The government said the protest was a distraction to the project describing it as a handiwork of opposition who doesn’t want good thing for Ezza nation.
The Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Barr. Uchenna Orji while speaking to journalists on Tuesday maintained that the state government would compensate those that may be displaced and he appealed to the people to allow the citing of the project in their community.
He said nothing will stop the state government from constructing the airport in the approved site, adding that all lands belong to government and called on the protesters to vacate the marked areas.
“There is a report we got that some villagers in Umuogharu community in Ezza North local government area staged a protest yesterday and wrong impressions were given out. We were actually worried because the men of the fourth estate of the realm were there so we needed to put the records straight.”
“As a matter of fact, the state government under the leadership of the governor, Chief David Umahi has a plan to develop the state and needed to build an international airport for the state.”
“The stakeholders of Umuoghara community were consulted about the area of the site of the international airport. Considerations were given on the area of centrality and it fell on Ezza North and part of Ezza South LGAs.”
“The governor did not only consult stakeholders but also held a meeting with the owners of the lands and decisions were reached on where to site the airport, that will be central to the people of the state in general.”
“The governor has severally met with the stakeholders and owners of the lands and issue of compensation was also resolved. It was agreed that enumeration be made so that where the issues of building and economic trees affected can be compensated.
“Before this administration, the people of Ezza North were so neglected and the governor said such thing will not happen at his own time. I therefore call on the general public to treat the protest with the wave of hand.
It is just an orchestration of people who think that they could blackmail the responsible government led by Chief David Umahi” he stated.He stated that the airport project shall open up more avenues for more development.
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He said, “As a matter of fact, the government of His Excellency, Chief David Umahi in his determination to put the state on the right track in area of economic development thought it wise for the state under his regime to have a modern airport facility.
That thought approved by executive council was agreed to be cited at the proposed site because of proximity, centrality of position of the airport. The lot fell on Ezza North and South LGAs in Ebonyi Central Senatorial zone.
“I want to also say that the Governor sought the consent of stakeholders. He had several meetings with owners of the land in the various communities.
Recall that it is not only one community that owns the land. We have Umuoghara, the community that have least part of the land. We have Umuezeokoha, Umuezeka ,Oriuzor and Amauzu in Ezza South Local Government Council.
“Consultations were made, committees were formed from the various communities and decisions were reached that the airport is worthwhile venture and citing that it there shall be of great economic interest to people of the state in general and the landlord communities in particular.
“If you take a look at what is happening in Ethiopia, that is their major source of income. We also know that if we are counting states that have airport, Ebonyi never had! This has constituted a lot of impediment to our economic development.
We have been patronizing Enugu airport and others, presently, we are patronizing Owerri despite the distance. That is not acceptable to this responsible and responsive administration.”
“What we saw yesterday by a handful of people is something I would say we should not give attention to because the Governor had severally met with the stakeholders over the issue of the land and issue of compensation was also resolved.
It was agreed that enumeration be made so that where there are issues of already existing buildings and economic trees, proper compensation will be made.”
“Treat the protest with a wave of hand. It is just an orchestration by people who think they can in any way blackmail a very hardworking administration like this. The protesters are just a handful of people sponsored to come and demonstrate and I can tell you they were not aware of their reasons of being there.” the Commissioner said.
SSA on Project assures
Meanwhile, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Airport project, Hon. Joseph Nwaobashi appealed to the protesting communities to accept the Airport project and avoid being allowed by the members of the opposition to use them against development that is coming to their land, pointing out that it is the first of its kind since Ebonyi State was created.
Hon Nwaobashi emphasized that in Ezza land the people don’t have any other institution or project located there, this is the first so they cannot fold their hands and watch people disrupt it.
He added that there is no way development will come and it won’t affect people and the project cannot be sited on the air, so, the people have to accept the airport project.
He said, “Actually, when the issue of airport started, a letter was written to Ezeogo of Amuzu and Oriuzor communities informing them of the project the state government wants to site in their communities, of which they replied the letter accepting the project.”
“But when those from the Federal Ministry of Aviation came for inspection of the project site, it was discovered that the air wind drove shifted inside, so, that was what led to the extension of the airport location, which cuts across five communities.
“The five communities are, Amuzu community in Ezza South LGA, Oriuzor, Umuoghara, Umezokoha, Umuezeoka all Ezza North LGA.
“But the part of Ezza South which is Amuzu community that is affected is only the entrance. So we started by firstly having meetings with the Ezeogos to let them know of the new development.”
“We also had a meeting where all the stakeholders in the affected areas, we went from community to community and addressed them. We told them about the new development.”
“We told them it’s not that government wants to displace them and collect their land by force. We explained to them and they all accepted. After the meeting, they said they have actually understood, that initially nobody informed them properly.”
“When we got to a certain stage, the Governor heard of their complaints and invited them to Government House, which all stakeholders in the communities, youths and even women came. He asked them what they actually need, is it that they don’t want the airport to be sited in Ezza land, they said no, that they want it but that the people that are directly affected, where will they go?|”
“There, all the Ezeogos agreed that the people affected in each community will look for empty land where those people will be relocated. That His Excellency will do anything humanly possible to compensate them, possibly build houses where they will be relocated to.”
“They also complained that their crops were being destroyed, His Excellency now ordered that they should not touch their crops anymore.”
“Since then, we don’t touch any farmland, any place there is farmland we work round it and leave the crops. His Excellency said after some time now, that the people will come and enumerate those crops and the economic trees and they will be compensated.”
“So I was surprised to hear that the people were protesting. Initially, there were protests and when they were asked; they said that nobody informed them, which led the stakeholders to start visiting the communities one after another interacting with them on the airport issue.”
“They are being sponsored and if I should say, I’m seeing it as handwork of the opposition that doesn’t want good thing to be in Ezza land. Any claim that the extension of the project site was for stakeholders to use it for their hotel businesses is a total lie.”
“I have never had any private meeting with any of them and all the deliberations made were in the open and it was group meetings. If anybody said I told them that the extension was for stakeholders’ private businesses, that person should say such in my presence.”
“The project is a welcome development, even the stakeholders of Ezza land welcomed this project, and we cannot just fold our hands watching those that don’t like good things disrupt this work that has started. We know too well that His Excellency will do anything humanly possible to complete the project before the end of his tenure.”
“We have identified the people that protested yesterday. Immediately I got the information, I drove straight to the site; I met with some of them who were still there.
Even some of them agreed that they were members of the community inaugurated to see to the welfare of those that will be displaced and ensure that the project go on smoothly.”
“So I asked them what they want, they even told me that one of their stakeholders that came back had a meeting with them a day before the protest. I reminded them that they met with stakeholders of their community, and that His Excellency met with them on this issue and they accepted the project. I asked them what they really want, they said they were being pushed to do that and the reason, they don’t know.”
“The host communities will benefit so much when the airport is completed. It will create employment, develop the area and even the economic activities of the people will improve.
“The people that protested were not Ezza people, it was some, particularly from Umuoghara community and this is a project that cuts across five communities.”
“They said the airport site should be taken to another place, where will you take it to that people will not be affected? And there is expansion because people from the Ministry of Aviation came and stated that the wave wind drove falls at that place.”
The people that will be displaced from there will be adequately compensated.
“I’m from Umuezeokoha, and in Ezza land, our ancestral home is Onueke, so they are now claiming that that place is their ancestral home, what of us living at Oshiegbe, is Oshiegbe not our ancestral home? What of government projects sited in other local governments like In Izzi land? There is stadium in Izzi land, construction of another one is ongoing.
They also have the University. Then when you go to Ikwo, you talk of Federal University, College of Education, and some other projects located there which also displaced some people.
Mr. Chuks Usulor, one of the stakeholders in the area, urged state government to ensure full compensation of the displaced persons, adding that employment opportunities should be given to the youths of the host community to ease their suffering.
The protest involved aged women, men, school children, youths and girls of Amuzu and Oriuzor, who trooped out en masse and protested the extension of the project site to their community.
The protesters carried their properties to the site to protest the acquisition of their lands immediately they sighted bulldozers clearing lands in Aguogboriga community.
They said they were not against construction of the International Airport but that their Aguogboriga community which they described as their ancestral homes should not be included as the project sites.
However, the communities that officially accepted to be affected include, Amuzu in Ezza South local government area, Okaleru-Umuezeokaohu, Umuezeoka, Ndieguazu-Umuoghara and Oriuzo in Ezza North Local Government Areas of the state.
Speaking to journalists, some of the protesters including Elder Aguiyi Oke, Elder Ignatius Akochi, Elder Alieze Igwe, Nwafor Toochukwu, Anyigor Innocent, Mrs. Obioma Okohu and Mrs. Cecilia Nwafor said they were not against construction of the International Airport but that their Aguogboriga community which they described as their ancestral homes should not be included as the project sites as according to them, they can’t leave the area.
They appealed to the state government to take a vast land in Agu Umuoghara which they said was larger than the whole project site for the construction of the airport.
They explained that their crops have been destroyed with bulldozers and raised the alarm that hunger was imminent in the community even as they lamented that no records of the crops and land owners were taken before the bulldozers started clearing the lands in the community as a sign that they would be compensated.
“In the history of Ezza Nation, no village has ever collapsed or migrate into other community for cluster or resettlement”, they said.