In pursuance to Order 2 Rules 1,2,3,4,5, order 3 of Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules, sections 33, 34, 35, 36, 43, 44 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and articles 1 to 6 as well as from 13 to 24 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Right Ratification and Enforcement Act, some natives of Ezza North Local Government Area of the state have sought redress before a Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki following alleged non notice, compensation and non provision of alternative relocation site to them as plans for construction of Ebonyi Cargo Airport gather momentum.
The six applicants who dragged the Honourable Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of the state, Barr. Cletus Ofoke and the Ebonyi State House of Assembly as respondents to the court filed the suit for themselves and as representing some other members of Umuoghara, Okaleru and Umuezeoka communities.
The applicants in the suit numbered FHC\CS\82\2019 sought declaration of the court that the “current and persistent destructions, demolitions and uprooting of dwelling houses, farmlands, cash crops, economic trees, graves, ancestral shrines, and sacred places which is done without palliative, alternative relocation, plans or compensation and in a manner inconsistent with constitutional provisions is ultra vires to the law, repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience”.
They prayed the court in accordance to section 44 of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and rule of law, for an order of injunction restraining the 1st respondent’s principal, assigns and Government of Ebonyi State from further acts of alleged persistent demolitions, destructions and uprooting of dwelling houses, farmlands, cash crops, economic trees, graves, ancestral shrines and sacred places pending full compliance with the constitution.
They sought payment of the sum of two billion naira against the respondents as damages for the “untold hardships, starvation, suffering and deaths perpetrated against them and their communities members by the insidious, inhuman and obnoxious conducts of the respondents and their principal, agents, privies and proxies”.
They also maintained that the Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief David Umahi has failed to keep to the far-reaching policy statements and pronouncements he made on 3rd day of September 2019, with community leaders including the applicants on the state affairs, especially decision of state government in construction of the new Ebonyi International Cargo Airport, and to worsen the situation several complaints and pleas made as reminders yielded no positive result.
“That our sister, late Mrs. Nwankwo Nwebo lost her life and died on the 28th day of August 2019 due to paralysis and shock as she witnessed the colossal destruction of her farmland and economic trees which were her sole means of survival, while Mr. Imeze Oken also died on the 23rd day of August, 2019, after his property and buildings were marked for destruction.”
After considering the matter, the administrative judge who presided over the matter, Justice Phoebe Ayua, ordered that the respondents should be further served the notice for the benefit of doubt following their absence in the court and adjourned the matter to 11th day of November 2019 for hearing.
Speaking with the applicants’ counsel, Gerald Abonyi (Ph.d) shortly after the court proceeding, he described the situation as executive recklessness.
He spoke thus: “We urged the court to make far-reaching pronouncements especially declarations against the demolitions and exploitation of the land belonging to the communities. They ought to be abetted because even by virtue of the Land Use Act, there must be adequate notice of such expropriation to those owners of the land. Even the Land Use Act recognizes that the land belongs to the people. No law in Nigeria removed ownership of land from the people. The main thing is that adequate notice must be given and then adequate compensation must be paid to the owners. So, there are three cardinal rules to be observed by the state.
“The people have suffered hunger, deaths, homelessness, disease, traumas of all sorts, a situation where an airport is being projected, a very beautiful venture we will say but then the people have to eat and be alive to enter the flights. By the time three communities are displaced without any form of notice and compensation that remains the height of executive recklessness.
“Injunction is part of our relief, but it is better and safer to give the other party benefit of doubt in form of adequate notice before injunctions are granted. I believe in the rule of law, I believe in the Constitution. We came under chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution, the section 36 on fair hearing you will see is a three-way traffic. This is under fundamental rights enforcement. It is a special procedure we are already before the court which even goes beyond mere motion.
“So the reliefs we have sought, we are sure we will receive succor because what the Land Use Act says is that before lands may be taken from their owners, there must be enumeration. What the law says is documentation. In the course of all these things, you will be able to verify issues of properties on the land. Unfortunately, none was done in this regard. Remember, the land in question is over 200 hectares of land, you can imagine three communities Okaleru, Umuezeoka, and Umuoghara.
Meanwhile, the applicants are Mr. Nwantiti Christopher, Oken Stephen, Chukwu Celestine, Sunday Igwe, Emeka Igwe and Nwafor Tochukwu, all natives of Okaleru, Umuezeoka, and Umuoghara communities of Ezza North Local Government Area in Ebonyi state proposed site for the International Cargo Airport construction.