SULLIVAN CHIME: Exit Of A Controversial Reformer
Immediate past governor of Enugu State, Dr. Sullivan Iheanacho Chime was welcomed with both hands by residents when he took over the reins of power in 2007. The revolution he began, which focused on insecurity and infrastructure challenges endeared him to the hearts of the people. He was soon given a new name by residents, “Ihe Enugu chotaworo” (what Enugu has found).
Residents demonstrated their love for Chime when they overwhelmingly re-elected him in 2011. Unlike in his first tenure where he had to contend with barrage of election suits, Chime’s second coming was less agonising.
However, his popularity began to dwindle few months after his election when he started his agenda of restoring the master plan of the coal city, which led to demolition, revocation and reallocation of property that had existed before he became governor. He soon empowered the Ministry of Capital Territory Development Authority (CTDA) with the responsibility to demolish structures his government considered illegal.
Properties, including church buildings, especially those belonging to Pentecostal churches, were either demolished or have their land revoked. Several shops along major roads were marked for demolition, purportedly in the bid to create access for road expansion, as well as, modernise the state capital.
Although, some residents saw his action as “punitive,” going by the claims that alternatives were not provided for those affected to continue their trade, they however contended that some of the demolitions impacted positively on the state.
Perhaps, the demolitions, revocations and primitive acquisitions of open spaces, which may have caught the ire of residents and for which many prayed that days rolled by faster, were the ones that took place less than two weeks to the end of Chime’s tenure.
They included the shops belonging to residents which many thought had been forgotten with construction work on urban roads suspended for close to two years, a land belonging to the Anglican Church at Christ Church, Uwani, which was revoked for “public interest” and a school in the state marked for demolition.
While sponsored thugs were used to attack priests of the church, who resisted the forceful takeover of their land when over ten bulldozers were mobilised last week to clear the land, the demolition of the school was saved by hundreds of students who provided human shield round the school premises to ward off a taskforce sent to effect the directive.
Despite the resistance that landed six of the priests at the hospital bed following beating allegedly received from government sponsored thugs, the bulldozers succeeded in clearing the church land, which government said it revoked for establishment of low cost housing units to be known as “transparency estate.”
Government reasoned that the lease on the property had elapsed, adding that the church failed to renew the agreement when it was necessary for it to do so, adding that there was no original documents that could lend credence that the church was the rightful owner of the property.
It was, however, learnt that government had ordered the revocation of the property when the church presented original documents indicating that it is the original owner of the land and had reserved it for future expansion.
If the residents were helpless with the contention between government and the church, another set of bulldozers released on Tuesday, May 26 to demolish the Spring of Life International School, located on Bisalla Road, Independence Layout, Enugu, was another affront. They rose to the occasion with stout resistance against Chime and his development efforts.
Unfortunately, the demolition of the school that came into being in 2005 was coming exactly two days after Chime had begged residents for forgiveness over certain decisions his government had taken while it lasted.
Indeed, at a thanksgiving service held in his honour at the Holy Ghost Cathedral Catholic Church, Ogui, last Sunday, Chime explained that his administration stepped on toes following its desire to develop the state.
He stated that certain policies and decisions they took were not targeted at hurting any individual but for the overall development and welfare of the people of the state, appealing that those negatively affected should bear with him.
The Guardian gathered that about eight bulldozers and buses loaded with police and officials of the CTDA arrived the school premises at about 2.05 pm, when final year students were writing their NECO examination for the purpose of demolishing it. The students had abandoned their examination and with the assistance of their teachers mobilised to form human shield around the school buildings to save it.
Students and members of staff of the school mounted strong resistance that attracted the sympathy of residents leading to the demolition team leaving the school premises.
Trouble started earlier for the school, with over 1000 students, when the government ordered that authorities of the school pull down the structures.
In fact, the school owned by an architect, Mr. Adibe Njoku, had battled with the state government since 2013 over construction work done on the property, following allegations that they were not done according to specification. Government had at various times accused the school management of going beyond their limits in building on the land with plots no 34, 47 19,48 and 21 at the Ebeano Estate.
In one of the notices of stop work order issued by the CTDA and dated November 22, 2013, government accused the school management of building on the right of way, building without approvals and encroachment on the water way, asking that all documents relating to the school should be presented for inspection within 48 hours or risked being demolished.
Government said the siting of the school impeded the flow of the Asata River. Management of the school had in response to the “stop work order” dated November 25, 2013, denied encroaching on the water, stressing that its retaining wall/fence were within the property line of lands allocated to it.
It went further to attach its survey plan for the plots, approved layout drawings, environmental impact assessment approval letter from the ministry of Environment issued in 2012 to buttress its claim.
Following the claim of the school, a three man committee was set up by the government, comprising representative of the Ministries of works, Environment and CTDA to inquire over the construction of the school.
The committee in its final report submitted to government had given the school a clean bill of health, recommending that the construction “does not impact negatively on the natural water course and therefore does not impede flow of water even when the tide is high.”
Following the report of the inter-ministerial team, the school had written to the CTDA on December 10, 2013, to rescind the stop work order, which was approved through a response from the Ministry on December 18, 2013. Thus, the approval had enabled the school continued with her development projects.
However, on May 5 2015, the CTDA in a letter signed by the its Commissioner, Emmanuel Omeje, gave the school 14 days within which to remove structures developed on the Asata River water way or have it removed by the Authority.
The school responded that it had done all construction in line with approval order from government, stressing that it was “surprised at the new allegation from the Ministry.”
Few days after, the Ministry of CTDA visited the school to carry out inspection. It accused the school authority of “giving zero distance from the River,” based on the measurement it took. It said the structure was outside the mandatory distance of 10 meters away from the river boundary in urban areas.
“The current situation is unacceptable development. Consequently, you are directed to obey the removal notice already delivered to you dated May 5, 2015 or we will step in to remove the offending structures only to the extent of encroachment,” the ex- Commissioner wrote in his letter, dated May 15, 2015.
The school had clarified that it never exceeded the property lines as defined by survey plans of the plot 47,48 and 21, and referred the Ministry to the Enugu Surveyor General.
“That by your unilateral action of putting your own pegs as the boundaries of the said plots, you have totally vitiated the contents, size and co-ordinates of the said plots, which are legally registered property of the Spring of Life International Schools,” the school said.
Disturbed by the development, however, three students of the school, Onukwuma Okonkwo, Ogbonnaya Chinonye and Chizzy Umeh, dragged the state government to court and succeeded in obtaining an interim injunction from the Federal High court barring government from interfering with the school property pending determination of the suit.
Although, the order was reportedly served on government, as well as, an accompanying letter from the counsel to the school, Chuma Oguejiofor, officials of the Ministry of Capital Territory Development Authority on Tuesday, however, mobilised to demolish the structures at the school.
They claimed that the interim order had elapsed and that the school had refused to comply with directive to remove “the offending structures that impede the flow of the river in the area.”
It was this development that broke the camel’s back as the students resisted them, providing human and vehicular shield that could not allow the bulldozers access into the school premises.
They were joined by residents who carried placards that deplored what they described as the “latest plot to dehumanise Enugu people by government.”
Some of the placards accused government of “lacking human face,” stressing that “a responsible government should not tamper with the future of her children.”
One of the residents, Mrs. Chukwuonwe Grace, who decided to join the protest on learning the story, said; “no sane society toys with education, especially those involving children. It is sad the level of psychological trauma these students have passed through, especially those writing their NECO examination. Whatever be the case, the (school) authority had followed all laid down rules, why won’t government act in accordance with the rules?”
From Tuesday, the protesters that included students refused to leave the school premises, saying they would only do so when Chime’s tenure, which came to an end on Friday would have elapsed.
Those who have followed the story of the demolitions, especially the ones carried out in the twilight of the Chime administration are now asking questions on their motives. Were they really done for the benefit of the state or used as weapon against perceived political opponents? Perhaps, the onslaught against the Spring of Life School, whose proprietor consulted for government and still owed by government is an eye opener.
Many believed he (Chime) reopened history books few days to his exit against those who allegedly had issues with him since he went into government during the Chimaroke Nnamani era as governor.
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