A rare encounter with Onoh, the demolition Man of Coal City
As I filled out the form waiting to see him I was ushered into the waiting room and for the next 32 minutes I was fixated in prayers, begging God to see me through this meeting. Suddenly the bell rang and the secretary called me and said “the chairman is ready to see you.”
As I walked into his office my heart kept beating and I told my aged mother to continue praying, this was a man that’s well known for keeping snakes and exotic animals as pets, it’s said he moves around with snakes coiled around his body, he is not only immune to jazz (black magic) but he’s the original voodoo gangster and jazz itself. He’s rarely seen in public so elusive that he never attends functions, parties, etc, it’s difficult to pinpoint who you can call his friend.
As I walked in I saw a young tall dark gentleman who smiled at us and in a very polite polished English accent said “Good morning Mama, please what brings you to my office and what can I do for you? As we sat he told me I shouldn’t have stressed my mother to come all the way to his office, at this point I already concluded that our house would be demolished, this was same man that dragged the Oba of Lagos to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands, when in 2014 the Oba threatened to drown Ibos in the Lagos lagoon.
With a trembling voice we explained to him that our property was marked for demolition for building without approval and we had previously submitted our plan for processing in Enugu South local Government Secretariat since the past two years, even paid all the necessary fees, yet nothing was ever done. This man who was said to be mean, heartless and brutal was filled with rage and to our shock ordered a staff of his agency to proceed to Enugu South and even if it took one week they should personally find our plan.
Then came the second problem, my dad had died the previous year, though my mother struggled to continue building the block of flats. It wasn’t easy and the new Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA) rate meant we had to pay additional N350, 000 of which my mother broke down in tears as she couldn’t afford it and might have our house demolished. The notice was already published in the newspapers. Suddenly, this man who is said to be brutal, yet in a gentle voice said “Mama don’t cry, I’ll pay the difference for you.”
He immediately wrote a cheque then asked one of his assistants to rush to the bank and get the money. He quietly told us he had to go downstairs to address Kenyatta market traders who had stormed the premises over shortage of shop allocations. As he walked boldly to meet them with a barrage of security details, this gentleman who is misunderstood walked into heavy applause from the crowd to my shock after cracking jokes with the crowd he simply sat on the floor of the steps and proffering solutions to the traders who were even more amazed at his simplicity.
This is a young man born with all the euphoria of wealth, power, luxury and fame, yet mingling with traders like one of their own. At this point it was clear that this brutal enforcer of compliance was also a Compassionate soul. Soon after he walked back to his office, gave the traders money for transport and they burst out in jubilation. He then handed the sum of N350k and asked us to go and pay into the State IGR account. I broke down in tears, my mother showered blessings on him and in the simplest manner he said I’m just doing my job as I was appointed to serve the people.
In the words of John F. Kennedy, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers” I was left in shock, as I returned back to my base in Ibadan I decided to research more about this most misunderstood, elusive and best performing appointee of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s administration which for many reasons I am not a fan but one will agree that Onoh is the best appointee so far to have headed this ministry since the inception in 2009.
It is therefore discernable that Posterity is what men have powers to influence, only when they apply positive attitude, wisdom, courage and above all humanism devoid of selfish motivation. Humanism in itself is a system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values and dignity predominate. The illustration is to vividly picture the difficult but courageous application of sanity in mist of stubborn and selfish citizens who derive pleasure in annexing or creating false sense of superiority over others to make the public view them as demigods in the society. It is with such a sense of false superiority that violators of public assets operate and make them believe they could always have their ways and get away with impunity against the general interest. That is why such ‘cowards’ would know that his similar character wrongly conveyed a public space to him and he would still go ahead to convert such space to a private residence.
It was such malfeasance that brought about the famed Malam Nasiru El-Rufai administration of the Federal Capital Territory Development Authority in Abuja. El-Rufia was called names for insisting on the application of the Abuja Master plan. The demigods who thought they were overlords and violated the city plan were brought under control and that record saved Abuja from degeneration to a slum city. In a way, the present Chairman of Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA) Dr. Josef Onoh could be nicknamed the El-Rufai of Enugu and it will suit an exact comparison, given the similarities in their methods of operation. Whereas El-Rufai dared the feudal lords in Abuja, Onoh has exhibited such fearless and courageous trait in ensuring that lawbreakers don’t have their ways in their impudence violation of Enugu master plan. This is one appointment I give Governor Ugwuanyi 100 percent for making the right choice even though I’m not his fan. It’s not just that Onoh is courageous to control impunity but credit should be given to the man saddled with the responsibility of enforcing compliance on a metro city of 795,000 population.
Onoh is a firebrand redeemer after destruction. Taking the Enugu rebuild project after #EndSARS protests as an example, Onoh has brought durability, esthetics and service to the rebuild of utilities such as the metropolitan brick-made bus shelters. It takes the eagle eye of a humanist to conjure that following the violent trends of youths, durable and purposeful infrastructures are required in complementary to the transport service.
In the same manner, the new service lane of Okpara Avenue by Ebeano Tunnel Crossing junction has eased traffic congestion in that area. Even in this service production, the innate human impunity traits has persisted with reckless civil disobedience to simple traffic rules. The commercial transport operators are more in number in this aspect, yet when the full wealth of law is applied, the habitual lawbreakers will complain of high handedness.
The senior complainants are found building against water ways, obstructing thoroughfare and endangering ecology and human traffic. These categories of complainants convert low density areas to high densities and expect the town planning control authority to turn blind eyes to their impunity. Onoh however said it’s wrong. In most cases he has run into confrontation with the offenders. There is no doubt that Onoh keeps his eyes on the ball and dam whose ox is gored.
In his effort to retrieve the city from hawkers who hijacked the streets and turned them into market places, Onoh initiated the gauze barricades after several attempts to make them leave the pedestrian and motorways. It’s amazing to note that hawkers would ever vacate the popular IMT bus stop, but it’s the gauze that made the magic that decency has restored to the environment and ornamentation planted to enhance the beauty of the famous IMT bus stop.
Talking about the magic of wire gauze brings to reflection the nuisances previously constituted in the Dahmija area of Trans-Ekulu and the obstruction of Kenyatta market in Uwani. The Trans-Ekulu disobedience was such impunity that the area was avoided because of the traffic congestion that was constituted by the street traders. Onoh’s coming controlled the surge of the shop operators and rearranged traffic flow. The Trans-Ekulu menace was such that residents contravened the layout master plan and blocked streets at their comfort. Onoh moved in and cleared the illegal blockades and created traffic diversions that made the area come back alive with the gauze barricade.
The Kenyatta gauzing made a tremendous impact before the traders finally moved to the permanent site of the building materials market at Ugwuaji. With the division of the Kenyatta road into two equal halves, fortified with gauzing of the street, traffic flow resumed in Kenyatta until the evacuation of traders to their more spacious permanent site. The relocation of the Kenyatta market to its permanent site is as good as agreeing Onoh made the impossible possible, a feat that previous administrations failed to achieve since 2003.
Sometimes memories are short that one has forgotten the unbefitting black lion branding of Enugu government house which Onoh changed into a magnificent gentle white lion. He also reduced the Otigba roundabout that it’s previously enlarged size became a traffic albatross in the city center and followed it up with an increase to three of the Otigba drummers. Subsequently he reduced the Parklane hospital roundabout to a passable size. Lest we forget, traffic jam has since disappeared from the Nike lake road Timber market after the nuisance obstruction was sanitized. Same story is still being told on the Holy Ghost congestion which the barrier mesh divides helped to contain the traffic menace.
The focus of this x-ray is to underscore the fact that men have the capacity to change, not only the environment, but the direction and worldview of their fellows in order to harness ultimate benefit for society. Taking for instance the development of a bypass in-between the dual carriage roads of new haven by Mbanefo Street besides Carmelite hospital was a typical case of creativity and relief to the residents.
What landmark should be mentioned and the other forgotten? The November 28 1983 Emene plane crash has remained indelible in the minds of those who lost their beloved ones which included the Onohs. As the revival of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport continues, Dr. Onoh deemed it necessary that the wreckage of the Fokker F-28 aircraft should be exhumed to immortalize the victims of the ill-fated plane crash. The wreckage now stationed at the entrance of the airport has become a Mecca of sorts and perhaps one of the greatest monuments of the coal city that now keeps sad history alive.
As if Onoh has special attachment to the Enugu airport, he ensured that the Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority keyed into the international airport rehabilitation, removing obstructing slums and market in and around the vicinity of the airport, an exercise that redeemed confidence of aviation operators in use of the Akanu Ibiam airport. In the process Onoh had a faceoff with J.J Emejulu who went and demolished a part of the airport perimeter fence.
In summary, posterity beacons on a leader whose eyes are the ball of progress, decency, rule of law and who by all standard seeks a just society for the rich and the poor, the low and the upper class and who considers society over self. That man is Dr. Josef Onoh whose family background and inheritance is to fight for the common good of the society. I’m sure Onoh will be appreciated much more like El-Rufai years after he leaves office. As he’s fondly referred to: DENGE Agbor, Okaa Omee Ngwo, Babamiliki, Ani-nefungwu, Demolition Man. One thing remains certain, history will be kind to him.
Mrs. Grace Chukwudumebi Ejindu writes from Barakat Shopping Complex, University of Ibadan Secretariat Road, New Bodija, Ibadan, Oyo state