In the past, Enugu State was known for its large presence of coal which served as a major source of income for the then Eastern Region. Coal was exported in large quantity and the incomes generated were used in developing the region. Jobs were created and the region began to experience developmental projects. No wonder the city is known as the coal city.
However, with the discovery of crude oil, all the regions in Nigeria shifted attention from other natural resources and concentrated on oil. Over the years, this has resulted in the collapsed of many industries one of which is the Enugu Coal Corporation.
The once pride of the Eastern region, located behind the old Teaching Hospital, has now become a shadow of itself. The rail tracks which used to transport coal from the place of excavation to the factory for processing are no longer functioning as the people in the surrounding community have turned them into farm lands. Plants and crops are now planted on the damaged tracks.
More saddening is the fact that instead of coal, the factory is now used for the production of sachets water (Rico) locally called pure water by a businessman who claimed he bought it from the Bureau of Public Enterprises.
A visit to the coal corporation brings to mind how many other once bubbling government owned corporations in other parts of the country have become a shadow of their past glory.
Though some of the machines used in washing coals in the past are still inside the factory, they have however, become rusted, obsolete and no longer working.
According to the residents within the community, unlike the past when the corporation was at its peak which resulted in booming commercial activities in the area, the community no longer witnessed such. To them, turning the corporation to a ‘pure water’ factory has brought pains and sorrow to them.
According to the Secretary of Ngenevu and Bunker communities, where the coal factory is located, Mrs. Eze Elizabeth, the community has been suffering since the corporation collapsed as commercial activities are no longer visible in the community.
“This community used to be full of live in the past because of the coal factory. It is at this factory that they used to wash the coals after mining them before taking them out for exportation. Businesses were active and the people in the community were making money from sales. But sadly there are no commercial activities here anymore because the corporation and the factory is dead,” she said.
She continued: “About three years ago, one man came and told us (the community) that he has bought the corporation and he began to produce pure water. Before we knew it, he started demolishing our houses. On the day he brought the soldiers and bulldozers to demolish houses, many of us had travelled to our villages. We had to run back to Enugu when we got the information. We were not even allowed to park our things. Our properties were damaged and we were not able to retrieve anything. I just built my house likewise many people here but right now I am living in somebody’s house with my family. We took nothing so have to start all over again now. This land belongs to the Ngenevu family but they sold part of it to the corporation about 100 years ago. But the remaining part which is about 56 hectares was sold to an individual. The man bought only the corporation, but right now he has extended where he bought and is encroaching on our land. Even the owners of the land are fighting with the man now on this issue. They have petitioned the government on this matter. If government had not allow this company to die, this kind of intimidation by an individual would not have happened.”
Another community leader, Mr. Osita Eze also said the community no longer enjoys the patronage it used to enjoy when the factory was alive. He also lamented the alleged harassment by the new owner
“When the new owner brought the police to evict us, they asked me to come out and surrender my building. They said I was among those disturbing the people working at the pure water factory. They took me to court, and I was remanded in the prison for four months. We want government to revive this factory. This is a corporation that was generating so much money for government in the past through exportation of coal. Many youths were employed and the community was doing well but allowing an individual to turn it into a pure water factory and even intimidating us with police is the height of impunity,” he lamented.
Mrs. Anyaegbu Ann, another victim of the alleged house demolition said: “All my properties were destroyed. I was formerly living at the police barracks and had completed the house and moved some of my properties into it. A day before I finally moved in, the man brought soldiers and bulldozers and began to demolish houses. Now I live in one room with my husband and six children. I don’t know where to start from,” she lamented.
An Enugu based human rights activist and legal practitioner, Raymond Onyegu, blamed the government for the level of abandonment the corporation has experienced. He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to revive the corporation in fulfillment of his campaign promise.
National Human Rights Commission is already aware of the harassment going on in this community but because the President is yet to constitute a new board, the commission is yet to hear the matter. We have met with the Inspector General of Police and he has promised to look into the issue. Over 50 families with their children are affected by this demolition from the pure water owner. The children are now living in different places apart from their parents. There are people who have been staying here for many years. The agreement he had is for Enugu Coal Corporation, but he has gone beyond the boundary giving him and started encroaching on people’s land. The level of impunity in Nigeria is high,” he said.
He added: “The former Enugu State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Tony Ani, is an indigene of Ngenevu community who are the owners of the land, and has promised to do something about the issue. During the campaign by President Muhammadu Buhari, he promised to revive Enugu Coal Corporation. We are using this opportunity to appeal to him to fulfill his promise.