BY IKENNA SAMUELSON#
I have carefully listened to various arguments regarding the on-going demolition of properties in Owerri, the Imo state capital. I have also watched with keen interest the imbroglio that has erupted in the State over the planned relocation of Ekeukwu Owerri Market from the Present Location in Owerri Municipal to another local government area (Mbaitoli LGA); and I have come to a very sad and painful conclusion that both Governor Rochas Okorocha and the masses, including the so called Political Leaders in the state should be blamed for all that is happening in this regard.
At this point, I will plead with the reading public to carefully follow me in this journey. This is because some of my global audience complains that my articles are always too long, although they are very interesting write-ups. Mind you, I am not here to throw stones are Governor Okorocha, neither am I here to question his wisdom in deciding that Owerri main market (Ekeukwu Owerri Market) must be relocated and that buildings must be demolished in his quest for urban renewal.
My job here, as a Patriot, is to bring pertinent issues on the scale and thereafter allow the public and Government to weigh and judge. The on-going demolition in Owerri has attracted both condemnation and commendation. Condemnation because there is no genuine and convincing reason(s) from Governor Okorocha on why buildings (mostly storey buildings) should give way for the expansion of roads, in the following areas in the state capital.
(1) MCC/URATTA ROAD (2) MBAISE ROAD (3) AMAKOHIA/ORLU ROAD (4) OKIGWE ROAD (5) RELIEF MARKET/NWATURUOCHA ROAD (6) CHERUBIN JUNCTION AND ALADINMA ROAD.
I say this because these were roads already rehabilitated by Okorocha during his first tenure five years ago in 2011, and the roads in question are still in good condition. Former Governor Dee Sam Mbakwe actually built these roads 35 years ago, and they were solidly built. Governor Okorocha merely recoated them with Asphalt which is not a bad idea. Then suddenly the crazy idea of road expansion came on board. Perhaps, Okorocha is worried that roads in Owerri are always over congested and full of vehicular traffic jam, and therefore came to the conclusion that the only solution to open up the roads, have to be its “expansion”. In carrying out these expansion roads project, notable buildings have been pulled down. Honestly, this is where I am worried.
Let me be clear here: if Okorocha is removing shanties, Kiosks, containers, and other illegal structures in order to expand the roads, then he has my support and commendation. Unfortunately, properties being pulled down are the ones that had approvals from the appropriate authority in the state, before they were erected. Again, the state government never got authorization from the Imo State House of Assembly to carryout the on-going demolition exercise. This clearly makes Okorocha’s ambitious road expansion project an illegal one. Perhaps, that is the reason why OCDA (OWERRI CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY) has refused to join in the demolition madness. And I stand to be challenged.
Nevertheless, it is worrisome to notice that our so called political and religious leaders have refused to call Governor Okorocha to order. None of them have said anything tangible concerning the on-going demolition in the state capital. Except perhaps Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho. However, I see Iheanacho’s condemnation of Okorocha’s action as selfish. The political and business leader did not see anything wrong in the on-going demolition of buildings and fences belonging to other people, until bulldozers and caterpillars berthed at his Owerri mansion. That was when he woke up from his “sleep”. Pronto, the amiable gentleman rushed to the court and obtained an injunction stopping Okorocha and Imo State Government from demolishing the fence of his property. Yet the bulldozers still did their work.
Although many Imo citizens have condemned Okorocha for disobeying court order which barred him from “stripping” Iheanacho’s mansion naked, I personally will not join them to condemn the governor in this particular aspect, and I have cogent reasons. When the demolition exercise started, no political leader in the state including Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho called for caution. Nobody advised against it. Nobody went to court to obtain injunction stopping Rochas from carrying out his actions against the masses. But as soon as Okorocha’s bulldozers berthed at Captain Iheanacho’s house, he woke up from slumber. Honestly, with due respect to Captain Iheanacho, I shed no tears for him. He only went to court to obtain injunction which sought to protect ONLY his property. NONO NO NO, this is selfish interest taken too far; even when other properties along the same road as his, have been pulled down. As a leader, is he telling us that he cannot sacrifice his fence for the “expansion and development” of the state capital?
Had Captain Iheanacho gone to court earlier enough to obtain injunction restraining Okorocha from demolishing any property along that Amakohia/Orlu road, the people of Imo State would have trooped out enmasse to physically stop Okorocha from tampering with any property on that road. Therefore, one can technically argue that Okorocha was right to have stripped Iheanacho’s mansion naked. Unfortunately, Okorocha has refused to touch his own property (LAMORDE GUEST HOUSE) along the same Amakohia/Orlu road. This has clearly marked Okorocha as a self-centered Governor. What then is the motive of Okorocha for the so called road expansion project, if his own property cannot be torched by the angry bull-dozers?The masses are not helping matters. They are already condemning the APC Government in the state for bringing hardship to the people as a result of the on-going demolition exercise which has crippled, strangulated and stifled the state economy. They have forgotten that the immediate past government in Imo State was a PDP government which actually laid the “Demolition Foundation” in the state. Conversely, I dare say that Okorocha has merely borrowed a leaf from the defunct government.
Let met at this juncture express my disappointment at our Leaders, especially those of them with gubernatorial ambitions come 2019. They have refused to proffer solutions to the on-going drama in the state. They are now deaf, dumb and infact blind. They are not seeing the impact of Okorocha’s actions against the people of the state. But when 2019 comes closer, these shameless governorship aspirants will come out to promise us heavens on earth. They would then tell ushow they will use five loaves of bread and two fishes to feed the over 5million Imo citizens – ASHI-ASHI. They know themselves. The only exception is perhaps the immediate Past Secretary to the State Government who has despite being out of government continued to proffer solutions to the mirade of problems and challenges facing the state, in his permanent column in NIGERIAN HORN NEWSPAPERS.Also, the Chief of Staff (Government House) has surprisingly been proving that he knows his onions. This is a story for another day. Please forgive me for this digression.
With the situation now in Imo State, especially the on-going demolition; the masses and the elites have resigned to fate, perhaps only managing to tell Okorocha “WAKA, SHEGE, NMEEEHH, WE WON’T FIGHT BACK BUT GOD WILL PUNISH YOU”(apologies to SAM ONWUEMEODO). This to me is a defeatist approach and sign of cowardice.
When the immediate past government of Ikedi Ohakim embarked on the clean and green initiative policy (and without authorization from the Imo State House of Assembly) which saw businesses and properties of Imo Citizens destroyed, I was affected. I lost over 25 million naira worth of hard earned goods and other properties in 2007. I did not fold my hands. I am not a coward. I was the only person that stepped out to fight the injustice meted out to me, damning the consequences and I won. The rest is history.
The question now is: why is Okorocha embarking on road expansion projects in the state capital, when salaries of civil servants and pensioners are yet to be paid? This is a million dollar question considering the socio-economic hardship Imo people are experiencing currently. Honestly, the road expansion project is uncalled for at this point in time. If salaries of civil servants and pensioners had been paid as at when due, and Okorocha is hell bent on the road expansion project; perhaps I will not waste my ink on this article.
Since Okorocha has commenced this project, I will only advise that he executes them one after another, rather than bulldozing everywhere at the same time, and in this rainy season. Hmmm, Mbaanu Odigi nma.
Just take a look at the Orji Mechanic village. The place has been completely demolished, leaving sorrows, tears and blood to flow freely in many families. Nevertheless, let me state that the move by Government to relocate Orji-Mechanic village to somewhere in Avu had been on since the Achike Udenwa era. Dr. Ikedi Ohakim also served the mechanics quit notice during his tenure as governor, when he started the construction of the flyover. Now that Okorocha has almost completed that flyover, he has insisted that the mechanics should move to their permanent location in Avu – Owerri West LGA. To a large extent, I shed no tears for the mechanics, since the process of their eviction had been on for over ten years (10yrs). I am only concerned that the eviction took place in this austere period. Finish.
EKEUKWU OWERRI MARKET
This is the ancestral, traditional and socio-cultural market of NDI-OWERRE NCHI-ISE. This market has existed for over 200 years. Recently, the Okorocha led government has indicated interest to relocate the market to another place. More regrettably, Governor Okorocha intends to relocate the market to another local government area – MBAITOLI. As far as I am concerned, this planned relocation is an affront to the culture and tradition of the Owerri people. This market has cultural and historical significance to the people of the entire Owerri. The market is the biggest market in Imo State, with a face value of over N60 billion naira.
When the market got burnt in 1987, the then military Governor, Lt Commander Amadi Ikwechegh quickly built the Relief Market to cushion the effect of the losses traders’ incurred, beforehe gradually rebuilt the market one year later. Today, within the state capital, there are three main markets namely; (A) EKEUKWU OWERRI MARKET which deals mainly on – provisions, beverages, cosmetics, medicines, Books, Boutiques, Electrical/electronics, and Food items.
(B) NEW MARKET which deals mainly on Motor Spare parts.
(C) RELIEF MARKET which deals mainly on Nigerian Foods generally.
You can therefore see that the EKE-UKWU Owerri market is the main hub of business transactions and activities in Imo State with an estimated daily turnover of about N1.3billion naira. This market has extended to School road, Chikwere street, Ihugba street, Kagha street, Christ Church road, Ekeonunwa street, Okorie street,Stadium lane, Njemanze street, Tetlow road etc.
Perhaps, the Okorocha led leadership is worried that the Ekeukwu market has grown out of proportion, considering its proximity to both Government House and the City Centre. Perhaps, this is the main reason the Ikedi Ohakim leadership laid the foundation stone of the new Government House at New Owerri, which regrettably the current administration has discarded. But whatever is the reason for the planned relocation of the market, the present leadership did not exhaust other viable options before arriving at this unpopular decision.
(1) Removing the market will deny Owerri Muncipal Council of their revenues from traders.
(2) Removing the market without the consent of NDI-OWERRE, will deny or distort the cultural heritage of the people.
(3) Every community in Imo State has a market. Every Local Government Area in Imo State has a market. Of the three markets in Owerri Municipal Council, it is only the EKE-UKWU Market that is the known or accepted market of the Owerri Community.
(4) The Owerri NCHI-ISE as a whole has collectively informed Government that the Ancestral Market cannot be relocated to another place, talkless to another Local Government area.
(5) Relocating the market will push thousands of Owerri Landlords into “unemployment” market. This is because their shops and stores will now be vacated for the new place in Mbaitoli LGA.
(6) Relocating the market will kill economic activities in the State Capital.
(7) Relocating the market will cause the cost of living in the State capital to rise to an unprecedented level.
(8) There will be an increase in crime rate in the State if the market is relocated.
(9) Relocating the market will cause total dis-equilibrium in the system.
(10) And so on and so forth.
Having come this far, let me inform the reading public that Governor Okorocha cannot be allowed to be a law unto himself in a democratic setting. There are three arms of government, and the three are supposed to be operating on one page for the smooth running of the system. Bearing this in mind, one is in doubt if Okorocha ever sent an executive bill asking the Imo State House of Assembly to authorize him to relocate EKE-UKWU Owerri market to another Local Government Area. Since there is no such bill before the Assembly, and as such no bill has been passed urging Okorocha to relocate the market, the Governor’s planned action is illegal and infact dead on arrival. Therefore, if Okorocha insists to relocate the market, it means that he has ulterior motive.Q.E.D.
However, as a socio-political crusader who believes in “Give and take’’, equity, fairness and justice, let me point out that Government can BAN STREET TRADING withinand around the EKEUKWU Owerri market. To makethis BAN effective, a mobile court should be established whereby defaulters shall be jailed three months without an option of fine or appeal. This simple strategy will assist to decongest the market.
Also the following set of traders can be moved to the new place under construction, without relocating EKEUKWU Owerri Market.
(1) Medicine Traders
(2) Books Traders
(3) Electrical/Electronic parts Traders.
While allowing only Cosmetics, Provisions Beverages and Boutique traders to remain in EKEUKWU market. This strategy also will assist to decongest the market.
I am therefore recommending these simple strategies to Okorocha led government to implement. It is crisis free and cost effective.
RELOCATION OF AUTO-DEALERS.
I have received with amazement the order by Governor Okorocha to Auto-dealers to relocate their business to Ngor-Okpala LGA from their present location in Naze – Owerri West LGA. It is on record that the same Okorocha forced the Auto dealers to relocate from their original location along Egbu road to Naze. Less than three years later, the governor has ordered the Auto-Dealers to vacate their present location, which government gave to them. The auto-dealers spent millions of naira to put the present place in order. Their vacated location at Egbu road today houses SHOPRITE.
The question is; why should Okorocha be inflicting hardship and terror on the people of Imo State. With the obvious socio-economic dis-equilibrium in the state caused by the present leadership, Governor Okorocha is simply calling for a revolution against his leadership. It happened in 2011, it can happen again. If Governor Okorocha feels that because he is now in his second tenure, and cannot be subjected to another round of election, and as such he can destroy people’s properties (which has building approvals), while hiding under the excuse of road expansion; then he must be told clearly that nobody has monopoly of violence and destruction. Okorocha, his family, aides and others in this government have properties in Imo state as well. I am therefore calling on Governor Okorocha to match his brakes on the rampaging angry bulldozers before it becomes too late.
In 1996 (20 years ago), the people of Imo State moved against 419 elements and ritual killers in the state, when it became obvious that their lives and socio-economic well-being were under threat. This is the current situation in Imo State. Let me stop here before the shameless Imo State Police command and the tactless Department of State Security (DSS) will fraudulently and criminally accuse me of inciting the public.
Finally, Governor Okorocha is making it difficult for his party to retain Imo State comes 2019. Leadership must have a human face. Leadership is all about selfless service to the people. Leadership must be anchored on Truth, Love and Honesty.
I rest my pen.
Citizen (Dr.) Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha FCAI, MKDA
Former Senior Special Assistant on Media
Immediate Past Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties
Imo State House of Assembly.
Owerri-Imo State, Nigeria
16th July, 2016.
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