BY RAPHAEL EJIMKONYE.#
The demolition of the Eke Ukwu Owerri market by Governor Rochas Okorocha and the negative consequences that trailed his action has opened a Pandora ’s Box over cumulative factors that led to the fall of the market. Some of the factors were self inflicted- as the people of Owerri- allowed themselves to become pawns in Okorocha’s hands. This is one of the chief factors why the Governor succeeded in demystifying the only remaining symbol that bind Owerri people together. I will come to this later.
However, no government worth its onion and duly elected by the people should degenerate to the point of inflicting so much pain and hardship in a manner reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s crude and Gestapo style of operation during the first and Second World wars. By demolishing the Eke Ukwu Owerri market through the use of brute force, Okorocha has shown that he is in the same mould with Adolf Hitler. The crude manner he deployed security agents to unleash terror on traders and indigenes of Owerri people last Saturday is an indication of the delight he takes in impunity- the manner of impunity and man’s inhumanity to man Hitler and the Nazis unleashed on non Germans.
Okorocha thinks he has triumphed where his predecessors had failed, but he forgets that one grievous error such as the militarized approach he applied in demolishing Eke Ukwu will hunt him and his legacies (if any) for a very long time to come. He cannot hide under the canopy of his urban renewal programme to destroy people’s source of livelihood at a time the nation is experiencing hardship and biting economic recession.
No matter how his media handlers tend to justify his senseless approach in demolishing the market which led to the death of 10 year old Somtochukwu Ibeanusi, the disadvantages of his actions outweigh its advantages. The economic implications of the removal of a viable market such as Eke Ukwu will certainly have dire consequences on a state already ravaged by biting hardship and extreme hunger. The Governor has ruptured the major artery that stimulates economic activities in Owerri municipal, nay Imo State, a state that is under his whims and caprices.
In Okorocha’s Imo State, dissent or disagreement to his views and intentions means one being anti government, anti Owelle and an anti APC! Majority of the Imo citizenry have become so helpless and despondent as a result of his clueless governance which he has anchored on disregard for the rule of law. It is only in his fiefdom, sorry in his Imo State, that pensioners’ pensions are slashed and 30% are deducted from the salaries of workers. It is only in Okorocha’s Imo state his development slogan is used as a smokescreen for his benefit and for a very insignificant few that have family ties with him.
The demolition of the Eke Ukwu market is one of his numerous antics to further impoverish the people. In Okorocha’s Imo, poverty has risen and despondency has become the lot of the people. By demolishing a market that has serious historical undertones, he has opened a leeway for criminality to thrive and endure in Owerri because he has displaced thousands of people who relied on the market for economic survival.
Okorocha claims he relocated the market because crime was prevalent in the area. This is correct. But one wonders how he intends to curb crime at the market when he has displaced thousands of traders mainly youths who carry out legitimate businesses at the market. Are all those who trade or carry out one business or the other at Eke Ukwu all rogues? Must the traders at the market suffer because crime thrives there? What a display of lack of understanding of the nuances that shape and moderate modern governance!
In a state there is total absence of a private economy; one is amazed how he could destroy the only existing market in the state that makes a daily turnover of more than 400 million naria daily. Relocating the market to Mbaitoli Local government area gives credence to a fact that he may really not be a full blooded Igbo son and therefore has no grasp of Igbo culture and usages. He forgot that every village, community or city in Igboland have its ancestral market. Eke Ukwu is over 200 years old, older than other ancestral markets in big cities such as Lagos, Onitsha, Calabar and Kano. Such markets do exist till date. What State governments who have sane Governors did was to remodel such markets to make it more viable and conform to standards. The Jos Terminus market in Plateau State is a verifable case- study. The Otu Nkwo market in Onitsha is a replica of an ancient market located in the heart of Onitsha but repackaged and upgraded by successive responsible governments in Anambra State.
In Okorocha’s Imo State, he will never embrace such innovation. Such idea is alien as long as it does not align with his personal interests and motives. If the Eke Ukwu market was an obstruction to his much trumpeted urban renewal programme as he claimed, why not remodel the market rather than resort to brute force on unarmed, harmless people who relied on the market for their daily needs and economic survival?. Development does not breed despair and discontent among the people. Any developmental plan that inflicts huge pain on the people is not development. It is a retrogressive and anti people.
The political implications of Governor Okorocha’s action further cast gloom on the electoral chances of his All Progressive Congress, APC in the state. Most of his party-men now wonder what electoral gains he has garnered for his party with the demolition of the Eke Ukwu market. The demolition of the market has affected not just the people of Owerri Nchi Ise but to non indigenes who populated the market. Was he not thinking of the electoral misfortune his action could attract for his party? How does his successor climb the levers of power in the State in 2019 when he has displayed crass irresponsibility in hurting the same people that enthroned him into office in 2011? Or is he telling us that with or without the people, he will install his choice as governor and perhaps through the use of force!
Okorocha cannot continue to hide under the canopy of his plan-less urban renewal programme which he has not shown to anybody, not even to his errand boys in the Imo State House of Assembly, to demolish the entire master-plan of Owerri. His thought-less and visionless developmental programmes clearly lacks a human face and has caused more pain than gain for the people who eagerly elected him into power. No matter how he tries to manufacture reasons why he demolished Eke Ukwu Owerri, it will remain a sour point during and after his government exit from power.
At the same time, the people of Owerri have a huge share of the blame that led to the eventual demolition of their ancestral market. They failed to remember that the market had been a target for demolition by successive governments in Imo State. It started from the military era. I remember the desperation exhibited by then Military Governor of Imo State, Navy Commander Amadi Ikwechegh (of blessed memory) to relocate the market at all cost. His plan was resisted because Owerri people were united by their passion for the market and had men of steel character who were bold enough to speak truth to power.
Successive civilian governments who wanted to tow the path of their military predecessors also failed in relocating the market. The bond of unity among Owerri people prevented the market from being demolished. Then the market had some level of sanity. Owerri people were united in their quest to wade off external aggressors who wanted to demystify them.
As years went on, greed exhibited by a particular clan that had dominated the Eze-ship stool for several years began to make other communities to begin to reconsider their basis for such unity. Ancient stories had it that the Ezeship stool of Owerri was rotatory but those who fed fat from the monopoly would hear none of that. This led to several agitations in the past and fired up the quest for a subtle and unspoken liberation. While Owere Nchi Ise remained united, there was a growing consciousness among the people that the interest of a selfish few were to the detriment of the larger majority. The continued domination of political appointments by a particular section to the detriment of other communities in Owerri at that time was also a burning flame of discord that has now culminated to the point of fueling the embers of discord among the people. Okorocha must have understood this existing political dynamics and the emerging trend among the younger generation of Owerri people who lacked clear cut leadership. This enabled him to balkanize the revered Ezeship stool and granted autonomy to each of the five villages which attracted little or no resistance. Only the minority few protested against this move.
The five Ezes in Owerri remain unpopular among the people. This is why they radiate no leadership and command no followers for now. Owerri people may detest the manipulation and domination of the royal stool held firmly by the Njemanzes who have occupied the Ezeship throne for a century, but it is a fact that they have enormous regards for the paramount throne of Owerri.
The polarization of other organic institutions which led to the emergence of a faction further affected the unity of Owerri people. The demolition of the Eke Ukwu market is therefore a manifestation of that division as Owerri people now lacked a rallying point to challenge the actions and intentions of the Governor. The market irrespective of the existing political and cultural cleavages existing among Owerri people remains the major bond uniting the people. But that considerably waned when Okorocha successfully balkanized the revered Owerri traditional stool and other organic institutions in Owerri.
Some Owerri youths also share part of the blame. It baffles me how they allowed hoodlums mainly non indigenes to convert the market to a den of robbers and nest for cultists. Drug peddlers found safe haven in the market as Douglas road and adjoining streets became no go areas. It also became toll collection points as unauthorized persons levied traders for their wares. Toll collection became the past time of some youths who shunned the quest for decent jobs to resort to indiscriminate collection of toll and relied solely on it for their economic survival.
I had seen scenes where some youths masquerading as toll collectors resorted to inflicting harm and pain on helpless market women and men who refused to comply with their demands. Criminality thrived in some areas of the market as Douglas Road became a beehive of criminal activities. It is therefore an indictment on the part of some community leaders who should have taken the initiative to sanitize the market and make it conform to standards. By doing so, it would not have allowed Okorocha to manufacture several excuses to satisfy whatever real or imaginary motives he had in demolishing the market.
The factors that led to the demolition of Eke Ukwu Owere market are multi- dimensional. Both the Governor and the owners of the market goofed in one way of the other. Only time will heal or erase the monumental pain and anguish that has trailed this action. Who is to blame for the fall of the great Eke Ukwu Owerri?