Under the circumstance, if no decisive action is taken by relevant authorities in Imo State; Owerri the state capital, may soon find its way into the Guinness Book of World Records, as the city in the world harboring the largest heap of refuse found in one street.
What started as small pockets of refuse soon became piles of slimy dirt and today is aggressively growing into a mountain of garbage at different parts of the city. As repugnant as the sight is to the eyes and as putrid as its stench is to the nose, the Imo State government has yet, found no compulsion to evacuate the refuse.
Old Owerri city centre is made up of five major roads; Wetheral road, Douglas road, Tetlow road, Royce road and the Okigwe road that goes all the way up to Assumpta road. The busiest of all the roads and of greatest strategic economic importance is the Douglas road, which leads to the largest market in the Imo State capital, Ekeukwu Owerri Main Market.
Pot holes and dirty puddles,which have been left unattended to by the government have degenerated into near gullies at sensitive sections of the road. Despite the outcries of traders and indigenes of the area, nothing substantial was done to ameliorate the plight of traders and road users. In recent times however, the complaints over bad road and flood-sensitive state of Douglas road paled into insignificance with the seeming invasion of the road by garbage.
Before now, the pattern was for the traders and residents of adjoining streets to bag their disposables and dump them at select locations on Douglas road for pick-up by sanitation workers the next day. This was the case until recently when the efforts of the refuse disposal outfit started going slack.
Their pick-up frequency reduced and became irregular to the point that small bags of refuse were seen ‘on parade’ from one end of Douglas road to the other. Today, there is clearly no more pick-up runs of the refuse disposal unit with about 70 per cent of Douglas road now covered with refuse and still rising.
Beyond the negative economic impacts on the market and residents, there is also the looming threat of epidemic outbreak in Owerri, following the size and stench of the now completely fetid mound of rubbish along Douglas road, which is dangerously in close proximity to business offices and residential homes. For more than one week now, the massive dump site called Douglas Road has put Owerri in the map of regions of the world under serious threat of an epidemic.
Yet, the implications of that reality and its consequences on the life of Imo residents seem not to worry the state government in the least. This is more worrisome when the State Commissioner for Health, who should have since raised a red flag and called the attention of the Governor to such life-threatening issue that runs deeper than politics, is a lawyer and not in any way a health worker. Barr. Ngozi Njoku, whose appointment seems more for political convenience than for competence in public health, may not see any urgency in the present state of Douglas road.
A functional State House of Assembly, no matter how subservient to the executive, should have at least raised questions of conscience on seeing a vital intra-city road shut down by an ever growing mountain of refuse, which has become a revolting sight and an avoidable embarrassment to the state.
Even if the Chairman, House Committee on Health and Sanitation, Hon. Nkenna John Nzerue, could be cowed into silence, what about the House member representing Owerri Municipal at the State Assembly, Hon. Lugard Osuji, whose country home is just a walking distance to the Douglas road dumpsite? Many had also expected the clerics and parishioners at the St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Douglas road to raise an alarm for safety; even if not for themselves, at least for the kids of the nursery and primary schools run by the church who daily have to thread the garbage path to school and back. Speaking to our correspondent, Dr. Philip Njemanze, a neurosurgeon, resident in Owerri, said Imo and Owerri in particular is running the risk of widespread Cholera and Lassa Fever outbreak.
Said he, “For the state or its agencies to have left the refuse at Douglas road to pile up for about a month now and putrefy to this extent, amounts to creating public health hazard that could put the entire populace at risk. Nothing whatsoever can sincerely justify this level of life-threatening negligence.”
When contacted, Hon. Jeff Nwoha, the General Manager of the Environmental Transformation Commission (ENTRACO) in charge of evacuating refuse from the city, snubbed efforts to get his reactions on the reason for the non-evacuation of the Douglas road refuse heap. He cut the line after the question was asked by our correspondent and did not respond to text messages sent to his mobile phone. However, not a few had linked the mountain of garbage at Douglas road Owerri to the face-off between Governor Rochas Okorocha and Owerri indigenes over the planned demolition and removal of the Owerri Main Market.
As at September 30, the deadline given to traders at the Ekeukwu Owerri main market elapsed and operators and stakeholders at the market have been apprehensive as to when the Governor’s bulldozers will move in.
With the resolve of Owerri people to resist the relocation of the market, many indigenes believe that the abandonment of Douglas road and its environs to decay and dilapidation is a deliberate ploy by the administration to force operators of the market to relocate. Under the prevailing circumstance however, it is yet uncertain what next the residents may face-Governor Rochas Okorocha’s bulldozers or his garbage trucks.