●Owerri City Expansion and Demolition: My Personal letter to Governor Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha...By Bar Kissinger Ikeokwu 16 August, 2016.
"Before I deliver the intended message of my essay, permit me to make clear my confession that I am a known critic of your government. Before you, I was a vocal critic of Governor Ikedi Ohakim as he then was. The truth remains that in the course of our critic, we release suggestions that would become vital to people in authority. Sadly sycophants and fake people around people in power would do everything possible for them not to pick the positives from the criticisms. They would rather create imaginary enemies for their principals and make them blacklist real people. People whose advice would be invaluable.
Like I sounded out Ohakim while he was in power, I have also come to advise you Sir, to beware of the praise-singers and sycophants around you because the day of reckoning is coming. Soon, you will realise like your predecessors that they are all fake. They are people who hail you because of the crumbs they are enjoying from you while in office. Once you leave, you will see them vocally criticizing policies they partook or supported. Looking around you today, I see many former aides of the former Governor, Ikedi Ohakim. Many were House of Assembly members during Ohakim’s tenure. Many swore never to have any business to do with you and called you all manner of names. Today they are behind you, singing your praise, white-washing you with paints and shutting you out from reality. At the end of the day, you would realize that these men are your greatest enemies. When the dust is settled, people like me would become your real friends because the wool must have been cleared off your eyes by then. But as long as you hold sway, they would make you see us as your perpetual enemies who don’t want to see you succeed.
His Excellency Sir. I don’t want to sound ungrateful like many others. Your vision for the expansion of the Owerri major roads are laudable. It is a very courageous one. More commendation goes to the fact that you kick-started this when Imo allocation is abysmally low. It is fascinating to see how you have embarked on such massive capital projects while salaries and pensions have become difficult to pay in Imo State under your administration. The benefits of an expanded road cannot be over-emphasised. However these cannot succeed in the manner you have gone about it Sir. I shall go ahead to enumerate reasons why this project may be the right thing being done at the wrongest time.
Owerri City is planned to be a twin city. It was the vision of the founding planners of Owerri city that at sometime in its development, the Government House, Prisons, State Police Command, Judiciary/High Court would have all relocated to New Owerri. It was in pursuance of these vision that the Federal High Court, Court of Appeal, INEC, Imo General Hospital, Imo Concord Hotel, Imo House of Assembly, Imo State Secretariat, Imo Cenotaph Square, Ahiajoku Conference Center were all cited in the New Owerri by your predecessors. It was the vision of your predecessors that once the New Owerri springs up to life, development would push to that area and reduce human and vehicular traffic into the old center thereby expanding the city. It was also in pursuance of that vision that Chief Achike Udenwa constructed the World Bank Umuguma Housing Road, the Nekede/Akanchawa Road, and the Area “A” to House of Assembly roads. Chief Ohakim took it further by pushing a road from the All Seasons Hotel to Port Harcourt Road and meeting up with the Hospital/Umuguma Junction. All these were done to rapidly expand Owerri city and to ease congestion in the old in the old city.
Your administration came in with a good vision to create multiple access roads across the Nworie River to New Owerri which was highly commendable as a move to ease traffic congestion in Owerri. The Sam Mbakwe Road from Ware House Junction to Aba Emmanuel College Junction was a landmark arterial road that enhanced vehicular traffic and we commend you. You however reversed all that would have been your administrations’ gains towards the New Owerri development when you cancelled the relocation of Imo Government House to its original location of Area “H” in the Owerri Master Plan. Under your watch Sir, Tower of Babel began to be built in the old Imo Government House, while the Area “H” New Owerri Government House location was balkanized, shared, divided and sold to friends and cronies. Still under your watch Sir, you chose to build the International Conference Center thereby abandoning the nearly completed Ahiajoku Conference Center bequeathed to you by your predecessor. These activities exposed lack of planning and fallacy to your much touted vision for Owerri city. The New Owerri Master Plan has a New Market to be sighted some where around Avu acquired area. If we vigorously pursue the development of the market, surely the old Owerri city center would be greatly decongested.
His Excellency Sir, you will recall that your administration commenced a project for the dualization of the Housing/Umuguma Road. After doing the earthwork, the road has been abandoned. That road requires no demolition. The road from Yaradua Drive through the Lords Chosen Charismatic Ministries and up to the Sights and Services to Umuguma, could well open up Owerri and drive development to large expanse of areas begging for access road. The Nekede/Ihiagwa/Futo Road is in a state of total disrepair. Sir do I remind you of the Owerri Outer Ring Road from Mbieri/Ori Junction/Toronto Junction to Road Safety Junction and up to Nekede Poly Junction in Aba Road? The Ukwu Orji/Nwaorieubi Junction/Atta Road is also in bad shape. The Ngor Okpala Road a local government that voted over-whelmingly for you in 2011 Supplementary Election has not received any attention from you after five years and still counting. The Ngor Okpala Mbaise Road is in a state of total disrepair. All these are roads begging for attention. Roads that would ease movement of goods and persons and boost Imo economy and agriculture. Perhaps I needed to mention specially the Nkwo Orji Obazu Mbieri Road. A road that cuts through the heart of the Mbieri nation and to the abode of your beloved Deputy Governor, His Excellency Prince Eze Madumere’s. That road has been begging for attention for nearly five years now without any show of interest by your government.
Back to the demolitions and expansion. It is not like Imo people are ungrateful. Its not that we don’t like road expansion Sir. What Imo people detest is the manner in which you have pursued the project. You will recall Sir, that few months ago when you sought the mandate of Imo people for a second term, you told Imo people that you spent the first four years building roads and other capital projects. You promised that you second term, would be all about “Job, job, job” “Industry, Industry, Industry”. There was no time at the campaign trail you told Imolites that Road Expansion would be a focal point of your second term. Your lack of conversation or your wilful and persistent refusal to dialogue with the people. Your so called “My People, My People” kills them more than the harsh effects of the demolition.
You are not the first person to embark upon an ambitious project, neither are you the first to have to demolish people’s houses, shops etc in the overall public interest. What makes your own peculiar is your deliberate refusal to see from the angle of your citizens who are also facing the harsh economic realities of the time. Permit me Sir to tell you that most of those shops you are demolishing are owned by pensioners and civil servants. The shops and the buildings may be their main source of survival in this harsh economic weather.
I am saying that if you intended embarking on a project that would affect other people’s business or livelihood in these bad times, there ought to be at least six months notice. The citizens ought to know that their government would embark upon the expansion of the specific roads. By so doing Sir, many would not have renewed their rents to their landlord in anticipation. Those embarking on improvements of fence, land scrapings, houses, shops that were or would be affected would have been fore-warned to charnel their resources to businesses that would endure. The accidental manner the demolitions comes to them, makes them think that your newly found expansion project was not planned.
Where government genuinely intends to demolish properties for development, the appropriate action to take is firstly to award contract for the project in a manner that citizens gets to be aware that such project has been conceived by government. Then the contractor would draw up a design. The design would determine the extent and manner the project would impact on the citizens. After that the contractor would embark on marking of the structures affected by the project. When these have been done, Estate Valuers would swing into action to evaluate the properties along the route of the area for the proposed development. The purpose of valuation is to determine the extent of compensation to the affected persons. It is after the valuation that any demolition can commence, because only then would the people know what their claims are irrespective of which government is in power to pay them or subsequently. But in this case, none of these processes were observed. Probably because of You Excellency’s avowed phobia for due process.
You will recall Sir that I kicked against your vision or dream of delivering 27 Modern Hospitals to the 27 Local Governments in Imo State. I know your aides would not tell you that I wrote series of articles wherein I advised you to shelve the plans for building 27 modern hospitals. It is ironic to hear when you quote that 30% of Imo workers gulp 80% of Imo monthly allocation. Most times when you reel out this statistics, I wonder if they existed when you set out to build 27 hospitals or did you just realize that. Your record with workers and their unions is highly documented. Therefore one found it ironic when you muted the misconceived idea of 27 modern hospitals without a thought about the implications on the economy of the state. Today Sir, you have abandoned that laudable vision of delivering 27 modern hospitals to Imo people and have soon jumped into another mega-vision for the expansion of all major roads in Owerri city. Today we see you are no longer in a hurry to deliver even one of the promised 27 hospitals. The existing Imo State University Teaching Hospital IMSUTH AND Imo General Hospital Umuguma are not in good shape to deliver health care service to Imolites at optimum levels.
Imolites are not ungrateful Sir. We like good roads. We like an organised city, but not in the manner you have embarked upon this exercise without conversation. You are even the luckiest governor, who can carry on projects without budgetary provisions meant for it. The Imo House of Assembly under you, gives you the blank cheque to spend money now, only to come and have it tinkered into the budget thereafter. Since you have decided to do it this way Sir, Imolites plead you to emulate your predecessor Chief Ikedi Ohakim by delivering solid roads in the mould of the Orji, Orlu Road and Egbu Road dualization. Nearly seven years after the Ohakim administration left office those roads remained solid with sound drainage work. Those dualizations were done by Messrs Zerock Construction Limited. The designs were done, with full environmental impact assessment. Infact to complete that job, Messrs Zerock took an effective survey of the Akwakuma/Amakohia, Orji and Egbu road drainage system and devised the best possible drainage system suitable for each of them. Today those solid works are being distorted.
I want to end this with this parting message Sir. You didn’t need to do much in this harsh economic weather to impress Imolites. With your free education policy which brought you massive acclaim, all that you needed was to continue to pay salaries and pensions while you work hard to complete projects already commenced in your first tenure. Whoever advised you to abandon the vision of the 27 hospitals you had already set up did not mean well for you. The demolitions in Owerri have brought tears in the eyes of Imo people, many whom voted you. By those demolitions, businesses have been disrupted, families thrown in anguish, houses exposed to erosion all in a time when things are hard for the people. No doubt it is a laudable project, but it may have been “a good project at the wrong time”.