From Magnus Eze, Enugu
Residents and business owners at New Owerri in Imo State heaved a sigh of relief on August 24, 2021, as the bulldozers of the Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA) moved into a notorious slum at the heart of the city, commonly called Ghetto Town, to carry out development control.
In a matter of hours, the OCDA had brought down every illegal structure there. With that development, the agency sent a strong signal that it was determined to restore the New Owerri master plan.
At the ghetto settlement, anything was possible. It was a den to criminals, home to commercial sex workers and hub for all manner of social vices. Coincidentally, it was located right at the centre of the New Owerri, reputed to be emerging as the most beautiful and developed city in the South East region of Nigeria.
Over the past decade, the area has been developing steadily as the preferred hospitality and tourism destination in the South East. There has been an upsurge in exotic hotels, highbrow residential estates, entertainment centres and other commercial ventures in New Owerri, in addition to the fact that it is home to almost all the federal and state government infrastructure in the capital city. The House of Assembly, the federal and state secretariats, Central Bank of Nigeria, commissioners’ quarters and New Concord Hotel, among many others, are located within New Owerri.
However, the glitz and glamour that characterise the New Owerri urban landscape had hitherto been blurred by the simultaneous existence of the large squatter community, Ghetto Town.
The unplanned and shanty landscape was not only an eyesore but, more importantly, it deformed the beauty and serenity of the area. In fact, it was strongly rumoured that guns and hard drugs changed hands frequently there.
So, the existence of the ghetto constituted the single biggest problem that residents and business owners in New Owerri endured while it existed.
The state government had been inundated with petitions, hence, having exhausted all statutory warnings on the illegal occupants, the OCDA took the decisive action of demolishing the slum. The widely commended action thereby brought to an end the sordid chapter that was an eyesore to the aesthetics of New Owerri.
Marcel Uzondu, an environmentalist, said the development would pave the way for investors who were poised to partner with the land owner in a new initiative that will see to the emergence of an ultramodern business hub craved by New Owerri.
He said: “With the concentration of government infrastructure, exquisite residential/housing estates, hotels and other commercial ventures, it is expected that the development of such hi-tech business city will further boost the economic and tourism potential of New Owerri.”
Sources close to the investors, also told Daily Sun that the new business city would comprise of a mix of shops and commercial apartments in a landscaped complex to be powered by solar energy.
Indications are that many business owners in Owerri would want to have a presence in the emerging hub located at the heart of New Owerri.
It is also projected that the new business city will afford a lot of Imolites, in Nigeria and in the diaspora, opportunity to own a piece of property in the place and invariably earn income from property appreciation.
Our bulldozers won’t rest -GM OCDA
General manager of OCDA, Ikpamezie Ikechukwu, said the agency was determined to pull down any illegal shanties and unapproved structures in Owerri in its bid to restore the master plan of the city.
He disclosed that the original master plan of Owerri conceptualised a twin city, vowing to ensure that all development within the Owerri Capital Territory conformed to the appropriate rules and regulations guiding such developments.
The OCDA boss said: “We have embarked upon a vigorous programme of demolishing all shanties in Owerri. Every shanty is being intentionally razed to the ground because they are illegal structures and they are not part of the infrastructural plan of Owerri. The aim for this our demolition programme is to ensure a decent and better-organized Owerri. Just take the case of the Ghetto Town that we demolished recently. It is unimaginable that we tolerated such an illegal squatter community to thrive for such a long time at the heart of New Owerri with all its negative implications for crime. We are removing every shanty in New Owerri and you should consider yourself as breaking the law if you own one.”
He was upbeat that, given the strategic location of the demolished squatter settlement, the place will be put to a more positive and appropriate use that will add value to the socioeconomic development of the state.