Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Plans by some developers to build stalls for commercial purposes at the popular Opi Junction, Nsukka, Enugu State, are causing ripples and anger in the area.
The project had already pitted the immediate caretaker committee chairman of Nsukka Local Government Area, Dr. Chinwe Ugwu, against Patrick Omeje, the chairman of the local government, who passed on recently after a brief illness.
There was a cold war between Ugwu and Omeje over the project. The reporter gathered that the project was initiated by some developers who got the approval of the then caretaker chairman to construct and begin operation so that the local government could generate revenue from site.
The developers swung into action, sold forms at N10,000 to interested builders while allocation for shops was pegged at N350,000. Work had already progressed to an appreciable level when Ugwu’s tenure expired and she handed over to Omeje. Omeje died barely four months into his tenure.
Immediately Omeje came into office, he allegedly ordered the developers to stop work. The place was marked with red paint with an order to vacate the site. While some people said that Omeje stopped the project because he did not want any project initiated by Chinwe to see the light of day, others said he took the action because of certain selfish economic considerations.
This latter group said that Omeje wanted a large chunk of some shops for himself, alleging that he demanded that the developers should pay N1 million instead of the N350,000 they paid.
When the reporter visited the place recently, nothing was going on there, with nobody on site. Some of the nearby shop owners also claimed they were confused about the state of things at the site. Some lamented the sudden stoppage of work at the site and the volume of money pumped into the project already, arguing that the place should be completed so that commercial activities could start there.
When the reporter contacted Ugwu, she said the project was a public-private partnership arrangement in which the local government didn’t invest any money.
She expressed sadness that the project had been stalled because of petty politics, noting that the local government should allow the building to be completed and made functional.
“The community approached the local government with a development plan. The arrangement was that when the developers finished the project, our job would be to collect revenue accruable. When the project commenced, a lot of people started nosing around, thinking it was the local government that was building it. Before I left office, I noticed that Patrick was behind those probing and I told the developers point-blank that they were duly permitted to build, I signed as the local government helmsman then. The town engineer signed, likewise the local government treasurer. If they could not protect their investment, it then means they were not worthy to take up the task.
“They have stopped work since then for over three months now and I expected the other local government functionaries who signed with me to protect them so that work can continue. I have finished my own duty as the caretaker chairman but government is a continuum. If the chairman wanted to strike a deal with them, it was up to him. After all, they saw when he was there for two years but they didn’t bring up the project. If I begin to throw my support for them now, it would be termed that I’m interfering with the duties of the chairman when I have handed over and left,” she said.
Before his death, Omeje spoke with the reporter on the issue. He acknowledged that he had been very busy over the challenge of insecurity in Nsukka and the task of controlling the borders in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Omeje said he was not surprised at what some people in Nsukka were saying about him, noting that he had already developed a thick skin against rumour-mongering, name-calling and twisting of facts by several actors in Nsukka.
“There are some issues in the project but I don’t know why we hate ourselves so much in a very little community as Nsukka. Once you are a progressive, whether you are in government or doing well in your private capacity, they label you a cultist, ritualist or murderer. There is poverty of the mind here and it has eaten so deep into some people that, to them, there is no God or there is no hand of God in somebody’s life again. They ascribe all progress to ill-gotten wealth.
“The stalls in Opi, I’m not interested and I didn’t victimise anybody at all. That place belittles me. What is a N400,000 shop and what will I use such to do? Is that what I’m pursuing?
“I saw that place when I was here in my first tenure but I didn’t build it because the place is very close to the expressway. We are also considering the issue of a proposed flyover, which the governor wants to build for Nsukka people there. We are now saying, why not allow Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the governor that has the interests of the people at heart to see what he wants to do first before going there to build?
“But that is not to say that those who built the structure had committed abomination, but one of my concerns is, if one day a trailer vehicle loses control and rams into the place, it would be a monumental tragedy.
“When they started building, they bastardised the master plan but I don’t blame them because the person that authorised such wanted to make money. The truth is that the structures need to be demolished and flattened completely. But I just kept silent. They have been meeting me but I ask myself, what can they offer me that would make me to sell my conscience?
“They said they have selected shops for me there and even a space for fresh construction for me but I know all these are just a decoy to find a way and rope me into the mess they already created. I repeat again that I’m not interested and if I get angry, I will just direct a bulldozer there to level the whole place and structures. I have the executive power to do that but I’m being considerate.
“At the end of the day, two things may happen: either we take off the property or allow it to stand. But there are certain actions that must be taken if the latter would prevail. The one they constructed at the frontage, very close to the main road must go because it is a very big risk. I’m not interested in having a shop because I can afford to build those shops on my own if I so desire. I have never asked any of them to give me a shop too. They came to beg me with drinks and so on but I told them that I’m a wine dealer and don’t have time for all that stuff.
“I don’t want to appear callous to anybody too and I want to live my life in such a way that tomorrow, when my children pass, people would say, yes, their father was a good man, just as people still talk about my own dad even today.”
Omeje, however, passed on shortly after.
A community stakeholder in Opi, former secretary to Enugu State government, Chief Dan Shere, when contacted, said he wasn’t aware of the exact situation with the project. He promised to wade into the matter fully so as to help in resolving the conflict.
He described all actors and gladiators in the project as his children, recalling that he was chairman of Nsukka Local Government area 21 years ago.