From Obinna Odogwu, Ekwulobia
Serious tension is brewing in Nnewi community, Nnewi North Local Government Area of Anambra State between the council Sole Administrator, Chief Emeka Ojukwu Jnr and the owner of Uru Modern Parks, Chief Okwudili Okafor over the management of motor parks in the council area.
At the moment, the two are at daggers-drawn over whose right it is to collect government revenue, decongest the roads, among others.
Sadly, two groups of drivers’ associations have reportedly taken sides with the duo over whose instructions to heed.
On the streets, one notices a ready-to-attack posture of some touts who collect toll along the road.
This is even as the management of the Anambra State Library located along Owerri/Ozubulu road, Umudim village, Nnewi and the readers who make use of the book centre are crying themselves hoarse and calling on the state government to curtail the excesses of the drivers and the leadership of Nnewi Youth League (Umudim Wing) who have converted the premises of the library to a motor park which deafening noise, they said, constitutes pollution and does not conduce to reading.
If something is not done quickly, the current frayed nerves culminating from the disagreements which have lasted for several months in the zone may spiral into a distasteful situation.
Trouble started when the duo allegedly could not settle on a revenue ‘sharing formula.’
Chief Okafor told newsmen who came to the scene that he had sought and obtained approval for operation of private parks and collection of revenue for the state government, but the council administrator chose to be “a cog in his wheel of progress.”
Hear him: “When I returned to town, I had wanted to build filling stations in Nnewi but on learning that my people do not have motor parks which makes the roads to always be congested coupled with government’s desire to have roads in the cities decongested, I sought and obtained approval from the Anambra State government to build parks.
“They even appealed to us to bring more people to build as many parks as possible. But after I finished that project and put up announcement when we’ll resume, the Nnewi North Local Government Sole Administrator, Emeka Ojukwu Jnr, called me to discuss how we are going to work. We discussed. We stopped announcement as he directed. After a week, he told the drivers to commence using the park. But after a week, he said that he was no longer getting enough money as he used to make from outside; that I should come back for renegotiation. He chased out the drivers from my park and told them to continue loading travellers along the road where he has his boys collecting money for him.”
“I went to his office for the renegotiation. He said I should be paying him N60,000 every week before he could allow the park to be functional. But I told him that I am paying the state government N100,000 monthly. I later agreed to be paying him the N60,000 every week, but later on he said that N60,000 is too meagre. He told me that he makes almost N1 million every week in Nnewi North; that N60,000 week is too small.
“But I insisted that we must work first before we can look at that. I reminded him that park management was no longer under local government control. But he instructed the drivers never to use that park. He told them to continue parking along the road. He boasted that he is the son of APGA leader and that nothing will happen. I was taken aback because it should even be his first priority to see that roads are decongested as council administrator and that the state government is not denied her due revenue. Since December he has vowed never to allow this park to be functional.”
But the council administrator, Chief Ojukwu Jnr dismissed Chief Okafor’s allegations as “complete hogwash.”
His words: “First and foremost, the job of making sure that the roads is not congested falls squarely on my laps and I have been doing that for the last two years. In terms of the township buses, they’re by their nature like to ride on the road because they pick and drop. But what we have been able to do is move them into empty plots of land off from the road and use that place as synergy area so that they don’t line along the road as they used to do before. They now go into various packing spaces and empty plots of land they have special arrangements with their owners and from there, they come out to pick passengers.
“If anybody gets a permit to build a private park, nobody stops them from running their private park. The purpose of private park is that you get your buses or allow those who have to run from your park to service a particular location just like you have Peace Park, The Young Shall Grow, Orizu Motors and so on. The gentleman in question has a licence for private park and he should run a private park, but what he is trying to do is to forcefully take charge of the township buses to supplement what he’s doing. That is not what he is supposed to do. He should get his own private buses.”
On Chief Okafor’s bribery allegations, he said: “That’s a complete hogwash. I have explained to you. First of all, you don’t pay to me; you pay to the state government. Initially, he has a private park that is close to Ozubulu community and he came to me, asking me if I can help him get these commuter buses to make use of his park. I agreed. I asked the drivers to start making use of the park, but they refused. I insisted that they should use it at least for a month to see how it would work but the thing did not last up to a month.”
However, a letter of approval entitled “Re: Application for Approval of Private Park (Uru Modern Motor Park)’ dated 25th November, 2015 and signed by the Special Assistant to the governor on Internally Generated Revenue, Uchenna Okafor, obtained by Oriental News read in part: “Sequel to your application for an authority to operate as Government Private Park Agent for Uru Modern Motor Park in Uru Umudim, Nnewi North L.G.A., I wish to inform you that after proper investigation your application has been approved.
“You are by this letter authorized to make your first payment of N100,000 to the state Pay Direct at any commercial bank account code no: 4710003/411821.”
An earlier letter from the Secretary to State Government, Prof. Solo Osita Chukwulobelu dated 12th November, 2015 entitled “Collection and remittance of motor park fees in private parks” also read in part:
“Following the evaluation of the revenue accruable to the state government in respect of Motor Park Fees in Uru Modern Private Park Nnewi, I am pleased to inform you that Anambra State government has approved your appointment as the agent for collection of the fees under reference for a period of 12 months, commencing from 1st December, 2015.
“You are required to pay upfront, the sum of N100,000 every month into the state IGR Account (using the Pay Direct System) available in all branches of the commercial banks in the state. Consequently, you are required to show e-receipts to the state’s monitoring teach and IGR office as evidence of the payments into IGR code: 4710003/411821.”
When contacted, the Chairman, Anambra Mass Transit, Nnewi Division, Mr Ngozi Eberechi told Oriental News that the drivers heaved a sigh of relief when Uru Modern Park was constructed, saying that “before, when we park motor along the road, the local government chairman would tow it away and you’ll pay N24,000 before they release it.
“But he stopped that when he ventured into park management where he makes money by haulage fees. But then, we were making efforts to get a park so that these harassments would stop. Luckily, someone built a modern park for us but he insisted that we would not make use of it. He instructed us to continue making use of roadside where his boys collect loading fee for him.
“He personally told us that the state government warned against roadside parking but he said he is the one in charge of Nnewi, that we should be parking along the road to load passengers.”
Checks by Oriental News revealed that the indiscriminate parking of vehicles along the road on daily basis causes heavy gridlock along the streets in Nnewi. Also, the Nnewi Youth League (NYL) led by one Mr Uche Okonkwo has “forcefully” turned the premises of the Anambra State Library in Umudim to a noisy motor park according to the library management.
They have also leased the empty space upstairs to two churches: The Redeemed Christian Church of God and Soteria Bible Church.
However, the rascality of the NYL and the drivers came to the fore when newsmen embarked on fact-finding mission at the library as they trouped into the library and disrupted our interview with the Principal Librarian, Ms Uzoegbunam Joyce Ngozi. The rowdy session lasted for about 20 minutes.
Uzoegbunam later explained to reporters that “this is our daily experience in this place. Thank God you all witnessed it.”
She pointed out that the readers are barred from entering the library premises unless they pay certain sum of money.
“There was a time we confronted them about that but they asked us to leave the premises if we’re not comfortable with their arrangement. They later came with new plan which was making even readers to pay before they could enter the premises of the library. They referred me to Onitsha library where they claimed that readers pay before they are allowed into the premises,” she said.
One of the readers, Mr Udochukwu Ubom said: “This library has been turned to something else. Apart from the noise from the churches at upstairs, the drivers have turned this place to a motor park. We are not comfortable reading here. Drivers should look for elsewhere to do their business. I pay N100 before I am allowed to drive into the library each time I come.”
Mr Uche Okonkwo who led the rampaging youths into the library, however, declined to speak to the reporters.