From Emmanuel Uzor, Abakaliki
There was a time Upper Iweka in Onitsha, Anambra State was very notorious.
Then those coming into Onitsha from the other parts of the country through the Niger Bridge always witnessed horror at Upper Iweka. It was when crimes were committed in the broad daylight in the presence of security agents, when mothers lost their children, fathers lost their wives and parents made childless.
Then the men of the underworld had a field day, robbing, maiming and killing their helpless victims with ignominy and nothing happened.
However, the conquest of Upper Iweka restored hope and sanity to Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of the South East zone, as the Governor Willie Obiano government swooped on criminals at Upper Iweka, subdued them and brought back sanity to the place.
Like the Upper Iweka of old, the Akanu Ibiam Trans-Saharan flyover at the Spera in Deo junction is becoming the replica of the Onitsha notorious centre if urgent measures are not taken to arrest the situation.
Governor David Umahi upon assumption of office had embarked on aggressive infrastructural development of the state, prominent of which was the construction of triple overhead bridges along the Enugu-Abakaliki Trans-Saharan highway to Cameroon.
Oriental News gathered that the flyovers were being constructed simultaneously at the Presco junction, linking the School of Health and Medical Sciences of the Ebonyi State University, EBSU, to Umuoghara; the second one is at the popular Spera in Deo junction, which has been renamed after the founding father of Ebonyi State, Dr. Akanu Ibiam.
The third flyover is being erected at the Abakaliki International Market, along the federal highway.
Governor Umahi believes that constructing the overhead bridges in these locations apart from adding to the aesthetics of the new city under his watch, would also ease traffic in the capital city of Abakaliki.
The Spera in Deo flyover even before completion has shown to be one of the greatest flash points in the security map of the state.
As it stands now, the flyover has started witnessing business boom, especially at nights as even women of easy virtues have found it, as a new safe haven to ply their trade.
Business under the Ebonyi Spera in Deo flyover
Before the demolition of the roundabout built by successive administrations in the state, the Spera in Deo was known for its late business activities in the entire state like the Upper Iweka. It was then called Obolo Afor because of the late business boom, especially by prostitutes who trooped out to ply their trade. Lorry drivers on their way to Calabar enroute Abakaliki-Enugu highway always stopped at the junction to relax and calm their nerves.
And because of their presence, business activities were on throughout the nights even when other parts of the state had gone dead in sleep.
The Obolo Afor, as it was called was known, was the base of prostitution, which led to the demolition of the shanties built by these business owners by the former administration of Governor Martin Elechi when the state government took over the land from the army.
Some security agencies like the army and police were also not left out in the night business in the defunct Spera in Deo junction when the area was still bubbling with life.
The past Elechi administration through some policies helped only security agents to participate in the night business in the area by involving in commercial activities like Okada, Keke and taxi businesses.
Governor Elechi through his executive bill to the state House of Assembly had secured the lawmakers’ nod to ban use of motorcycles on the dual carriage ways within the state capital and also enacted a law that prohibited riding motorcycles beyond 7:00p.m in the state capital.
One of the commercial motorcycle operators hit by Elechi’s law while expressing his frustration told Oriental News that the security agents in their usual way enforced the order in order to send them back to their houses and take over the business in the night.
“Then, once it was 6:45p.m, you will begin to see police vans positioning themselves in strategic locations to scare us to retire to our houses to give their men room to take over the business of Okada at nights. They would start impounding our motorcycles, beating us and intimidating us to retire and once we retired to our homes, the next group of Okada riders you would see on the streets of Abakaliki were all security agents.
“At a time, policemen even gave bribe to be given morning duty in order to pave way for them to engage in Okada business at night because it was very lucrative, as the prostitutes displaced during the demolition of their shanties were the people that patronised Okada riders most because they needed mobility to come out of their hideouts for evening and night businesses and the only people that were doing the business without any inhibition were security agents, who would be able to present their identity cards to their colleagues, enforcing the Okada ban and restriction,” he said.
Oriental News also gathered that with the demolition of the shanties built by business owners and women of easy virtues, the areas went dead in terms of business activities, especially in the night before lately, when the area started witnessing a new lease of life.
A tricycle (Keke) operator in the Akanu Ibiam Trans-Saharan flyover, Abakaliki, Mr. Mathew Nkwegu, recounted his ordeal in the hands of some pocket criminals operating within the area especially in the nights.
He said that since life returned to the Abakaliki ‘Upper Iweka’ through the construction of the flyover by Governor Umahi and lighting up of the entire area with constant street lights that crime was fast returning to the area.
“Before now, this place used to be the hideout of major criminals who ply their devilish trades in the night. In the day time, these bandits find refuge in the homes of the Ashawo people that used to live here. It was called Obolo Afor because night activities were on here till daybreak and some drivers who ply Obolo Afor-Nsukka to various parts of the country named Spera in Deo Obolo Afor because of the replica of business activities going on here.
“When Elechi took over the land from the army and gave them another land elsewhere outside the city, the then administration demolished all buildings and in the process, the shanties that harboured these men and their female accomplices were demolished and they scattered all over the city. The ladies who were making brisk business relocated to the various interior hotels in the hinterlands within the state capital while their male counterparts found solace in politics and other
criminal activities,” he said.
Apart from what Nkwegu revealed about the popular Spera in Deo junction, other residents of Abakaliki believe that with the return of night activities as a result of the new flyover, the state would soon start to witness some pockets of crime which if not tackled may result to security threat like Onitsha witnessed in the past.
Mrs Ngozi Ibere, a vegetable seller, expressed fears that with the rate commercial activities were going on under the flyover during the day and at night; it could be misused by hoodlums.
She said that if urgent security measures are not taken, the area could be hijacked by dangerous individuals to ply various kinds of deadly businesses like drug and other sundry illegal business activities.
“With the way people congest under the bridge, you would not know genuine persons because crime is not written on the faces of the people. Some people came out there to look for work like the women who stayed there with their hoes and matchets; they are genuine people looking for what to do to earn a living. They are labourers as well as their male counterparts but some of the young men and women that come under the bridge in the day time could constitute security risk in future, if not now, it will surely come in future,” she said.
Mrs Ibere, however, lauded Governor Umahi for embarking on the construction of the project, adding that “this is the first time the majority of Ndi-Ebonyi are seeing a flyover, some of us that had opportunity to travel to Onitsha even paid to go and watch the Upper Iweka flyover, but today, we have our own flyovers almost in many places, I thank Governor Umahi for that.”
However, apart from women of easy virtues who have seen another great opportunity to ply their trade, Oriental News gathered that the flyover with the state-of-the-art facilities, including a fountain is playing host to various Ebonyi women who now sell all kinds of things under the bridge.
Among the prominent things sold under the Akanu Ibiam Trans-Saharan flyover included vegetable, fruits even with some people selling clothes on wheelbarrows.
Labourers were not left out as they gathered under the bridge every morning in search of jobs while commercial motorcycle operators and their tricycle counterparts have carved out their various parks under the bridge where they sit, chat and wait for prospective passengers.
Oriental News also gathered that some group of street urchins now organize themselves as task force with headquarters under the bridge where they impound vehicles and tricycles for non-payment of levies.
Recently, a Siena bus was approaching the flyover and unknown to both the driver and the street urchins who halted his car, the boys tried to open his door when the driver, a military officer on visit to Abakaliki brought out his pistol thinking they were armed robbers before one of them that saw the man with his gun started shouting and pleading for mercy.
The army officer it was gathered alighted from his Sienna car and placed a call to Nkwagu military cantonment and the boys were whisked away to the army barracks.
Apart from the army officer, many unsuspecting members of the public had fallen victims to these boys who stop vehicles, especially Sienna buses and demanded for “Sienna emblem”.
Once you failed to provide the Sienna emblem, they would impound your car until you either buy it from them with a penalty or settle them with huge sum of money before they would allow you to go.”
A lawyer who came to represent his client at the Abakaliki High Court, Dan Igwe while narrating his ordeal to Oriental News said he was caught by the task force and made to pay N5, 000 before he was allowed to go.
“When I entered the city of Abakaliki, I was carried away by its beauty and neatness until I was stopped by a group of young men on white T-Shirts along Ezza road, close to the Government House. When I went closer, I discovered they were men of Vehicle Inspection Officers, VIO, they checked my papers and I pleaded with them to allow me go that I was already late for court, they allowed me to go on one condition that when I come out of the court, I should go and get my road worthiness permit and I agreed. When we were through with the court, my client told me to avoid the Ezza road since I had not met the requirement, he directed me to go through the flyover and that was where I met these stern-looking young men, I understood they were not as civil as the first people I met, I tried to secure the help of some policemen standing on patrol there, but they seemed to be giving the boys backing, that was when I knew I had entered into deep trouble, I had to pay and got my car back and raced back to Anambra,” he said.
Governor Umahi while declaring the flyover open for use after test-running it had assured the people of the state that his administration would within the stipulated time complete the projects and hand them over to the public for use.
He had assured that he would construct another flyover at the accident-prone Nkalagu junction in Ishielu Local Government Area of the state to ease off traffic and reduce road crashes that had always become a daily occurrence.
Meanwhile, the state government through the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Umahi on Internal Security, Dr Kenneth Ugbala reiterated the readiness of Governor Umahi to secure lives and property of the people.
He said the state government was not oblivious of some security challenges that may come with development of the entire city, but said there would be serious surveillance on all the flash points.