George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
The people of Imo State have lamented the vehemence with which Governor Rochas Okorocha is carrying out the urban renewal policy of his administration. They claimed the policy has left nothing but tears, agony and pains on the citizens of the state whose sources of livelihood, including homes and business premises have been destroyed.
The government has not only ordered all traders along the Douglas road to quit, it has barricaded it from the Bank road to the Emmanuel College Junction.
Currently, traders at the Relief Market, the only remaining major
market in the metropolis now have their hearts in their mouths as they do not know what fate holds in store for them as the state governor has vowed to move all traders and markets out of Owerri metropolis in the next 16 days.
Last year, government had demolished the Ekeukwu Owerre, which was the largest traditional market of the people of
Owerre situated along the popular Douglas road in the Owerri municipal council.
The governor had gone ahead to demolish the market in spite of a court injunction that the status quo be maintained.
However, penultimate week, government officials returned to Douglas road, Mbaise road and Ama Hausa axis using armed policemen and the services of ex-militants from Ohaji\Egbema council to forcefully chase traders away. In the process, many of the traders, mostly women, sustained injuries while trying to escape from the venom of the policemen and the ex-militants who were destroying wares and whipping whoever was in sight.
Traders at Nworie industrial market, the largest market for tailoring materials and accessories in the state, were dislodged by government having earlier issued a quit order on shop owners to immediately leave the market or have their wares and equipment demolished. This market complex also has the largest concentration of tailors and seamstress in the state.
Although, the government has converted two primaries schools- Sam Njemanze Primary School and Waterside Primary School, Royce Road all in Owerri- as foodstuffs market, most of the traders said no provision was made for them. The governor merely insisted that they relocate to either Egbeada Market or to Avu.
Mrs. Chioma Ibe, a seamstress at Nworie industrial Lane said government simply told them to vacate their shops without giving them an alternative place.
“This market is not on the road and it was not initially marked for demolition but suddenly we were informed by officials of government that the governor has given us one month to move to Avu or to Egbeada market. Now we were not given any shop at either Egbada or Avu,” she lamented.
Similarly, Ignatius Achor who sells tailoring accessories said he has been doing his business at the market for close to two decades and that he bought the shop and have continued to pay all the necessary levies and taxes both to the local government and the state governments. He wondered what the governor wanted him to do.
Also, Mrs.Ngozi Eke who had her shop demolished at old Okigwe Park lamented that since she lost her husband seven years ago, it was proceed from the shop that she had been using to cater for her four children. In tears, she described the sgovernor as a “wicked man who does not feel the suffering of the people of the state. It is only a wicked man like Okorocha who enjoys the suffering of the people who made him governor of the state. God will pay him back one day.”
It the same story of agony and pain across the state as a result of the demolition of shops and markets within Owerri and its suburbs.
Chief Martins Opara, President-General of Olu Owerri said it was surprising for government to say that it did not want markets within the state capital, stressing that there was nowhere in the world that there were no markets, whether traditional or modern.
“To my understanding, urban renewal does not only mean demolition of markets, shops, expansion of inner town roads… public water has stopped running in the state capital and in the state in general because he has destroyed the public water system. Today, most people in state whether in Orlu, Okigwe and Owerri are crying.”
Uche Onyeagoucha, a gubernatorial aspirant described the actions of the governor as inhuman and sadistic.
“No doubt, we are aware that the prime motive of Governor Okorocha and his party, the APC, is to add more pains, hardship and suffering to the same people he rendered hopeless. For Christ sake, what has Imolites done to Governor Ethelbert Okorocha and APC to deserve these acts of wickedness?” he queried.
Onyeagucha noted with consternation the “shameless display of executive recklessness and high-handedness” by the governor, who in past one week has been busy destroying people’s goods and businesses, locking up people’s private shops and forcefully evicting innocent traders along Douglas road, Nworie Lane, Mbaise, Tetlow, Wetheral roads and other areas through the use of thugs and armed policemen in all in the name of urban renewal programme.
He pointed out that the governor has also ordered the temporary closure and barricade of Douglas road, restricting vehicular movements, thereby causing extreme pains and suffering to Imolites.
“But, it has also been noticed that the prime intention of Governor Okorocha has always been to destroy people’s means of livelihood at a period when parents are expected to pay their children’s school fees.
EKe Ukwu Owerri market, New market, Mechanic village and other markets in the state were all destroyed towards the end of last year, while people were struggling to raise money to pay house rent, children’s school fees and others. This is only to destabilise and render the people hopeless, all in the name of urban renewal programme,” he alleged.
However, Mr. kingsley Uju, deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) to Governor Rochas Okorocha, who is in charge of the operation said the state government would not allow the traders to impede the implementation of the urban renewal plan in the capital city. He warned traders and artisans still operating within 10-kilometer radius of the state capital to move or be moved by force.
Mr. Uju further said that the government should be commended for having the courage to do what the previous governments of both Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim could not do by clearing the mess that is Ekeukwu Owerri. He said the state government was recovering the capital city of Owerri.